Austin Counts may sound like a vampire, but he's actually the owner of the 4th Avenue Delicatessen. On the Tucson cooking scene since 1998, Counts spent nearly a decade working as kitchen manager for Nimbus Brewing Company before moving on to manage the B-Line's kitchen in 2012. In June 2013, Counts noticed a small space that was for rent on 4th Avenue while picking up produce at the Food Co-op. Even though Counts was happily employed at the B-Line, he saw his opportunity to open his own restaurant and the 4th Avenue Delicatessen was born.
What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
The Pastrami Reuben at Canter's Deli in L.A. At the time, I was a struggling singer-songwriter on tour and had a gig at The Kibitz Room (a small bar connected to the deli). After my set, I was paid $50 and a free sandwich. I chose the Pastrami Reuben, piled high with extra kraut ... and that experience got me into deli food. Playing shows on the road can be a tough experience. Many musicians have had to make the choice between eating or having enough gas to get to the next show. When you're able to get a good meal, it stands out.
What are you eating these days?
Sandwiches and lots of them. I eat deli food daily because I want to make sure everything we serve tastes perfect. However, I tend to get bored with my menu so I like to try new things and research recipes of various cuisine to come up with new, creative sandwiches that taste amazing and can be used as specials in the deli.
What was the first dish you remember cooking?
I made my brother a hamburger at 5 years old because we both wanted McDonalds, but our mother was at work. I pressed the patty, added a bunch of unnecessary ingredients and cooked it. My brother said the burger turned out pretty good for not knowing what I was doing. But in hindsight, it probably wasn't the best idea to have a 5-year-old cooking unattended.
What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can't stomach?
The gluten-free allergy craze. Unless you are a part of the 1 percent of Americans that suffer from celiac disease, you probably don't have a gluten allergy. It's OK to not want bread. It's OK to not want wheat. But don't call it an allergy. In the kitchen, food allergies are to be taken seriously. When we throw that term around, it takes away from those who really suffer from food allergies.
What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
I have a lot of respect for Jiro Ono. His life-long dedication to his craft is something all cooks should try to emulate. When your passion and dedication can push the boundaries of a cuisine at one time considered street food (sushi) and turn it into art, that is amazing. That is what a cook should strive for. However, my temperament and philosophy are more in line with Kenny Shopsin.
What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Charleston, South Carolina, is my favorite. It has the best Southern food, best barbeque joints, best down-home greasy spoon dives, best seafood, great people ... If you haven't been there, you should make the trip.
Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I have an addiction to Cadbury Creme Eggs. If those were available all year round, I would be the fattest man alive.
Top three Tucson restaurants?
Kingfisher, The Cup Cafe, Pico de Gallo.
With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Either shrimp and grits from nearly any downtown Charleston restaurant or salted peanuts (shell on) and bottled Coca-Cola. Peanuts will be the death of me. I eat an ungodly amount of peanuts and peanut butter.