Sometime in mid-2013, Ms. Karen & I began our search for the Best Sunday Brunch in Tucson. So far, we have already reviewed brunches at:
- Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant
Hacienda del Sol
Tanque Verde Guest Ranch
Westin La Paloma Resort
- Agustín Kitchen
When I called Westward Look and El Conquistador Resorts to inquire about Sunday Brunch, I was told they were only serving off their regular breakfast or lunch menu, depending on the time of day. No big Sunday buffet.
Of the most highly-rated Sunday Brunches, that left only Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. Unfortunately for her, Ms. Karen was busy with her spring gardening and suggested I take Neighbor Roy. Which was fine by me.
Neighbor Roy and I often do dining reviews together. For example, it was he and I who ranked the Best Burgers in Tucson; a daunting task if ever there was one.
I made our Ventana Canyon Resort’s “Blues, Brews, & BBQ's” Sunday Brunch reservation for noon. When we arrived, I handed my fob to the valet and started for the front door.
“Are you here for our Sunday Brunch, perchance?” asked the Valet.
“Yes we are,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“If I might offer a little advice?” he asked.
“Of course,” said I, thinking he might suggest an alternative.
As he opened the big glass doors that led to the main lobby, he said, “Eat slowly,” and pointed in the direction of the dining room. It turned out to be excellent advice.
Entering the dining room, it was immediately apparent that the place was packed. From the dining room, we could see that the big swimming pool was full of happy bathers; and why not? A cloudless sky was pouring down rays in the low 80-degree range. Perfect!
If we had not made reservations, we might have had to wait an hour to be seated. Obviously, Sunday Brunch at Loews Ventana Canyon is hugely popular. The customers were clearly upper crust; both well-healed retirees, and high-flying business executives and professionals. Yet the atmosphere was pleasantly casual. Which worked well because quite a few had with them, and I must say, exceedingly well-behaved young children.
Most of the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors were open to the outside, so the appealing scent of down-home-BBQ on the patio waft throughout the indoor/outdoor dining areas.
After being seated and ordering our endless mimosas, Roy & I toured the indoor possibilities: an omelet station with at least 10 ingredients from which to choose; plus all kinds of breakfast sides, including bacon, sausage, potatoes, fresh fruits and pastries-to-die-for. Also included: sushi, several types of thin-sliced deli meats, & a variety of cheeses. Oh, and decadent cinnamon rolls and yummy cheese blintz.
There was an ice bucket of oysters on the half shell; both unseasoned and spicy curry shrimp by the truck load; salmon in different forms; an amazing array of desserts, and fresh juices. I know I’m missing several important dishes, but a complete list of everything offered would read like a documentary.
If this was all there was to Sunday Brunch at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, we would have been perfectly happy. But the smoke from the outdoor BBQ stations beckoned us.
If it could be BBQ’ed, it was. Chicken, baby back ribs, pork loin, beef brisket, corn, shrimp, fish, asparagus, onion, squash, cucumber, Sonoran Dogs wrapped in bacon, sausages and on and on. We found ourselves in sensory overload. Never could there have been a Roman orgy with such an extraordinary selection of fine foods. Only an outrageous glutton could have done it all justice at one sitting.
Yet, with all this abundance, I knew the one item I absolutely had to include on my plate. Any of you who read our reviews of Sunday Brunch at Hacienda del Sol and La Paloma know that their Achilles heal was their prime rib. In both cases, what should have been an excellent cut of beef was unacceptably tough & tasteless. Which, given their almost universal high praise, was both a shock and a disappointment.
The question before us, and the real test of Loews Ventana Canyon’s superiority, would be whether their prime rib was better than the ones we experienced at Hacienda del Sol and La Paloma.
We started on the indoor dishes, bypassing the omelet station: Large and excellent shrimp cocktail; spicy curry shrimp; assorted fresh fruits and pastries. Mere appetizers.
Our waitress, who was very efficient, refilled my mimosa glass. Roy ordered hot tea: Earl Grey as is his custom. We began our dining experience by taking our valet’s advice. We ate slowly.
When it was time for the main course, Roy & I filled our plates with a serious slice of prime rib, a cut of BBQ pork, and assorted side dishes, including hot potato salad, cucumbers, squash, corn, and other grilled vegetables. All locally sourced, we understand.
We returned to our table. While we were collecting samples from the multiple BBQ grills and cast iron pots, our waitress had refilled my mimosa glass. Now it was time for the big test. We each cut into our respective prime ribs. I was a bit concerned at this point because whomever set our table neglected to give us large, serrated steak knives.
My worry was unfounded. Steak knives would have been superfluous. We could have cut our prime rib with a butter knife. And the taste? Roy, on his second bite of prime rib, pronounced it “Excellent! Tender, juicy, and what great flavor!”
We both agreed. This was as fine a prime rib as either of us had ever experienced. And the accompanying entrees were equally delicious in their own right. As our waitress passed by our table, she mentioned that we could get samples of several local brews at the bar just the other side of the BBQ grills.
“Local beers are included with your Sunday Brunch,” she commented. Then added, “You can also have a Bloody Mary if you wish.” I stuck with mimosas. Roy thanked her and asked for more hot water for his Earl Grey.
As we enjoyed one of the finest meals we have ever experienced, we were treated to some extra rich Louisiana blues. From where we were seated, we could not see the performers, but were certain that the voice was that of an old Southern black man.
Turned out to be a gal on drums and a middle-aged white guy on guitar. His name is Tom Wallbank. I asked him how he achieved the authentic vocal intonation that I have only experienced personally in New Orleans.
“Were you raised in the South?” I asked.
“No sir,” he replied, “I’m from England. I just picked it up listening to old records. I’ve been singing the blues like this for 25 years. Now it just comes naturally.”
Tom told me that he sometimes performs at establishments on 4th Avenue. He is amazing! If you ever get a chance to hear Tom sing, do not hesitate.
As we were eating VERY SLOWLY to savor every fine morsel, we had time to look around one of Tucson’s grand resorts. The dining room ceiling is paved with 1960’s acoustical tiles. Which is actually a good thing. Even though the place was packed, it was relatively quiet, not like so many modern eateries where the so-called "background music" is blaring and hundreds of conversations ricochet off hard floors, walls and ceilings so you have to shout at your dining companions in order to have a conversation (Think Hub, Proper, and Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails). In spite of good food and service, I find eating at such places less pleasant. Loews Ventana Canyon does it right.
Much of the wall art looks like it came out of the interior decorator’s grandmother’s attic. But a walkabout outside offers some of the most beautiful scenes in all of Southern Arizona.
After brunch, Neighbor Roy & I took the opportunity to sightsee around and above the 18th green and take some photographs so Ms. Karen could share our experience vicariously.
Oh, one more thing. Neighbor Roy wanted me to tell you that the “Macadamia Nut cookies are not to be missed.” (I think he snuck one in his pocket.)
Does Loews Ventana Canyon Resort have the best Sunday Brunch in Tucson? Maybe. We've had some very good ones. We'll rank them soon. In the meantime, we award it 5-Saguaros: Best of the Best. Highly recommended.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
7000 N Resort Dr; Tucson, AZ 85750
At Ventana Canyon in the Santa Catalina Foothills
Sunday Brunch: $42, not including the gurney to wheel you to your car afterward.
10 AM to 1:30 PM
Reservations highly recommended: (520) 615-5496