Tried and ’Cue

Tay’s is Corona de Tucson’s sweet and savory BBQ joint

Congratulations Tucson! We did it. Well, we're still working on it, but it's safe to say we now have a barbeque scene. Please, give yourselves a pat on the collective back. It's taken a bit of time, along with some success and failure, but it is nice to say we have a roster of pitmasters with various regional skills creating slow-cooked masterpieces.

One standout can be found in the Vail/Corona de Tucson vicinity. It's an area where folks can buy a house—or even a larger piece of property—at a reasonable price, raise a family without much hassle and live in relative serenity surrounded by scenic beauty. It sounds like a nice life, right? But when it comes time to get out now and then, finding something outside of a franchise can be challenging unless you want to drive into "the city."

But Natasha Herzig opened up a coffee and sweets spot, Tay's, on South Houghton Road a few years ago that instantly became the early morning go-to and afternoon meet-up for the locals. But the community wanted more, as did Herzig and her husband.

The couple, who are both in law enforcement, knew barbecue would be a hit with the community. Wood-smoked meats paired with a mayo-based salad and cold beer was just the sort of all-American fare the locals were craving.

Named after the Herzig's daughter, Tay's expanded the seating patio, installed a full bar and turned the backyard into a picnic spot with play areas for kids and dogs. Most importantly, they procured large smokers and hired a pitmaster friend to oversee the brisket, ribs, pork and chicken.

While I was there, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith were blaring out of the house system. Huge piles of meat were being delivered to patrons by employees in company T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Patriot." Parents drank adult beverages as their children ran with the family dog in the grass. The scene was so darn American that I almost stood up to give it a salute.

It was a bit of a drive from midtown to Tay's. But the food was worth it. The meats were smoked to near perfection. The bark on that brisket gave way to a juicy pink interior and I wanted to bring home the seasoning. All of it was delicious and I can see how Tay's is going to be a new family tradition for the Corona de Tucson residents.

Barbecue takes time. The roadside stands that you see featured on TV food shows have been around through several presidential administrations, allowing the thick luster of perpetual smoke char to become a vital element of the flavor of the offerings. Newly opened barbecue joints can have the chops but its only through time that they will earn their stripes. That is exactly what will happen with Tay's.

That said, I was fairly knocked back by the sauces they offer. The mild mixture had a distinct sweetness to it, while the hotter variety spiced up my palate, but not enough to overpower the meat's own delicious flavor. Turns out Natasha spent weeks in the kitchen churning out a lot of bad with the occasional good until the winning combos broke through a short time before they starting serving their customers. Tay's is definitely moseying in a correct direction. I can taste it.

But know this: Tay's BBQ is only open for a few hours on Friday and Saturday, as they are still seeing what works and what doesn't. In my opinion, it all works. It just takes some time to get it right. ■

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