By Kathy Ritchie | Photo by Paul Markow
Before “going green” was en vogue, organic was everywhere and buying local was de rigeur, there was Renee’s Organic Oven in Tucson. Owner and operator Renee Kreager has been serving up her all-natural fare since 2005 — a move that, at the time, verged on risky, rather than on trend.
“When we first opened, we actually quit saying we were using ‘organic’ ingredients, because people didn’t know what that meant,” Kreager says. “It’s been an uphill battle — until now.”
Today, Kreager’s vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes are a hit, even with patrons who might be inclined to raise their eyebrows at the word “vegan.” (Fear not, carnivores: Kreager offers grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, as well.)
It’s a hot Saturday afternoon when we pull into the parking lot of a strip mall just off Tanque Verde Road in Tucson. I’m famished and desperate for an escape from the sun. Inside, Renee’s is blissfully dark and cozy, with terra-cotta-colored walls and dark-wood tables and chairs. On the wall, facing the front door, the phrase “Eat Well Feel Good” — a perfect summation of Kreager’s food philosophy — is painted in black. After ordering two sparkling waters, I decide to keep it simple by ordering a small Greek salad and the Old Town pizza, Kreager’s version of a margherita. The 8-inch pizza is delightful — light, clean and with enough garlic on top to give it a nice kick. My friend orders the Everything, which comes with pepperoni, ham, sausage, mushrooms, olives, green peppers and onions. It’s flavorful and filling.
Kreager’s place is blissfully relaxing, and she wants you to feel at home.
“The vibe here is one where, when you come in, you can find a piece of yourself, where you can be comfortable and enjoy the company you’re with,” she says.
Although there are plenty of non-pizza items on the menu, including pastas, calzones and salads, start with the pizza on your first trip to Renee’s. With several options, from the most basic pie (the Old Town) to the delightfully exotic (Vegan Cashew Thai Curry), consider this an opportunity to experiment. Kreager recommends the Thai Curry pizza (a variation of the Vegan Cashew pie). With its red-curry sauce and spicy chicken, it’s certainly not for everyone, but according to Kreager, it’s delicious.
“It has this nice richness, she says. “I think it offers a good bridge between some of the traditional things people love on pizza and things you might not otherwise expect.”
Over the years, Kreager has partnered with other local outposts around Tucson and beyond to create her unique offerings. Among others, she’s worked with Walking J Farm (for the beef), Arbuckle Coffee Roasters (for the coffee), Sweetie Pies (for those gluten-free and vegan desserts) and Isabella’s Ice Cream (for the all-natural ice cream).
“I find it really meaningful to be a part of this community,” she says. “I feel very successful and very blessed that I’ve created a space that’s appreciated and enjoyed.”
Renee’s Organic Oven is located at 7065 E. Tanque Verde Road in Tucson. For more information, call 520-886-0484 or visit www.reneesorganicoven.com.