Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Colt & Gray sets the swank stage for a Craft Cocktail Powwow with Colonel Hector Bravado & Mark Antonation, Pt. 2. With bonus whiff of Benton Essence!

Continued from Part the Oneth.

Round 2 included an order of blue cheese–dusted gougères—or what Mark called, when The Colonel requested a definition, “The trick in James Bond where they stick their fingers in your eyes & push.” Heh, good one. Granted, they didn’t fit any definition I know either, looking & tasting more like fried cheese nuggets than the mini savory profiteroles they usually are. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Down they went.

CnGgougeres

So far, then, every single thing I’d tried had been a surprise in one way or another—& all, in the adventure-oriented scheme of things, pleasant ones.

The Seis was no exception.

CnGSeis

Since in the US, most of the flavor has been hybred right out of it, the thought of watermelon rarely grabs me (except in Italy, & even there my appreciation is a function of context—because it’s called cocomero, & it’s often kept by the slice along with fresh coconut in a sort of fountain bath at the carts of street vendors, & in short it’s all kinds of whimsical & picturesque).  But watermelon juice with rum, falernum & Benton essence—not that I knew what the latter was—piqued my interest. I’m glad it did, because it was delicious—lightly flowery, a touch spicy, with some sort of spiced sugar rim.

Having since found out what Benton essence is, I’m all the more impressed. Per head barman Kevin Burke, who satisfied my curiosity via e-mail:

Mmm Benton essence. Benton’s is a heritage pork producer. They cure prosciutto as well as bacon. Their bacon is incredibly rich and smoky. I have the kitchen render the bacon and use a fat-wash infusion as well as atmospheric compression to infuse a blackstrap rum. The aromatic compounds in the bacon fat are alcohol soluble, so the smoke and sweetness is left behind when I let the rum/bacon emulsion sit and break like a salad dressing. I then freeze it to solidify the fat and filter it through a coffee filter. I’m left with what is essentially smoke-infused rum that is a little bit salty and a little bit sweet, just like bacon.

Well ding-dong dang & hot damn. No wonder the watermelon tasted so good.

The Director’d joined us by then, & though he just stuck with his usual single malt, the sight of handmade ice cubes was a thrill.

CnGice

Meanwhile, Denver Six Shooter’s own Max Vitesse had also swung by; as the conversation was turning to our favorite local watering holes—which Mark had defined for us as “the perfect combination of atmosphere and drink”—Max gave a nod to TAG. “Downstairs on Monday nights, when Mike’s at the bar, he just lays everything out & then says, ‘What do you want? What kinds of things do you like?’ And makes you something on the spot.” I can’t confirm his claim firsthand, but I plan to.

As for our experts’ list-toppers:

Antonation: Delite. They’re not killing it, but the bartenders know what they’re doing, & they make a perfect mojito. Plus there’s that whole open garage door thing.

Lola. I don’t know if they have a reputation for cocktails, but they have a great tequila list. I order the Sotol margarita with Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol, usually reposado or añejo. Sotol is pretty similar to tequila or mezcal, & the Hacienda añejo has a really nice smoky flavor that goes well with the lime. Plus, Lola uses sea salt to rim the glass, so you also get a nice oceany taste.

I order mine straight up in a martini glass. The first time I ordered one, the bartender was quizzing me about my flavor preferences & suggested the sotol instead of tequila. Now I order one every time I go there. If I’m ordering from a waiter instead of the bartender, I usually have to describe it in a lot of detail to get the right drink. Makes me want one right now just thinking about it.

Full disclosure: I’d never heard of sotol before this conversation; I thought Mark said a “so-tall margarita.” Which makes me want one right now just thinking about it
. Or at least I think I’ve never heard of it—sounds like the kind of thing I’d be trying long past the point at which I might remember trying it.

Meanwhile, Mark was also trying to remember whether Lola still has a build-your-own-bloody-mary bar, prompting The Colonel to retort, “I never understood the ‘build your own’ concept. ‘Here, fuck up your own drink!'”

The Pioneer on University, because they were really good to me when I was unemployed.

And I’ll go with the Falling Rock Tap House. It offers the beer variety I need & it’s the first place that I ever had Old Potrero Single Malt Rye.

The Colonel: My number 1 doesn’t have a name. It’s the bar next to Cosmo’s Pizza on the Hill in Boulder. My favorite bartender is Glenn; he has a signature drink called the Broadway.***

I’m also gonna have to say Dazzle. The drinks are heinously overpriced, but I’ve more or less lived at Dazzle, legless, 2 or 3 times a week. And, this is so embarrassing, but the Village Tavern at the Flatirons Crossing. The bartender was the first one that signed up on Denver Six Shooter to give me a shoutout. And they have the best happy hour.

