AAt the El Corral steakhouse on River Road, the food speaks for itself.
“It’s basically humble and simple; There’s no need to complicate things,” said Casey Wills, president of Argo Land and Cattle, which owns El Corral. “When we choose good ingredients, we just don’t get in the way.”
Prime rib is the star of the show at this historic restaurant.
“It’s cooked low and slow,” Wills added. “The condiments we put on it are minimal: salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, stuff like that. The goal is to make the beef the star.”
He and Executive Chef Ray Figueroa will be handing out samples of their tender prime ribs at SAVOR, the Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival, on Saturday, January 28th at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
Tickets to the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance event are $100 and include sampling from more than 70 dining options. The area’s best mixologists and bartenders serve up sips from local breweries, wineries and distilleries.
Wills said that at SAVOR, guests can sample El Corral’s greatest hits, including prime rib, tamale pie and a small side salad with homemade honey Italy dressing. It’s a shortened version of going to a restaurant.
Since SAVOR is a bit of a party, El Corral invites guests to quench their thirst with a prickly pear margarita.
“We’re trying to give people a little taste of what El Corral does, what it’s about, and basically what it’s been doing since the late ’30s,” he said.
Borderland Spirits serves up a taste of the Wild West—bacanora, to be exact. It is made from the agave plant.
“It’s kind of mescal,” said Michael Hurley, owner of the company. “It has its own designation of origin, so it’s a mescal with its own history and culture. Part of that culture comes from Tucson.”
Hurley represents two separate family producers, the Mazot and Batuq families. Your products are available for trial.
Hurley said he’s interested in the ethical implications of these additive-free spirits. what you see is what you get
“Let’s compare it to tequila,” Hurley said. “Tequila is more of an industrial production, and tequila is manipulated a lot. There are many ingredients added. It’s all small, traditional, family (produced).”
Bacanora has an interesting history in Tucson that can be traced back to at least the early 1900’s.
“It was probably the second most important drink after whiskey, the main drink in bars, so there was more bacanora per capita at the turn of the century than there is today,” Hurley said.
Because of greed, Hurley said importation into the United States was banned from 1915 to 1992. However, that didn’t stop people here from having it.
“People had it — especially in the Latino community,” Hurley said. “It was in every household and a lot of the hipster communities have their Coke bottles with Bacanora. It’s still used in the Latino community for quinceaneras and funerals and weddings and the like. This is how young people are often introduced to it. It is embedded in everyday life.”
Thanks to SAVOR, it can now also be presented to the public.
SAACA executive director Kate Marquez said this is an opportunity to see why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It shows the variety of restaurants and libations that can be found here.
“It’s all wineries, breweries, restaurants, food manufacturers like pastry chefs and small businesses that make olive oil and tea, you name it,” she said.
SAVOR was last held in 2020 so attendees are eager to show off their skills and products, especially as they have taught themselves to use traditional local foods and food products.
“When (guests) support an event like this, they also support the culinary infrastructure here in southern Arizona, which has just made so many strides toward international recognition,” Marquez said.
SAVOR, Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival
WHEN: Saturday, January 28, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m
WHERE: Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way
COSTS: $100; Proceeds benefit SAACA, Local Arizona Tucson and Tucson Botanical Gardens
THE INFORMATION: saaca.org