Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Park Burger packs a wallop pronto

At 4:50pm, people were playing hacky sack on the sidewalk in front of Park Burger. At 4:55 kiddies were bouncing about in the sunshine. At 5, the door to the Old South Pearl burger joint swung open for business for the 1st time. Delicious, the looks on the faces of the servers & line cooks gathered in a knot at the counter—a mix of terror, dread & determination to appear cheerful—as we streamed in. I said to one of them, “You knew the neighborhood was going to descend on you, right?” She smiled wanly.  By 5:02, half the seats in the small, bright, space, all blue-&-orange stripes & chrome on white, were occupied—& by 5:30 it was packed.

Why all the gaga frothing fuss over a burger joint & nothing but? It’s not like you can’t get a halfway decent patty on a bun at Pearl Street Grill or a dozen other watering holes down the block & in the vicinity. Well, in part it’s the very purity suggested straight off by the name & illustrated more recently by the posting of the menu in the window—short & sweet with just 11 burgers, 2 kinds of fries, 1 side salad, 8 milkshakes, a root beer float & fresh-squeezed lemonade, plus wine & beer, including a fair number of Belgians. (It’s also cheap; nothing’s over $10 but wine by the bottle.) In part it’s pedigree—the owner is Jean-Philippe Failyau, a protégé & sometime partner of Frank Bonanno, magic man behind my immediate faves Osteria Marco & Bones, as well as lovely Luca d’Italia & Mizuna. And it’s partly that special, ineffable something, an aura emanating from the storefront that had us neighbors convinced it was going to be really good.

All of two hours after its grand opening, our hunch was validated. If Park Burger didn’t hit it out of the park last night, it came gratifyingly close.

The below was taken maybe 10 minutes into our meal; check out the cool black-&-white canvas depicting sorta vibrating cows in back. And check out Petey aka Constant Watcher‘s creamsicle milkshake,

PBmilkshake2

smacking of fresh creaminess with bits of orange pulp. Loudly as the peanut butter–chocolate shake called to me, a Spanish rosé sang more sweetly over that maddeningly seductive flamenco tempo of its. (My poor head is a place of constant libationary cacophony.) Pours were generous from a selection as short & sweet as the menu—wide-ranging for numbering only 11, from German riesling to Argentine malbec to Spanish garnacha. The beers, by the by, number 11 as well—someone’s lucky number, apparently. Or someone’s a fan of Spinal Tap.

PBwine

We started with a large order of fries, hand-cut so carefully they didn’t look it.

PBfries

Hot & crispy, they were rather underseasoned (& thus the only minor disappointment of the meal); we had to S&P them quite a bit before we were satisfied. Not so the sweet potato fries the Director & I also split, on whose yea-veritably-golden exteriors the salt granules were visible to the naked & horny eye. I’m not sure they were quite up to Sputnik’s snuff—but I’m not sure they weren’t either; they were that close. I’ll have to stage a fry-off soon.

PBspfries

Our waitress apologized for the fact that the burgers themselves took about 25 minutes; we assured her we completely understood, that we’d hardly expected clockwork on day one—& besides, we were enjoying ourselves, soaking up the sunny, sing-songy, super-local color, with kids chomping away grinning & parents snapping photos & gladhanding their pals from down the block.

But when they finally arrived, they were no slouches. A little smaller than your average half-pounder at 1/3 of a pound, & flatter rather than fatter—despite which the crew managed to do a fair job at keeping the meat on the rarer side of medium—on big, freshly toasted buns, they’re also piled with goodies, including other meats, making the patty size ideal. (The mini, meanwhile, ain’t, at a quarter pound;

PBmini

our friend Judy declared it, with its 1000-Islandesque house “BurgerSauce,” the best she’d had in ages—for what’s that’s worth, since she also admitted she hadn’t had a burger in ages.)

To the Frenchy with ham & Brie, I added caramelized onions,

PBFrenchy

& with the results—all salty & juicy, chewy & gooey, fat & touched with sweetness—I was just as pleased as I could be, sitting there mugging like Bill Cosby doing his chocolate-cake-for-breakfast schtick. As for that pickle, I do believe it was housemade, or at least house-tricked-out with fresh herbs.

