Bryce Zeagler, co-owner of The Parish, can tell you one thing about Southern food: “If you’re from the South, however many family members you have is how many gumbos you have.” But Zeagler, who grew up in Louisiana, needed only one: his grandma’s recipe, a version of which now is a mainstay on the menu at his Tucson restaurant.
Done right, gumbo takes time to come together. And so did The Parish. Zeagler, who at the time was running The French Quarter in Tucson, met Steve Dunn when he visited the Cajun and Creole restaurant. Dunn was from New Orleans, and the two ended up becoming roommates. Dunn later worked with chef Travis Peters, whose family’s roots in Tucson go back to 1875.
“We worked together for about four years, and we were often told that our ideas were really bad,” Peters recalls. “One day, I said to Steve, ‘Let’s go try our bad ideas out on our own,’ and Steve said he had somebody I should meet.” That was Zeagler, and in 2011, the trio opened The Parish in an unassuming strip mall in the northwest part of town.
The restaurant’s atmosphere is reminiscent of a New Orleans parlor, with ornate light fixtures and colorful walls adorned with vintage art and pieces by local artists. And the food lives up to the setting. The Drunken Angel, among the most popular entrees, features angel hair pasta cooked in red wine and balsamic vinegar, then served with garlic-sauteed shrimp and crawfish, a lobster broth and a red bell pepper reduction with saffron and heavy cream. Just as addictive is the bacon popcorn appetizer — literally, popcorn popped in bacon fat.
There are plenty of other Southern options, including shrimp and grits, for which Peters created a white cheddar fried grit cake instead of the traditional creamy preparation. And then there’s the gumbo, a traditional Louisiana soup that features chicken and andouille sausage — each batch is started early in the morning and cooks all day. “If you take any shortcuts with it, you can taste it,” Zeagler says. Peters found ways to “level up” the process, including mesquite-smoking the sausage to give it a hint of Tucson flavor.
Sandwiches, burgers, salads and house-made bread pudding round out the menu, and they’re complemented by an extensive set of wines, beers and cocktails. The entire concept has proved to be much more than a bad idea: Peters and the restaurant have won numerous culinary awards, and in 2021, The Parish made Yelp’s list of the 100 highest-rated restaurants in the country. And triple-digit heat remains no match for that old family recipe, Zeagler says:
“I feel like we sell as much gumbo in the summer as we do in the winter.”
643 N. Oracle Road