Elliott’s on Congress Promises a Few Twists to American Standards

May 1, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Vodka, jalapeño peppers, bacon and duck are the primary food groups at Elliott’s on Congress, 125 East Congress Street.

Valaree and Billy Elliott and their son, Jack, at Elliott's on Congress.

Owner Billy Elliott likes to describe his food and drink offerings as American favorites with a unique twist – often enough involving vodka, jalapeños, bacon or duck.

That could be bacon infused vodka or vodka pasta. How about chocolate covered bacon? How does a cheese stick wrapped in a wonton wrapper sound? A deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich? That’s a dessert option.

It’s more bar food, comfort food – with the aforementioned unique twists – than five-course feasts, though you could make a feast of it if you order multiple dishes.

“I’d like to have it be more casual,” Elliott said.

Elliott’s on Congress opens on May 4 in the same space previously occupied by A Steak in the Neighborhood. Elliott’s interior design is largely the A Steak features that were still in place when Elliott took over the space Jan. 17.

Billy Elliott is new to restaurant/bar entrepreneurship, though it’s been in his mind for a “long, long time ago,” he said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. No matter where you work, you see things you want to do slightly different.”

Elliott put in eight years behind the bar at BisonWitches and shorter stints at Solaris in Green Valley and most recently at Azul Lounge at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.

“I think it’s about having a good attitude. I’m upbeat, energetic and happy,” Elliott said. “So many bartenders and servers go to work and complain. I want the servers to be having fun. I can open a bar. I know everybody. I know so many bartenders and servers.”

His wife, Valaree, is at his side running Elliott’s.

“I’m doing the bookkeeping and the recipe testing. That’s the fun stuff,” Valaree said.

Elliott’s expertise falls more on the bar side. Much of the menu is suggestions from Shamrock Foods, his primary supplier, which launched a business strategy department about four years ago just at the start of this economic downturn.

Shamrock’s Joy Miller and Jay Larsen help new and existing restaurant clients with all functions of restaurants – back of house and front of house. This includes food costing, employing training and creating dishes for menus. They have worked with about 50 restaurants in Southern Arizona since Miller joined Shamrock two years ago.

“We just want to make sure we give them the keys to success,” said Miller, who was a chef at the Arizona Inn for nine years. “(The Elliotts) are just such a great couple. They know the front of house but not the back.”

Miller introduced the Elliotts to Shamrock’s annual two-day food show and its 1 million-square-foot test kitchen in Phoenix, where they could test some of their own recipes, such as Valaree’s vodka pasta and chocolate covered bacon.

“Valaree will use our basil infused vodka to make the vodka sauce,” Billy Elliott.

Billy Elliott wants Elliott's on Congress to be a happy place.

He discovered the duck at the Shamrock food show, and duck will be the star in Elliott’s Duck Club and BBQ Duck sandwiches.

“We’ve absolutely fallen in love with pulled duck,” he said.

Miller pointed him to the duck.

“I think people are tired of beef, turkey and chicken,” Miller said. “People are open to tasting something new. This is young and hip. I think comfort food is coming back and we put a twist to it.”

Elliott sees merit in Miller’s experimentation.

“With how popular the Food Network has become, I’d like to think Americans are more open minded to try new things,” Elliott said.

Miller and Larsen custom develop menu items for restaurants. Larsen created the deep fried PBJ.

“He had never done it before,” Miller admitted.

Billy Elliott is the man behind the Egg Man.

“The fried egg cheeseburger is one of my all time favorites,” he said.

Elliott chose Shamrock’s best burger, the 100 percent Angus. Sunrise Bakery provides the New York ban baked oval bun, what the Elliotts call the “oval crusty.”

There is a jalapeño BLT, a grilled cheese with jalapeño and bacon, and a whimsically named “London Calling” – fish and chips. The Texas Caviar Salad is a Shamrock creation – black-eyed peas, roasted corn, pico de gallo and jalapeño ranch dressing.

“Everybody has a Southwest sandwich,” Elliott said. “We wanted something a little different.”

Elliott has vodka on his mind as the signature liquid for the bar.

“We’re going to infuse our vodka,” he said. “We’re going to have at least six flavors all the time and rotate a few more. Jalapeño is one of my favorites. Mint is really good. Horseradish is really good. Cucumber is awesome. We’ll probably have orange and grape. I’ve been working with bacon.”

Billy and Valaree Elliott both came to Tucson to study at the University of Arizona, where they met in 1999, Valaree just from Phoenix and Billy from Danville, California, in the Bay Area. They initially toyed with opening a restaurant in San Francisco but Elliott quickly nixed the idea.

“I couldn’t imagine doing it in a town where I don’t know anybody,” he said.

The hours at Elliott’s on Congress at the start will be 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. The kitchen will close at 11 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 1 a.m. Thursday to Saturday.