The Director, chile monstruo that he is, wasn’t sure at 1st about the El Chilango, deeming the guacamole-to-jalapeno ratio too high, but he eventually hit the jackpot at the center & perked right up.

PBchilango

Petey did the DIY thing with pepper jack & bacon, which I didn’t try, but it sure looked plush.

PBKeith

When we left around 6:30, there was a line out the door—&, I heard from an excellent source today, not long thereafter they closed for the eve, apparently unprepared for the sheer crush of sandwich-munchers. Might I suggest they get used to it quick?

Park Burger on Urbanspoon

Lincoln’s Road House: I want you to want me!

On the wrong side of the tracks—by which I mean at the end of Old South Pearl overlooking I-25—is a sign. A sign of hope. An old, sad sign of hope that things still exist outside of viral markets & virtual networks. Things like old, sad signs themselves, depicting bygone heroes in peeling paint.

Lincoln's

Under that sign is a door, & on the other side of & above that door is another sign.

Lincoln's2

Translation from the original blur: PLEASE RESPECT OUR NEIGHBORS AND HELP LINCOLN’S BY REDUCING BIKE NOISE AROUND HERE

To enter Lincoln’s Road House, then, is to cross a threshold from a world where children named for Fortune 500 companies—Berkshire & Barclay & Nokia & such—shoot the shit on their My First iPhones in strollers that could probably total my car in a crosswalk wreck to a world that still turns every which but loose, where bands still have names like the Delta Sonics; the framed snapshots of regulars gone by could in an instant kick the asses even of the framed snapshots of the gnarled old regulars gone by at Billy’s Inn; & the customers of today would never, ever order a split of sparkling wine, whether or not there was one on the drink list, whether or not it was the last drink on the last drink list on earth.

I learned that last bit the embarrassing way.

Not quickly, though. Not, say, when our waitress grabbed the list from me after I placed my order & literally squinted at it for what seemed like a full minute. Long enough for me to get the point—which doesn’t mean I did, because when she asked me if I wanted “another thingie” I said yes. Only then did it occur to me she probably didn’t care much for my kind. You know, the non-Jack-pounding, non-ride-hard-or-die-free-battle-crying, not-from-around-these-parts kind.

But since I’ve decided Lincoln’s nonetheless my kind, I want the staff to want me, so I hope she was at least impressed by my ability to put it away—”it” being, for one thing, the first of 2 variants on French-bread pizza I had last weekend. For the Polish twist, see here; for the Creole take, see

Lincoln'sbruschetta

here.

As three slabs of French bread layered with shrimp in tomato, onion & green pepper sauce & a shredded parm-like substance go, the shrimp creole bruschetta worked for me. So did the grilled Cajun sausage with housemade remoulade & more thick toast.

Lincoln'ssausage2

Cut into little lozenges, the sausage could’ve passed for sweet potato fries—until the first bite, of course, at which point they were all sausage, fatty & spicy & even better dipped into the particularly pungent, mustard-heavy sauce.

The Director’s meatloaf cheeseburger also passed muster, if mainly for novelty’s sake, the patty indeed lounging around in some curious limbo between its two namesakes. I even liked the bun—I’m a fan of thick fillings bursting out of thin skins to turn into a single yummy mess you can eat with a fork.

Lincoln'ssandwich

Which means Lincoln’s pot roast burrito’s next on my to-do list—provided they haven’t posted a new sign since my last visit: “We don’t serve dogs or damn dirty Brut-drinking Denveaters here.”

A wee dollop of Marmalade

***UPDATE: Marmalade is now CLOSED.***

As though I didn’t have anything productive to do all day—oh, okay, wait, I didn’t, as usual, unless by “productive” you mean dictionary definition #5—I spent 2.5** hours gabbing with the super-super-cool author of From Argentina With Love over a late breakfast at Marmalade recently. Having grabbed menus the week it opened, I’d been waiting ever since to pounce on a morning meal over there; while the ethnically garbled lunch & dinner selection seemed to me (as you may recall) to have been devised by an unusually boring schizo, the breakfast selection smacked hard of enough mod pizzazz—smoked fish–stuffed crepes with parmesan cream, black bean & pineapple salsa quesadillas, sausage-&-egg-stuffed potato skins, etc.—to convince me that if the lights were on in the kitchen, somebody’d indeed be home.

