Caps Off to Contessa Cafe
I love it when the day comes together with sunshine, fresh air, outdoor activity, a good meal and relaxation. We spent most of the day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, then finished the afternoon at the Red Hills West section of Saguaro National Park. No lunch, an ice cream cone bridged the hunger cap at mid-afternoon. Checking into our motel we asked for locally owned restaurant suggestions. Not only did they offer options but handed me a coupon for 20% off at either Contessa Italian Buffet or La Olla Mexican restaurant. The desk clerk made it known that the margaritas at La Olla where the best.
Bob was ready for a switch from Southwest cuisine so Contessa became our destination. We expected it to be nearby but drove several miles before finding the address in a rather dark, nondescript strip mall. We experienced a moment of doubt about our choice. A Pizza Hut stood in the same parking lot nearer the street, should we go there instead?
Stepping through the door we were immediately greeted and seated by chef/owner Diane Gallardo. The dining room is rather small but nicely decorated – booths had church pew style seating, colorful inlaid tile tops tables. A family with young children enjoyed the warm March evening on the patio.
The dinner buffet offered caesar and pasta salads, fresh fruit, ingredients for a make-it-to-your-liking garden salad and antipasto. Bob started with a cup of the daily soup, a chicken ???. A basket of fresh in-house baked bread was served along with our ice tea. Five main dishes and a nightly special change throughout the week. Diane says Tuesday night is stuffed shells night. Main dishes are kept covered until served by an staff member, nothing is dry or sporting that crusty, no one’s eaten me buffet look. We tried small servings of most of the items including the evenings special of Chicken Palerno, eggplant parmesan, and what Diane declares to be the best meatball on the planet. I indulged in the fettuccine – some with marinara, some with alfredo. I thought the creamy cheese sauce to be the perfect balance of richness without being thick and heavy. We stopped after one plate of entrees but could easily have gone back for more.
In the name of research we made selections from the enticing dessert tray, raspberry cheesecake for Bob and cannoli for me. I opted for the traditional instead of the one with chocolate chips. Bob totally enjoyed the cheesecake but one bite of my cannoli and I thought I might have to fight him off with dual forks.
Diane and staff were friendly and extremely service oriented, especially for a buffet style restaurant. Most everything is made in-house from old family recipes – good Italian comfort food. We’re delighted to tip our caps to Contessa Cafe and the motel staff that recommended it.
When You Go: Contessa Italian Cafe is located at 4145 W. Ina Road, Tucson, 520-572-0222. They do not have a web site. Reservations accepted for six or more. Open for lunch 11am – 2pm, dinner 5-9pm Tuesdays – Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Monday. Lunch is $7.50 for an adult, dinner $11.99.