Just Dropped In

Restaurateur Sam Fox

Just “Dropped” In

These five restaurants will offer your out-of- town guests a tantalizing taste of Tucson’s top culinary scene.One of the newest additions to the local food scene opened to great fanfare a few months ago, thanks to Sam Fox, founder of nationally acclaimed Fox Restaurant Concepts. He is the mastermind behind Tucson’s Wildflower American Cuisine, North Italia, Blanco Tacos + Tequila, and Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar. Eager Fox restaurant fans have awaited the opening of a Tucson location for Culinary Dropout. The restaurant and its accompanying entertainment space The Yard are located where Grant Road Lumber used to be.

The Concept
Why Culinary Dropout? The story goes that after opening one of his restaurants that featured delicate details, lavish chandeliers, the whole nine yards, Fox and his chief culinary officer Clint Woods joked that they should go in the exact opposite direction with their next venture. “They said, ‘What if we open something that is 100 percent the opposite of what we just did?’ So Culinary Dropout ditched the rules, the expensive staff uniforms, and fancy décor,” explains VP of Marketing for Fox Restaurant Concepts Anita Walker. “We printed our menus on regular paper, offered cheap beer in a can and genuinely delicious comfort foods, and something about it just worked.”

This is the sixth Culinary Dropout opened so far, with others in Austin, Las Vegas and a handful in the Phoenix area. But particular to Tucson with this already-popular concept, are a few odes to the Old Pueblo. Although all Culinary Dropout locations offer beers local to their neighborhood, the menu here includes some special dishes and cocktails. “We wanted to create a uniqueness to our Tucson menu as that is the birth place of our company, where it all started,” Walker points out.

For example, some of the new cocktails include the PRINCE OF TUCSON G&T (yes, in all caps), the Pink Cadillac Margarita and the Long Slow Burn, which — surprise, surprise — refers to our slightly warm summers. Walker gives examples of the Tucson-inspired menu items: “The Smoked Salmon Avocado Toast, Green Chili Stew, and Grilled Steak Tacos were all chosen in a nod to Tucson’s rich culinary culture and because of our ties to this beloved town.”

The Location
Grant Road Lumber was opened by the Hauert family in 1948, when the surrounding area was largely undeveloped, and maintained a firm footing in Tucson for 66 years. Having grown up in Tucson, Fox was familiar with the lay of the land and felt that the midtown location was just the right fit. Walker states, “We were insistent on preserving the iconic Grant Road Lumber neon signage out front — an honest piece of Tucson’s history.”

The nearly 20,000-square-foot space lent itself to the Culinary Dropout concept. This includes the Yard (a covered, outdoor gaming area with ping pong, shuffleboard, Cornhole, and fire pits — and the Coop (a private dining area and event space for large groups, with a full bar). This is all in addition to the main dining room, which features rotating live entertainment.

The Food
On the menu you’ll find classics along the lines of burgers, sandwiches, lasagna and salads, plus crowd-favored standouts including the build-your-own antipasti (think sushi menu style), soft pretzel bites with provolone fondue, chicken drizzled with honey, butternut squash cannelloni, 36-hour pork ribs with jalapeño and molasses, and pork belly nachos.

Weekends you can order off of Culinary Dropout’s breakfast menu, with dishes like the Cap’N Crunch-crusted French toast with “cereal milk custard,” or go the complete opposite direction with an egg-white frittata complete with Havarti and asparagus. While you’re at it, make sure to sample a bloody Mary with bacon-infused vodka or a Capital Green with cilantro, mint, pineapple and bubbles.

No matter whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, make sure to finish off a visit by carefully reviewing the aptly titled “Vices” menu. Cap off the experience with something sweet like the daily-changing soft-serve ice cream (another Tucson-only offering), monkey bread made with apple cinnamon brioche, or the s’more pudding complete with marshmallow fluff.

The Restaurateur
Raised in Tucson, Sam Fox was recognized by the Eller College of Management as the University of Arizona’s Executive of the Year in 2015. According to former UA Eller College Dean Jeffrey Schatzberg, “Since opening his first restaurant, Gilligan’s Bar & Grill in Tucson at age 20, he has earned an outstanding reputation as a creative visionary, savvy entrepreneur and philanthropist — values we share here at the Eller College.” He also has won many accolades from Nation’s Restaurant News, last year receiving their Hot Concept award for his fast casual concept Flower Child.

He started expanding his empire up in the Valley of the Sun, where he has opened many other eateries including The Henry, True Food Kitchen, Flower Child, The Greene House, Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend, Olive & Ivy, and more. He has since opened some combination of True Food Kitchen, North Italia and Flower Child restaurants in California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia and Florida. tl