Somebody was, & (s)he kindly fried up some bread cubes with crumbled fresh chorizo & diced peppers & onions, accompanied by a ramekin of green chile for dipping & farmhouse potatoes.

Mbreadchorizo

To be sure, it looked a tad skimpy compared to your average rama-lama cheesy corned beef pancake skillet hash bake with a side of steak. A bowl might have become it more. Or not—after all, it actually was a tad skimpy; 4 slices of potato don’t constitute a side. More like a periphery. Nonetheless, on the whole it did the trick—the quality of the chorizo struck me as especially fine, & the porky green chile, if a little thick for my tastes, was plenty spicy—not hellfiery, just nice.

Meanwhile, though she found it too salty overall, my pal gave her eggs Benedict the go ahead for handsome smoked salmon.

Mbenedict

Granting that one dish plus hearsay on another does not a solid conclusion yield, it at least allows for an impression to start to gel—& mine’s that I could really get to like this place in an offhand sort of way. Despite the fact that with a name like Marmalade, the place shouldn’t be serving those little single-serving packages of jelly with a name like Smucker’s (or Knott’s or whatever it was). That doesn’t have to be good.

**Fun fact: Did you know the national budget of Guinea-Bissau, whose main cash crop is the cashew, is equivalent to the value of 2.5 tons of coke? As an old friend said when I asked him, That’s a long line.

Marmalade Bar & Cafe on Urbanspoon

No loughing matter: McLoughlin’s Restaurant & Bar

Oof, that’s awful. But apt enough. The world’s lousy with lousy bar-&-grills, so the lovable few (e.g. Charlie Brown’sRodney’s, Billy’s InnRacine’s) get arguably inordinate props around here. Still, a little extra cred now & then, especially considering how many big red Ds I’ve been handing out lately, seems only fair. Fuzzy with sake (this rather lovely, honeydewy one from Oregon, of all places) after an exhibition opening (also rather lovely) at PlatteForum the other night, the Director & I were raring to pass McLoughlin’s with flying colors, whatever those are. Let’s say chartreuse & puce.

Snug yet high-ceilinged, the place does cast a burnished glow around that odd, metallic little commercial park at the end of the Platte River Pedestrian Bridge, 1 that clearly lures the neighborhood’s natty swarm of condo gnats. When we were there, a dozen-plus shrieky young things were toasting some birthday boy with tequila shots & flying a toy helicopter by remote control around the room, spreading some real cheer in the process. Which is more than I can say for the kitchen.

Though everything we tried had its saving graces, nothing had its general act together.
Remember Funny/Not Funny, that recurring segment on the subversive if short-lived genius that was Wonder Showzen (which you can sample for yourself here) wherein a voiceover chorus of kiddies shouted “Funny!” & “Not funny!” alternatively throughout an eye-melting slideshow of mayhem & gore? Came to mind with the arrival of our hummus–not hummus.

Mhummus

Much as I appreciated the companion mounds of decent feta cubes & marinated olives, the centerpiece was nothing but chickpea puree, or my name’s not Denveater. Granted, my name’s not Denveater—that would be a funny coincidence though, what with me writing this blog & all, eh?—but the point is I’ll be damned if there was a drop of tahini or lemon juice in there or even a shred of garlic. Room-temperature pita was a bummer too.

The Director’s shepherd’s pie (or “shepard’s,” IIRC, although the spelling’s correct online) was quite the looker,

Mpie

with its unusually thin mashed-potato crust—practically a spud cracker, really. But with tough beef & crunchy carrot chunks, it wasn’t quite the taster; he touted the gravy, but my spoonful was neither here nor there.

Neither/nor was my sloppy buffalo chicken salad—an abomination in the first place, admittedly, but abominations kinda constitute my favorite food group (although even I draw the line here).

Mbuffalosalad

The buffalo sauce was the best part, which means the best part surely came out of a jar; McLoughlin’s doesn’t offer wings, & since the ranch dressing, cheapo blue cheese crumbles & limp, pale fries I swiped off a pal’s plate were also obviously straight from the distributor’s warehouse, I wouldn’t put a penny on the off-chance that they’re back there whipping up batches of the stuff for a measly couple of salads a day.

