When the conversations started nearly two years ago, restaurateurs Deborah Tenino and Nick Kreutz wondered how in the heck they would make use of all 8,100 square feet of space in the old farmhouse-turned-restaurant at 60 N. Alvernon Way.

And then COVID-19 happened and that big sprawling outdoor patio and the thousands of square feet of dining space that was home to the long-closed Old Pueblo Grille made sense in a way that wasn’t so obvious when they signed the lease in late 2019.

“It’s one of the things that when we were talking about doing this, these weren’t considered assets of the property,” Tenino said this week as she and Kreutz got ready to open Locale Neighborhood Italian on Friday, Dec. 4. “These were considered the detriments. What are you going to do with all these windows that can open, with this patio?”

This is the second restaurant for the pair, who are partners in Contigo Latin Kitchen at 3770 E. Sunrise Drive; Tenino opened the restaurant in 2010 and Kreutz joined her in 2015.

While Contigo explores all things Latin America, Locale delves into what is arguably Tenino’s first culinary love: Italian. The menu borrows from all corners of Italy, presenting regional takes on lasagna and ravioli, including pansotti — swiss-chard-filled ravioli dressed in an earthy walnut sauce — from Liguria, where Tenino spent nearly a decade, off and on, beginning in the early 1990s.

Meatballs on the appetizer menu are dressed in a tart and sweet balsamic glaze with ricotta and charred broccolini, while mushrooms have a starring role alongside leeks in a vegan open-face sandwich dressed with a mustard pesto. Lasagna features a house-made beef ragu and house-made sfolgia pasta ribbon is paired with braised pork, mushrooms and dandelion greens.

Pasta dishes come single-serve from $13 to $17 or family style big enough for, well, a family. Featured entrees ($16-$32) include a grilled ribeye, salmon, cioppino, chicken and grilled tuna, with pizzas, sandwiches and salads rounding out the menu.

In addition to the main dining room, Locale will have a separate bakery featuring grab-and-go sandwiches and baked goods that Tenino hopes to open by year’s end; and a pair of private dining rooms that can each seat between 30 and 40 people that are on hold until we get past the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We sort of visualized this space as kind of a community center,” said Tenino, adding that both rooms have their own outdoor patios. “So we are hoping we can do some classes there, breakfast meetings, lunch meetings using that space.”

Tenino has been a fixture in Tucson’s restaurant scene since she and her former husband Massimo Tenino opened Tavolino on North Oracle Road in early 2004. Massimo moved Tavolino to 2890 E. Skyline Drive in 2010, a year after the couple divorced.

Locale is the third restaurant in the past dozen years to occupy the former farmhouse adjacent to the sprawling La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham. La Quinta’s owners, HSL Properties, bought the restaurant in 2015 after Old Pueblo Grille owner Bob McMahon lost the business in a bankruptcy seizure.

The space remained vacant until the owners of Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon & BBQ at 1801 N. Stone Ave. opened Abuela’s Cocina Mexicana in early 2018. The restaurant closed 10 weeks later and the building has been vacant since.


 

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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch