The Parish, which calls itself a "Southern fusion gastropub," partially fills a gaping hole in the Tucson food scene left by the closure in recent years of the French Quarter and Nonie.
Cajun/Creole food is back in town, though the menu at the Parish does not cover the full gamut of bayou dishes and offers up a few surprises you won't find in Louisiana.
The menu is deliberately small, said co-owner Steve Dunn.
"We had a small space to work with and we wanted to do only what we do well," Dunn said.
Done well: gumbo, Po' Boy sandwiches and bread pudding.
Not done at all: jambalaya, red beans and rice, étouffée.
Surprises: bacon popcorn and crawfish hush puppies big as billiard balls.
On a recent visit to The Parish, I brought along my wife, Ginny, a daughter of the South and a maker of killer hush puppies.
So we ordered the crawfish hush puppies to put the place to the test. They were served on a bed of red cabbage with remoulade and a honey/green onion sauce for dipping.
There were five of them. They were fried to a deep brown. They were good. They were huge. In a model of the solar system, they would be Jupiters. I was tempted to take them into the parking lot and play a game of bocce.
Instead, we ate them as if they were appetizers and not mutants. OK, I ate three and Ginny had one and a half.
Which makes it necessary to adopt some rules for dining at gastropubs.
Rule No. 1: Don't order "appetizers," "noshes" or "dishes to share" unless you have a full posse or an adolescent boy in tow.
Rule No. 2: Put down that second hush puppy or pretzel bit or whatever. Proceed directly to the salad course or just order another microbrew and pretend you're in a bar eating snacks.
The whole idea, after all, is that a gastropub is a place to get a good beer (or glass of wine or specialty cocktail) and a bite to eat that's a few rungs up the gastronomic ladder from traditional bar food.
Dunn and his partners at The Parish embrace that simple concept.
Both the food and beer menus are not overwhelming. Beer comes in 20 bottled varieties and eight taps.
You can have beers and nosh. You can order one of the two imaginative salads with a glass of wine. You can get a bowl of gumbo and an Abita amber and pretend you're in New Orleans. You can order a "bun hugger," including the shrimp or oyster po' boy.
Just don't try to do it all.
Learn from my mistakes.
On the first visit with friend Leo, we ordered beers (an Abita amber and a Full Sail IPA) and bacon popcorn.
The bacon popcorn, a co-worker had told me, was ambrosial.
It's a best-seller, according to Dunn, and each bowl is prepared to order.
It was good popcorn, with real bacon, but I'm not a big popcorn guy. The plus: It's not completely filling. I had room for my Haitian shredded pork sandwich ($9) and Leo could accommodate his oyster po' boy ($10) and a side of (normal-sized) hush puppies.
Winners both. The oysters tasted fresh and were not overfried. The pork was tasty and spicy and paired with a sweet coleslaw. The waitress had cautioned me about the spiciness of the dish. I found the warning unnecessary, but I do like my hot foods.
For $2 more, I had a cup of gumbo - good gumbo, cooked, Dunn said, in a three-day process.
For overkill, I ordered the bread pudding - warmly aromatic with a sweet rum sauce. I thought I could entice Leo into sharing, but he had given up sweets for Lent.
I waddled to the car and fasted until my next visit and my encounter with the hush puppies. I won't belabor that again.
After the appetizer, Ginny and I shared a salad - the Dutra, with port-poached pears, fried patties of goat cheese and jalapeño relish on a bed of fresh lettuce with a vinaigrette. It was a nice combination of flavors.
The only other salad on the menu features blackened steak, but Dunn said the restaurant is always willing to modify menu choices to accommodate vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free requests. Everything is made on-site and to order, so special requests are no big deal.
The service both times was friendly and efficient, but not at all fussy.
Dunn said he wants his guests to feel at home, to treat the place like their neighborhood bar.
"We want the place to be relaxed, but not relaxed in terms of the food or the service."
Dunn and chef Travis Peters have worked in a variety of restaurants, most recently at the Cup in Hotel Congress. Partner Bryce Zeagler's family hails from Baton Rouge, La., and used to own the French Quarter.
The menu expands for special events. The Parish has already hosted a crawfish boil for Mardi Gras and is planning an Easter dinner, with rabbit, duck confit and prime rib added to the menu.
The everyday prices are certainly inviting. The most expensive thing on the menu is the lamb chorizo flatbread for $12. Those crawfish hush puppies (I promise it's the last time I will bring them up) are only $8.
Did I mention they are humongous?
The Parish, 6453 N. Oracle Road, 797-1233
• Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, daily.
• Wine list: Seven available by the glass, in addition to a selection of bottled wine.
• Noise level: Televisions at the bar; moderately noisy elsewhere.
• Vegetarian options: The Big Hippie sandwich features an eggplant croquette, other dishes tailored on request.
• Family call: Bring the kids; they'll like the popcorn.
• Reservations: Accepted.
• Price range: Small plates, $4 to $9; sandwiches, $8 to $10; no dish over $12.
The search for great grub and a good beer continues. Questions or suggestions: Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet or 573-4158.