I would be willing to bet a whole penny on McLoughlin’s happy hour—which is on my kind of clock, from 2 to 6 pm & 11 pm to 2 am Monday through Saturday as well as all day Sunday—if only that, since the discount’s just a buck a drink. Otherwise, I’d just as soon save that red cent for something more special, like 1/5 of a gumball.

McLoughlin's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

So I asked myself, I said, really, how bad could Hooters be?

Our dear Petey, whom you might know well by now, accidentally won some sort of raffle to become the proud recipient of 50 free wings at the Hooter’s on S. Colorado. That Petey happens to be gay only made his victory all the sweeter; as another friend said, the only way it could have been any better is if he were also vegetarian.

Tell you what, it would’ve been better if I were gay & vegetarian. Then I’d have had no complaints.

Lest you were ever the least bit curious—lest you ever wondered whether, just maybe, the joint had something to offer other than T&A in every way, shape & form, size, style & color, you can stop it right now & forever. What passes (believe you me, right through) as food is no less a combination of fatty tissue & implant leakage than the waitress parts are.

Surely I exaggerate? A, don’t call me Shirley (hoo boy, does that ever get old?), & B, get a load of the fried pickle chips we ordered from our own assemblage of parts, D—, sweet as could be if not yet fully sentient since her reanimation on the lab table (“I don’t even know what that is,” she cheerfully proclaimed when the Director asked for a Dewar’s). More to the point,

Hooterspickles

try an eyeful of the otherwise unexplained “tangy dipping sauce” close up:

Hootersdip

If that isn’t a secret blend of processed cheese & silicone I don’t know what is!

I know it isn’t the blue cheese & ranch dips that came with our wings—naked & battered (hey! just like the waitresses) respectively—

Hooterswings2

Hooterswings

because those came in the very same sealed containers from Naturally Fresh (good one, FDA!) you get with your airplane food, & their labels very clearly state they’re made from dairy seasoning & silicone.

Okay, that was mean about the waitresses. Our pal Betsy Tallfold was much more sympathetic: “Felt sorry for the servers who are half-naked & carrying around plates of carnage. I expected the tank tops & running shorts, although I’m sure you couldn’t run in those shorts without some major chafing issues. I didn’t know about the tights. Must’ve been two centimeters thick. I’m sure they offer some type of warmth & protection (prophylactic?) and may separate Hooters from a typical tittie bar, but I kept thinking figure skater. Put some sequins on that shit and they could all be Kristi Yamaguchi.”

Oh, I think they’re all already yamaguchi.

I have no idea what that means.

In all fairness, despite appearances, my veritable wastebasket of an oyster roast—oh yes I did—

Hootersoysters

Hootersbutter

could have been much, much, much worse. At $22 or about a buck a pop, only about 1/4 were mealy, rubbery or otherwise foretastes of coming regret.

Sure hope the same can be said for the rest of the oysters in the place, catch my drift?

Is it me under the table, or did Steuben’s just raise the bar?: bacon vodka & other kooky doodads

Having claimed repeatedly (e.g. here, here & most recently in this NYE newsflash here) that a meal at Steuben’s tends to amount to more than the sum of its parts, I’m delighted to report that said sum has itself been increasing rapidly of late. While the emphasis here has always been on merrymaking versus painstaking, the fact that the less seriously Steuben’s takes itself the better is indicative of the level of sheer instinct at work (or play, as the case may be). If that rings awfully dry & stiff, especially coming from someone whose pores are still oozing last night’s booze, it just goes to show you can take the girl out of the academy but you can’t take the academy out of the girl even when you get her loaded on bacon-infused vodka* martinis rimmed with maple sugar.

But you, or at least I, will have a lot of fun trying.

Steubensbaconvodka

If this were foul it would still be phenomenal; while pumped-pork potions aren’t news in the fancy cities, no one in our rougher-&-tumbler(er?) burg has so far as I know dared to give them a go until now. The icing on the cake—a cliché I love when writing about food that isn’t iced cake insofar as it reminds me of that line in Delillo’s Ratner’s Star, “The Rolls Royce is the Cadillac of automobiles”—is that it isn’t foul: while the vodka’s suprisingly suave, giving off a smoky tinge rather than reeking of rendered fat, the hardened rim of maple syrup & granulated sugar is somehow not cloying; I suspect that chilling inhibits the flavor just so.

