Monday, July 12, 2010

Sunday on the Mountain

Temperatures in Tucson are over 100 degrees F. for most of June, July, and August, so one hardly needs an excuse to visit Mt. Lemmon in the nearby Catalina Mountains. At 9,000 feet, the weather is a refreshing 75 degrees and the ecology is Ponderosa pine, a nice change from saguaro and prickly pear.

At least it used to be pine forest up there. A terrible fire ripped through the top of the mountain in 2003, destroying much of the ski village of Summerhaven. Homes there now are nearly all new, rebuilt since the fire, and while the ground is still bare, seedlings have been planted and some growth is coming back. It takes about 90 minutes to get there from my end of town, and above 5000 feet you can turn off the air conditioning.

My excuse to visit the reconstructed Summerhaven was a free outdoor music concert on a Sunday afternoon featuring Black Leather Zydeco (see and hear at ). The concert was part of a summertime series put on by Live Acoustic Venue Association (LAVA), a non-profit promoter of live music in Tucson (see / ).

I am crazy about Zydeco and I am sorry it has fallen out of favor so it was nice to hear Black Leather Zydeco, a charming group of old guys who have also obviously fallen out of favor, but are happy to still perform that magic music. Their style is classical, Cajun Zydeco, a genuine folk music from southwestern Louisiana, and that was nice to hear. They sing it in Cajun French patois, which is cool. However I confess I prefer the commercial, “black” Zydeco of the type made popular by artists such as Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco. I know, it is not pure, but that’s what I like.

Still, Black Leather Zydeco did a respectable job on genuine instruments (the concertina and washboard vest, for example) and they were lively enough to get my foot stomping. The bass was way overmiked, the speakers were fuzzed out, and the vocals were, shall we say, lacking in diction. But hey, it was good music and the price was right.

The concert grounds (where a pre-fire building obviously stood once) offered hot dogs, caramel corn, beer and T-shirts but for lunch I walked down the narrow highway past the pizza place, the only traditional restaurant in the “downtown”, to a small metal trailer selling crepes. The place is called “Planet of the Crepes.”

This place is so obscure, it does not even have an address and TripAdvisor has never heard of it so I couldn’t review it there. Needless to say, no phone or web site either. But it looks like enough capital equipment to be permanent for the summer months anyway. It must be hauled somewhere during the winter. But the food is terrific. An attractive young woman working alone fries up a crepe (a very thin pancake) in less than 10 minutes and wraps meat and vegetables into it, serving it in an inverted cardboard cone. You munch down on it from the top. It’s sort of like a tortilla wrap but not really. You sit on a picnic table stacked with old issues of the Economist magazine while you wait. (I got the sense that the proprietor probably has an advanced college degree).

What makes these crepes worth having is the creative and tasty ingredients. I had one wrapped around tomato, raw spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms and basil pesto. It was fantastic, and a lot of fresh food for $5.50. My wife had a more breakfasty bacon and egg number, but we were both tempted by the special, the “Figtastic” for $7, made of brown butter figs with sage, prosciutto, and brie.

Other offerings include a breast of smoked duck with havarti and arugula. There is a “sweet” crepe column for those wanting more of a dessert thing, for example one with fresh strawberries, Nutella, milk chocolate, and whipped cream. I think it is worth a trip to the top of Mt. Lemmon just to get one of these crepes, even if there is no free concert! (Although I don’t know if she is there every day, or only when there is a concert. Next time I will ask.)