The era of the small neighborhood market has officially ended, gone thanks to the glut of supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores.
But in midtown, among the Safeways, the Circle Ks and the Walgreens, a handful of small markets survive, and thank goodness for them. We'll be visiting two today, because Rincon Market and Time Market are worth knowing about--or being reminded about, if you haven't been in a while.
We start our journey at Tucson Boulevard and Sixth Street at Rincon Market, just before the weekday lunchtime rush. Rincon can be packed during the lunch hour, and for good reason: In one medium-sized room, you can get offerings including deli sandwiches, burgers and other hot-off-the-grill sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, reasonably priced pastries and desserts, salads with any number of several dozen ingredients and 14 or so dressings, an espresso or other coffee favorite, and/or whatever delectables are on the hot line (on this day: chicken cacciatore, for starters). Rincon has also launched a weekend breakfast bar (from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday). And all of this food is accessible cafeteria-style, so you'll get a bit of exercise, too, before sitting down on one of the pinkish-colored, wobbly chairs in the dining area.
Garrett's never been to the almost 80-year-old Rincon before, so he closely examines everything before choosing a sandwich from the deli. His choice: the Wildcat ($5.95), featuring Boar's Head turkey, bacon, avocado, cream cheese, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, mayonnaise and mustard on multigrain bread. His reaction? "Yum," he says, commenting that the sandwich may have been a little too much for the amount of bread. In other words, he was complaining that there were too many ingredients. What a nice complaint to be making.
Meanwhile, I get a salad ($4.99 per pound) with only a small handful of the available ingredients, and then move in a less-healthy direction by ordering a cheeseburger from the grill ($3.99). The gentleman asks me how I want it cooked, and I tell him medium-medium rare. He throws it on the grill, and about seven minutes later, he calls my name. The burger's exactly how I requested it. It's a fine burger--no frills, nothing fancy. That describes Rincon Market perfectly: It's a nice place to get a large variety of simple, tasty, inexpensive food.
After eyeballing some of the baked goods--the 99-cent muffins catch my eye, and the $1.99 mini-cakes catch Garrett's--we decide to skip the calories and peruse the market instead. Rincon has everything all the big supermarkets do, but maybe not as much of it. Still, Rincon offers a lot, including a decent wine selection, an impressive-looking fish department and a meat counter with a plethora of kosher offerings.
On the way out, we look over the pastries and cakes one more time before again showing restraint. After all, we have to save room for dinner at the next stop on our tour.
Time Market is quite a bit smaller than Rincon. Its selection of food and drink is more specialized; its dine-in offerings aren't quite as numerous. However, there's a bit more nuance to Time Market's selection. Both markets have deli sandwiches, but I don't recall any of Rincon's featured sandwiches including, say, a tamale. Time Market also serves woodfire pizza, and you can smell the smoke the second you walk in the doors of the University Boulevard establishment.
As Garrett and I check things out, he's instantly drawn to the pizza. I didn't have a sandwich for lunch, so I am drawn to the deli counter. The selection's pretty impressive, featuring everything from liverwurst to meatballs to rare roast beef. There are also a handful of salads and other stuff. I choose a green gringo ($5.49), featuring the aforementioned green corn tamale, shredded chicken, cheddar cheese, salsa and green olives on bread (normally sourdough, but today, they're out, so a french roll is substituted). I also order a Greek plate, with pita bread, grape leaves, tabouli and hummus, to split with Garrett ($5.19). Meanwhile, Garrett's ordering a small Mediterranean pizza ($8.25; medium $14.25, large $16.99), with pesto, shrimp, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. You can get almost anything on a pizza here; there are 32 ingredients on the menu, and the cost depends on the size and number of ingredients.
My sandwich and Greek plate are done first; after my name's called, I go and get them, taking the opportunity to ask the pleasant folks there about delivery. (The answer: It's free if you order at least a minimum amount during lunch and dinner times, in an area bounded by Interstate 10, Grant Road, Country Club Road and 22nd Street.)
As we ponder how to characterize the background music (Garrett comes up with "technofunk," which is about right), I dig into my sandwich, and it's pretty amazing. The tamale, olives and salsa blend together nicely; while the french roll is OK, it would have been even better on sourdough. (Two small, harmless--yet annoying--bone pieces also made it into the sandwich.) The Greek plate is also a hit, with our only complaint being that there were merely two grape leaves along with the pita, the parsley-rich tabouli and the garlicky hummus.
As we finish up the Greek plate, Garrett's name is called; the pizza's ready. I steal a slice, and it's very good. It was a bit oily--unavoidable with pesto--but Garrett and I agree: The perfectly prepared shrimp, the delicious pesto and the sun-dried tomatoes make for a wonderful pie. As Garrett eats, I check out the market portion, which has a lot of quirky, hard-to-find foods in stock. (Check out www.timemarket.net to see what they have.) The only part of the place we don't explore is the patio, because it's just too damn hot. We also forgo the dessert and coffee offerings, because we're just too damn full.
After Garrett finishes, we walk out into the Tucson heat, ready to head home. We're full of good food--and we're glad the neighborhood market lives on in the heart of our home city.