Compare to the coating on these sugar babies,

Sshushpuppies

**

which, far from inhibited, is balls out, if that’s something sugar can be—while remaining in proportion to the balls it’s on: ultramoist cornbread hush puppies fried to a brown so deep they were almost burnt, lending them, intentionally or not, the slightest bitter edge that only enhanced their salty sweetness.

Speaking of slight bitter edges only enhanced by sweetness, how I love that man of mine, but I’m only just beginning to accept the fact that the Director is, as they say, differently abled when it comes to ordering in restaurants. It’s like he has menu-triggered Tourette’s—involuntarily repeating the name of the same dish over & over whenever he sees it.

In short he got the fried chicken yet again.

Ssfriedchicken

Which isn’t to say that if you wanna be my lover you have to be my dish-switching bitch. Firstly, it was as good as ever—hot & crispy & juicy enough to touch the mashed potatoes (a bit lumpy, but I can take ’em that way), topped with a dense-crumbed biscuit—with the exception of the gravy, as gunky as it looks. Secondly, on that condition even I couldn’t have been with me last night, when I ordered the same Caesar I last had nearly a year ago (I mean, not the exact same; that would be sci-fi) on a hunch that proved true: it had vastly improved since—

S'scaesar

the dressing tangier, the croutons almost certainly housemade, the anchovies not of the cheap salted & tinned variety (which, granted, I also adore) but either actual boquerones or remarkable marinated white facsimiles thereof:

S'sanchovies

Of course, a salad wasn’t all I ordered. You can’t be pairing bacon vodka & fresh lettuce, for crying out loud. You might as well have a chocolate milkshake.

I was about to say, although on 2nd thought seared foie gras & a milkshake might be kinda brilliant, especially if you dunked hunks of the 1 into the other & it was spiked with almond liqueur.

The point is that while searching the menu for something sufficiently trashy I remembered I’d once been briefed by someone sufficiently trashy on Steuben’s “in-the-know menu”: a short-but-sweet selection of dishes available for, but only for, the asking—mostly staff-mealtime riffs on regular menu items, according to our server, who also pointed out that since the kitchen regularly entertains special requests, the whole thing is a charming gimmick more than a jealously guarded secret. For instance, you can gussy up your mac & cheese with just about anything short of jimmies, whipped cream & a maraschino cherry; mixed with green chile, it becomes as soupy & mildly piquant (if you oxymoronically will) down below as it is crunchy & cheesy on top.

Ssmac

**

As had I by the time we left—at once pickled & tickled by Steuben’s anew.

*With which they also make Bloody Marys.
**This, by the way, is a  side orders—$2. Fifty cents a pop. That alone warrants the categorical bump I’ve officially given Steuben’s here.

Rodney’s: Same old place in a whole new world

Not quite the oasis for the down-&-out in Cherry Creek we thought it was, Rodney’s turned all of its TVs to the Fox News channel last night; we hunkered down in our booth to watch the election returns surrounded by sandy-haired middle-management lifers in ties & their sandy-haired Talbot’s robots of wives.

Compensating somewhat was the Log Lady, eschewing her usual place at the bar with a paperback for a table near the flatscreen with an equally gray matron who requested her martini(s) with Tanqueray, 2 olives, please, plus a glass of water & another of ice on the side. She was like Eloise in her dotage.

Cover_eloise_front

“Please send up a shish kebab, three raisins & a fork to me, Eloise, & charge it s’il vous plait”

+

92R

Revlon 92R “Snowfall”

Also compensating was the garlic bread that came with the mussels—not some incomprehensible Kraft parmesan–covered loaf of fluff, it was crusty & just rubbed with butter & garlic. The broth was even garlickier, whether or not thanks to the jarred stuff—couldn’t quite tell, but the bits looked pretty uniform—which in turn compensated somewhat for the fact that the majority of bivalves were a shade overcooked, a touch rubbery.

