this is tooley's in tucson





*In the morning we filled up on a long and leisurely breakfast consisting of non-delicate delicacies of the southwest: corn pancakes with jalapeno syrup, pulled pork, black beans, drippy eggs, and horchata lattes. These were breakfast staples made better by their use of regional ingredients, like coarsely ground cornmeal, which made the pancakes dense and cakey like flattened cornbread, and jalapeno syrup, which, like spicy hot chocolate or sweet chili sauce or Red Hots, playfully binds together the flinchingly hot and the soothingly sweet.

*Becca’s Saturday plan to eat at Tooley’s, a small cafe on a dusty strip of antique furniture warehouses, was the only definitive food plan for the entire weekend. She was insistent. There was nothing better than Tooley’s in Tucson. She said the food was great, but I knew she meant that the memories she built there made the food even greater. No food is better than the memory of having eaten it, of having shared it with another in a very particular physical, mental, and emotional space. Every repeated trip to a restaurant is a longing to re-conjure or prolong or change or rewrite the memories that we’ve stored there. Every craving for a food we enjoyed is a pretense for the desire of a certain feeling we want to experience again.

*We arrived by bike, having made our way through downtown Tucson, under a freeway overpass, through the rattlesnake tunnel, and out onto a street that aptly represented the Tucson aesthetic: colorful, dusty, rusted, and spacious. The walls inside Tooley’s were plastered with bright florals. Succulents with small orange buds gave life to the mostly empty tables. There were three teens in loose cut-off tanks eating inside, and a few people trickled in behind us. We ordered at the counter.

*Becca ordered the same breakfast that she orders every Saturday, “the perfect mixture of sweet and savory,” she told me. If breakfast was psychotherapy, hers would be Gestalt, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. She knew which sides she needed to achieve an optimal balance of gritty and smooth, of smoke and spice, of dirt and fat--the range of flavors in which subtle dischord becomes perfect harmony. Our food came compartmentalized into various plates and bowls, but Becca’s breakfast fantasy, like most of our fantasies do, demanded a specific combination of elements. First she dumped the syrup onto the pancakes, then the black beans, then the pulled pork; then she poked her eggs to break to the membrane of the quivering yolk. A yellow pool seeped into the spongy crevices of her pancakes, mixing like acrylic paints into the black of the beans and the ruddy brown of the pulled pork. It is difficult to look away from a breaking, oozing yolk, a not-trivial moment of either victory or dismay.

*To indulge in the langour of the morning is to rebel against the movement of the day. The leisurely breakfast is not for finicky or ascetic souls, but for the ones who’ve chosen to sit under the sun, with nowhere to be but here, with no agenda but to talk and eat and breathe and shoot the shit with a warm breeze rippling through the rays of heat. We’re here to sop up the yolk and grease and syrup of life during this time of day when the sun is moving from the east onto its overhead perch, and the sleepy souls who’ve yet to sober up are still tucked away in their beds. To get lost in thought, to sit comfortably in silence with another, to be grateful for life’s ephemera in this hot sticky stillness--this is breakfast at Tooley’s in Tucson.




  1. Such a wonderful post- your descriptions are great :) LOVE the look of those pancakes- so perfectly browned!!