By Valerie Vinyard
When Dante’s Fire opened in May 2013, the restaurant catered to late-night diners who wanted eclectic, artfully prepared food; craft cocktails; and a well-chosen wine and beer list.
“We wanted a restaurant that took care of the late-night diner,” says owner and executive chef Ken Foy, noting that the restaurant still provides a 20% discount on food after 11 p.m. to customers who work in the service industry.
“Originally the concept was small plates, sharables. Everything was less than $14.”
Nine years later, Dante’s Fire continues that late-night focus, but the menu has evolved into fewer small plates yet has managed to keep its flair.
The kitchen is helmed by the boyish-looking 45-year-old Foy, who owns Dante’s with partners Mat Cable and Nick Heddings.
Dante’s menu features ingredients that are difficult — at best — to find at other restaurants in town.
The new menu, which debuted June 17, still is divided into fun categories. Starters are called “Limbo — On the Lighter Side,” where guests will find chilled cucumber and brie soup ($15). It’s enhanced with a fried crayfish, tomato oil and preserved tomatoes.
The pan-seared foie gras ($19) is a decadent, melt-in-your-mouth dish. A generous chunk of foie gras is served with Oregon cherries, kirsch, orange conserve, French toast and pear.
Though some of Dante’s ingredients are, shall we say, a bit haughtier than most late-night places, that doesn’t translate to a stuffy atmosphere.
“The fact that you can have foie gras in flip-flops at 1:30 in the morning,” Foy says. “You can’t get that anywhere.”
Under “Anger — with a Little Spice,” diners will find Thai curry shrimp ($26). The entrée has been offered since the restaurant opened and features six shrimp in a Thai curry coconut sauce with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, jasmine rice and candied orange.
“Our uniqueness is what we do best,” Foy says.
Under “Greed — Richer, of Course,” there’s pappardelle diablo ($28), another dish that has been offered from the start. The hand-cut fresh pasta comes with lump crab, chorizo, tomatoes, roasted red pepper and Parmesan and is tossed with a vodka Cajun cream sauce.
“Atonement — Be Satisfied” features a beef Wellington deconstructed ($29), which comes with truffled mashed potatoes, pastry, mushroom duxelles, bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.
“We’re having a lot of fun with that,” Foy says.
As if Dante’s menu wasn’t enough, a couple of ghost kitchens are in operation at the restaurant.
There’s the Sexy Grilled Cheese and Salad Company, which was created shortly after the pandemic shut down traditional restaurants, and it continues at the restaurant. This concept is available at 11 a.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, and it closes the same time as Dante’s.
“During the pandemic, we had to get really casual, really fast,” Foy says.
Sexy Grilled Cheese and Salad Company offers an assortment of five salads ($10-$14), nine grilled cheese sandwiches ($9-$14), five 16-ounce macaroni and cheese bowls ($9-$24), and a build-your-own grilled cheese (starting at $6). Soups ($9-$14) and fries ($5) round out the menu.
“They’re fun stuff,” Foy says. “This is not grandpa’s grilled cheese.”
Standouts include the obvious Sexy Grilled Cheese ($12), with cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, shaved Spanish chorizo and red onion jam on a toasted pretzel bread with Cajun garlic fries, and the lobster mac and cheese ($24), which is a classic mac with Maine lobster chunks and herbs.
Specials also abound at Dante’s. Tuesdays feature half-price burgers, Wednesdays offer taco plates, Thursdays are half-priced bottles of wine, and Sundays feature all-day happy hour.
Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Discounts include $1.50 off draft beers, $1 off bottled beer, $2 off wine by the glass, and $1 off signature cocktails. Food specials include a menu that features seven items for $7 each.
Before it transformed into Dante’s Fire, the 3,052-square-foot space previously housed Nonie and Rio Cafe.
Today, Dante’s is surrounded on both sides of Grant Road by a handful of other restaurants, including Postino, Snooze an A.M. Eatery, Culinary Dropout and LemonShark Poke.
Jeannie Snyder, a 27-year-old bartender at a nearby restaurant, enjoys the variety of Grant Road restaurants. She says she especially appreciates Tucson restaurants like Dante’s Fire that stay open late.
“Since the pandemic, most restaurants close early or at the latest by 9,” Snyder says. “If you don’t want to settle for Denny’s or IHOP, Dante’s is a great option.”
She’s a fan of the Stolen Burger ($17), which comes with wild mushrooms, muenster cheese and garlic herb mayonnaise on a house-made butter bun and is served with Cajun garlic fries.
“It has a lot of great toppings and is a great price for what you get,” she says. “I like the combination of unusual stuff and more traditional foods that Dante’s has. It caters to any mood you’re in.”
2526 E. Grant Road
4 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Wednesdays; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays to Saturdays