Rodneysmussels

The steak salad special was 1 of those things I like to call “good,” by which I mean not “high-quality” so much as “full of crap,” tasty crap: crumbled bacon, sliced avocado & red onion, clearly prebagged shredded cheddar & jack, chopped tomato & lettuce as well as medallions of steak cooked to order (“somewhere between rare & medium-rare,” as I always request it to everyone’s undoubted exasperation):

Rodneyssteaksalad

I asked for both blue cheese dressing & balsamic vinegar—they make a nice contrast—but got balsamic vinaigrette, which for once wasn’t offputtingly sweet. I seriously doubt either dressing was homemade, but whatever the label on the bottle, it wasn’t like

Poison

By contrast, having in the past slobbered with glee all over the prime rib special, the Director didn’t lose a drop of drool to last night’s version:

Rodneysprimerib

What wasn’t fat was tough & stringy; he left about half of it on the plate. It looked like a pile of Hasim Rahman’s forehead post-Holyfield beatdown.

Rahmansp5

Le jus was juicy though, deeply meaty, & the sour cream was spiked with horseradish—just enough, I imagine, to leave an even bitterer taste in the mouths of our fellow diners after Obama finished giving McCain his Rahmanesque lumps.

The Salad Series: Cherry Creek Grill’s faux-Waldorf (& other goodies)

Cherry Creek makes my bowels shrivel, which is not conducive to appetite. As a teeming microcosm thereof, Cherry Creek Grill should by rights turn my guts to steaming mush.

Turns out not so much. Sure, the ceiling’s low & the seating tight & the cherry creeps gleaming with golden Botox all round. But so too is the lighting dim & the service smooth & the dining fine.

Mostly, anyway. Our grilled artichoke paled in comparison to the 1 we had a ways back at Osteria Marco, the outer leaves still a tad too woody, the stalk already a touch squishy.

CCGartichokes

But the Director’s sliced leg of lamb, smothered in a smoky if tomato-mellow chile rojo, was tender through & through alongside a snappy cucumber–red onion salad speckled with corn kernels.

CCGlamb

Though the below salad oddly & obviously has a Waldorf complex—sharing exactly 1 ingredient with the original recipe for its namesake, only 2 with subsequent versions, respectively apples & walnuts, yet rather more with a Cobb—it was plainly & simply delish. All chopped roast chicken & bacon & egg, shaved manchego & dried cherries, whole cashews & the aforementioned walnuts & julienned green apple plus spinach & mâche, splashed with an assuredly sharp apple-cider vinaigrette, it made for a tumbling heap of surprises like Stevens’ dump & the magical poem thereof.

CCGsalad

If comparing it to a masterwork of American lit is ridiculous, so is calling it a Waldorf. But forget it, Jake, it’s Cherry Creek, where glowing insincerity’s a time-honored way of life.*

* Oh, we kid. We kid because we love the willowy young shopgirls & Bluetooth-rigged hostesses & yoga instructors for dogs & the day-trading golfers who love or at least proposition them too.

The Salad Series: Steuben’s Cobb

Like Billy’s Inn, Snooze et al., Steuben’s has developed a stylized version of the kind of retro-populist repertoire that, at its best, no born-&-bred American can resist. At its worst, of course, it yields massive amounts of culinary kryptonite sleeper cells should be so lucky to hoard. The day it incorporates this

Spam

or this,

DNCcupcakes

for instance, is the day the terrorists win.

Nonetheless our weird friends smuggled both onto the patio in celebration of Petey’s birthday, apparently on the grounds that it’s not a party until you go to Crazy Tasty Town on the back of a frosted ass. (Granted, put that way, their subversiveness sounds something like a high form of patriotism.)

Meanwhile, however, it’s not a meal at Steuben’s until you take your first bite of something you could as easily have ordered at a Yankee deli, Dixie roadhouse or streetcar diner along Route 66 back in the day.

Steuben’s, as I’ve said before, is generally greater than the sum of its parts. From the awesome smattering of vintage barware to the cheeky mix of chrome & vinyl & checkerboard tile, from the juice glasses for serving wine farmhouse-style to the old tins for serving fries, oh, Cannery Row-style,

Steubensfries

everything’s designed to help you kick back, not make you sit up & take notice—everything bids you forget yourself, not commit to memory every last morsel. (Granted, some of us kick back more than others:

Natasha)

So it’s only a bonus when a soupçon of excellence does emerge from the haze of relaxation. Ergo extra points for these exemplary deviled eggs:

Steubenseggs

All too often insipid—mushy rather than creamy, picalilli-sticky rather than paprika-spiked, etc.—the filling here is spot-on savory inside those perfectly hard-cooked albumin vessels.

