Bradner Lawrence is one of Tucson’s finest. He dedicates several days of the week to serving the community as a firefighter, and in his 24 hours off, he shares his other passion with the community: food.
Bradner and his wife, Maria, are co-founders of the Tucson Food Tours, a big city-inspired walking tour that explores the major food highlights of downtown.
“We thought it would be a good way to get people out and show them what Tucson has to offer,” Maria Lawrence said. “Everybody seems to always say, ‘Oh, there’s nothing to do in Tucson,’ but we feel like there are things that people just don’t know.”
Initially inspired by a food tour in Chicago, the Lawrences said they wanted to bring the same idea to Tucson to showcase the revitalization of downtown and one of the greatest quirks of the city. In February 2012, they kicked off the first food tour and have been spreading food and history throughout the city since.
“The goal of my tour was to have each restaurant be different in style and type of food,” Bradner Lawrence said. “Different people have different favorites, it just depends on what you feel like.”
The tour incorporates both food and a brief history of some of Tucson’s highlights, including Hotel Congress, Mt. Lemmon, the railroad station, Pima County Courthouse, Presidio Park, and other landmarks important to the city’s culture. But unlike other city food tours, Bradner and Maria wanted the tour to focus more on food, and less on history.
“With other food tours, I find that it’s mostly history with a little bit of food,” Bradner Lawrence said. “With this one, I kind of flipped it around and made it mostly food with a little bit of history.”
Each restaurant serves up items from different regions, styles and cooking methods to ensure that guests get access to the wide selection of food that Tucson has to offer. The tour begins with a stop at Sparkroot for coffee and a house-made muffin or granola bar, then they travel to Empire Pizza and Pub for margherita pizza, followed by Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink for polenta.
Then they’re off to Café 54, which prepares something different for each tour, La Cocina for polenta fries, El Charro for tamales, Playground for sliders, and a final stop at Hub with house-made pastrami and corned beef and ice cream.
Bradner said they want to ensure that guests didn’t leave the tour hungry.
“It drives home the point of community,” said Michael Esposito, assistant general manager for Reilly. “Downtown Tucson has been a revitalization of food and drink … There’s a sense of community to be able to walk from place to place and get the history of the building and the businesses.”
To view the tour schedule and book a trip, visit foodtourstucson.com. Tickets are $44 each, and cost includes tastings at all stops and non-alcoholic beverages.
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