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Matt Russell's most viewed On the Menu story of 2019 featured Vlad Novokschenov and Beck Caroli, under the name Town Under Black Distillery, and their corn and cacao whiskey. 

In welcoming the new year, I’m thankful for those readers who took the time to share their feedback with me on my stories from last year.

This feedback helps me to better understand my audience and what you value. But what’s equally as instructive is the set of data that are captured from your online engagement with these stories.

The web editor at Inside Tucson Business, Jaime Verwys, was recently busy compiling data on my columns from last year to see which ones triggered the highest level of reader response, measured by your clicks, shares and likes.

With that work now behind her, I can reveal her findings and present my top ten stories of 2019 as measured by your digital engagement.  

Local restaurant and bar owners had much to say about National Peanut Butter Day, and my story about a couple of them who celebrated rather unusually was sticky enough to get it into the No. 10 spot.

Coming in at No. 9 was my story about anchovies and how a local pizzeria caters to me and my fellow forage fish lovers by resisting the move to replace these plankton eaters with more trendy foods on their toppings list.

My story about Tucson’s first resort-based indoor hydroponic lettuce garden saw lots of activity. Was it the revelation that the lettuce is enriched by biofiltered fish waste? Either way, the story swam all the way up to No. 8.

International Chefs Day had me thinking about our great chefs here in Southern Arizona. My story about one of them, whose service to his community and country is hero-worthy, landed at No. 7.

Upon returning from assignment in the Mediterranean last fall, I learned that a local restaurant had just introduced a few new dishes with Mediterranean influence. Was the chef stalking me on my trip? That story was No. 6.

I’m a proud member of the barbecue brotherhood and am always ready to get messy at a local rib joint. But you don’t necessarily need one to enjoy good ‘cue, and my story about some racks off the beaten path came in at No. 5. 

How did gunpowder and 16th century tax collectors inspire a new Foothills restaurant? I told that story while sharing some fun secrets. You must have thought it was fun too because it earned the No. 4 slot.

Frankie Santos was one of Tucson’s most beloved restaurateurs. Though cancer took Frankie from us last year, his legacy lives on, and I shared my personal reflections in last year’s No. 3 story.

Our local spirits scene continued to make news last year, not only here but across the country. But when a local distiller crafted a rum that was ultimately ranked the best in the world, the world took notice. Apparently, you did too. That story was No. 2. 

There’s only room at the top for one, and inquiring minds want to know which of my stories produced the most reactions from readers.

When a retired lawyer and an archaeologist got together to talk booze not too long ago, weird and wonderful things happened, and my story about their heirloom blue corn and cacao whiskey raised your glasses high enough to land it in the coveted No. 1 slot.

It’s been quite a year covering our local culinary, cocktail, craft beer, wine and spirits scene. Even as I begin my eighth year of writing this column, I’m encouraged that there’s always another story to tell.

Happy New Year!  

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.