Steubenscobb

My Cobb salad was 1 ingredient shy of classic, lacking blue cheese, but since I’d ordered a side of blue-cheese dressing to supplement the vinaigrette it came with, all was well. Certainly it was an improvement over the half-assed Caesar I’d had last time I posted on Steuben’s. Meanwhile, the Director’s fried chicken was every bit as good as previously—perhaps even better, the gravy just a touch thinner & creamier, the biscuit a bit fresher. Speaking of fresh,

Steubensbiscuit

look how it climbed up right in the chicken’s lap! See, even the bakery products have a sassy good time at Steuben’s.

The Salad Series: Jordan’s, uh, Bistro & Pub

“Parenthood is a vortex of bad art,” said my friend Ellen the other day when I asked what was it like to have “Elmo’s Potty Time” on endless video loop. You don’t have to be a parent, just an American with a modicum of taste, to know that it’s also got to be a constant barrage of bad food. Drinking middling wine & playing Scrabble at the bar as family after family with teens & tweens & toddlers streamed into Jordan’s Bistro & Pub last night, I imagined in pretty vivid detail that suggesting the place was a mistake. I’d already suspected as much based on the name. Did Jordan—versus, say, Jean-Georges or Kieran or Jean-Georges-Kieran—think “pub & bistro” would serve as an upmarket synonym for “bar & grill” rather than a promise of Guinness & colcannon on the one hand, vin de table & frogs’ legs on the other?

Still, it was close to home, it was quiet & casual enough that a pseudofriendly game of Scrabble wouldn’t be out of place, & it listed on its menu a slew of just the sort of overstuffed salads I was craving. In fact, it listed on its menu a slew of just the sort of overstuffed everything everyone craves at any given time: “Irish nachos” with corned beef, Swiss & horseradish-Dijon; mac-&-cheddar with brie & sundried tomatoes; pizza from a wood-burning oven; & sure enough, the likes of fisherman’s pie & boxty, steak-filled & whiskey-sauced.

Ultimately, the proof that Jordan really means well was in the pudding, in this case hummus (though for all I yet know it may be in the pudding too, black & white, both of which are offered at weekend brunch).

Jhummus

Alongside pita wedges that were not only warm but, I’d swear, cornmeal-dusted (ours is not to wonder why, at least not when it’s our turn, we’re staring down an A, A, E, I, O, T & a blank, & the dinner tab’s riding on the game) was a bowl brimming over with a chunky, peanut-butter-colored substance that I indeed recognized as chickpeas freshly ground with salt. Whether or not you’d accord it the status of hummus depends on whether or not you believe in a world drenched in olive oil & lemon juice &, occasionally, topped with fried ground lamb. I do, so I wouldn’t.

Still, the mere fact that the kitchen crew is even attempting to cook from scratch in a joint that’s not only at the edge of a college campus but part of a statewide franchise—that it’s demonstrating a DIY ethic against all odds—is downright stirring.

& the grilled beef tenderloin salad clinched my, if not undying admiration, certainly hearty non-objection.

Jbeefsalad

A, observe the so-red-it’s-nearly-blue hue of that steak. I asked for it rare, & I got it, which is itself pretty rare in the lower-brow circumstances. B, note the fat, lumpy cloves of roasted garlic, not at all like the old brown fingernails that come from a jar. C, mentally compare that honey-mustard dressing to its bilious & cloying bottled counterpart. Granted, it erred so far on the side of Dijon that they probably should have called it mustard-mustard dressing. Granted, the chopped red onion was not grilled as advertised but raw as a skinned knee. Granted, the gorgonzola was supermarket-grade. But all in all—the which also included cherry tomatoes & roasted bits of red & yellow pepper—my low expectations were certainly surpassed.

Incidentally, this is hardly among the more intriguing offerings; both the goat cheese salad with, apparently, deep-fried eggplant “croutons” in a pomegranate vinaigrette & the almond-studded Cobb have my number—an inspiring feat in itself, since my number’s infinity, which is extremely hard to get on a salad.

The Director, for his part, was delighted with his prettily piped, richly gravied shepherd’s pie,

Jpie

which is fortunate, since he had to pay for it after drawing both the Q & the Z in the last round of the game, poor dear shlimazl.