First of all, a "tallboy" just doesn't refer to a dude that is well over 6' 2" who letters in basketball just because of his height. For me, a tallboy has always meant a large can of beer or malt liquor, a good 16 oz, usually sold in shady corner markets and consumed in inconspicuously tight cylindrical shaped brown paper bags.
It is the latter that the new hangout on the corner of North Fourth Avenue and East Fifth Street is going for, namesake wise. Although I highly doubt they will discriminate against those that are vertically blessed.
What used to be Pancho Villas is now an all-day and almost all-night breakfast and lunch spot that, well, serves a large variety of tallboy beers that you can select from an icy front and center cooler. You throw in a big bowl of tater tots and a guest DJ spinning new school garage rock and Brooklyn based hip hop circa 1981, and that sounds like the ultimate way to while away the waning summer sizzle as the hazy shuffle of Fourth Avenue meanders by and gazes in with slightly jealous eyes.
Ben Schneider, one of the owners and founders of Tallboys, emerges from the busy kitchen holding a large white bowl. The first thing I noticed was a properly cooked egg sitting on top of what looks like a bunch of...vegetables?
"This is our breakfast poke bowl," says Schneider, a bit beaten from the late breakfast rush. "I would say it's probably our signature dish but that is under debate. We've only been open a few weeks, but so far this is our biggest seller."
You'd think a sunny-side egg on top of cured salmon, cucumbers, pickled carrots and radishes would make one want to storm the kitchen, point dramatically at the dish and fume "What...is...this?" On the complete opposite side of the flavor perspective, all I could do was happily mutter, "How...is...this?" once I took a few bites. It absolutely worked. It was delicious. So much in fact I had to know how long Schneider had been a chef.
He informed me that he is no chef, not by any margin. In fact, Schneider is more of a musician that just happens to have a serious knack for cooking and always wanted to open a place where locals and chill folk visiting Tucson could just hang out, have a good drink and listen to some great music. When the space became available, he and a bunch of his buddies moved in and quickly got to work.
"We did the whole build out in two months," says Schneider as he hands me a frosty can of some long-forgotten malted hooch and a plate of hubcap-sized pancakes covered in seasonal berries, nuts, a housemade jam and warm syrup. "The booths we have are from The District so we repurposed them along with the bar top, which came from Small Planet Bakery. It's pretty cool that we are able to have a bit of Tucson history in our place."
Luckily for us, Schneider got "burned out" trying to make money in the local music scene and, thankfully, he helped construct a menu that is fun, amiable and above all rather affordable for what you get. With very limited space, the options reflect that but it doesn't mean Tallboys skimps on ingenuity and freshness. When you order the Huevos Rancheros ($10), they hand-press thick house-made corn tortillas before throwing them on the flattop and settling them next to eggs, beans, potatoes and a homemade ranchero sauce.
Serious avocado devotees will find a haven here. They are featured in a lot of dishes, such as the breakfast tacos and vegan burrito (both $7), a version of a BLT ($10), the bean and rice bowl ($5), chef's salad ($10) and, of course, the breakfast poke bowl ($12). Waste is a big concern for a small upstart such as Tallboys so with the fixed prep, storage and counter space they got, the crew do well with what they have.
"Our 'Tallboys Tots' (a towering mess of cheese, bacon, green chiles, eggs and, yes, avocado, $10) wasn't even supposed to be on the menu," smiles Schneider. "We served them at our grand opening as sort of a joke but they were so popular that we were literally forced to keep them. Like I said, nothing here is revolutionary but we are very proud of what we do."
Tallboys has that feel of an East Coast bodega gone unpretentiously hip pop-up because of the slightly remarkable food and freestyle attitude. On any given day you can hear and see an eclectic muse of music and art that smoothly coincides with a laidback gathering, happy that such a venue has finally arrived. And with a tall cold Colt 45, it'll work every time.