Red Square for a good carafe of dill-infused vodka & a big carafe of Black Cherry Effen vodka. Oh, and the fuckin’ Thin Man! They do their own infused vodkas.

Moving on to Round 3, we stuck with wine & beer. At some point Mark also snagged some fried oysters; handsome though they were on their bed of rock salt, they were also few & far between, so I let him & them be. His thumbs up: “Briny!”

CnGfriedoysters

Delving deeper into the topic, I found it mighty interesting that, in response to the question, “What’s the best drink you’ve ever had here in town?” both gents recalled classic juice glasses as served to them at high-end joints that weren’t on their list of go-tos. Goes to show, I guess, how key pure comfort is when it comes to naming favorites.

The Colonel: The best Manhattan I ever had was at Oceanaire. It was a fuckin’ kitty wading pool, perfectly chilled—I love it when there’s a layer of ice flecks on the top—and mixed so that the good bite of the bourbon remained in the foreground. I had two. It was also that the cocktail waitress on duty had this courtesan grace about her: quick-witted and warm and in total command of her environment, attentive without being servile. I wish I could remember her name.

Antonation: I was at Venice & I saw a Rusty Nail on the bar menu, which you never see. Because of the Drambuie, I think it’s a difficult drink to hit the right balance with. But before it even hit my lips, I caught the aroma & I was like, this was what my dad used to drink at cocktail parties!

Now that we’d covered the past & present, I had to ask: what would you most like to see in Denver bars? How should the scene evolve from here on out?

Antonation: Actually, it’s what I don’t want to see. I don’t think I want to see everyone doing [what Colt and Gray is doing], because I don’t think everyone would do it well. For instance, I love The Meadowlark, it’s just an awesome place, but they’ve got one of those cocktail lists that I avoid.

Agreed. Pay heed, PS Lounge.

The Colonel: I’d like to see more people doing coke right off the bar. It’s 2009. Whey should you have to go hunch over in the bathroom like a fucking animal? Also, I think I should be paying for drinks less often.

Oh, Colonel. Agreed, agreed.

OK, seriously? About ten years ago, I suggested a steak martini as a lark: cold vodka with a piece of rare–medium-rare steak wrapped around the inside of the glass, maybe a piece of pickled carrot floating in it. You polish off the hooch as the meat bleeds into it, then eat the vodka-soaked piece of steak. Everyone thought I was nuts back then, but with bacon-infused vodka available now, it doesn’t seem so nuts.

And with that, we headed off into the night, visions of ribeye dancing in our heads—as well as of, at least in my case, the lobster bangers & mash I’d spied on Colt and Gray’s menu. ‘Til next time—which had better be in no time.

*** I zonked out for a second at this point, but the Colonel filled me in on the Broadway later by quoting fellow Denver Six Shooter Abbott Westwind: “Into my glass go the bitters, Makers Mark, Amaretto & Grand Marnier, with a squeezed lemon hugging the rim.” I’m sure there’s a joke here about bitters-laced rim-huggers, but I don’t know what it is, do you?

The Violet Hour at Colt & Gray: a word from head barman Kevin Burke

Before I get to Part 2 of the Craft Cocktail Powwow: got an elucidating e-mail from Colt & Gray hooch honcho Kevin Burke about the Violet Hour we pondered in Part 1. Calling himself & his colleagues “open-source bartenders,” he kindly gave me permission to share it with you.

CnGcocktails2

***

Denveater,

I wanted to shed some light on the recipe I have for The Violet
Hour. I have made Gary Regan’s version, published in the Chronicle, [see Part 1, linked above] and it’s true to his style (although I confess it’s better with gin,
particularly Bluecoat). It looks and tastes suspiciously like a Corpse Reviver.

Tony Maloney opened The Violet Hour
in Chicago, and he submitted his eponmous recipe to Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, which is essentially 2 oz. of bourbon (I believe I used 1792, a
bottle that I am generally less than enamoured with, but I think the rye
backbone works well in this drink. Bulleit as well as Stranahan’s
would also be interesting), 3/4 oz. Italian vermouth (Carpano Antica), 1/4
oz. French vermouth
, a dash of blackstrap (Goslings), a solid dash
or 4 of our house old-fashioned bitters
, and I think a lemon twist added
some cohesiveness to the cocktail as well.

The drink sort of works
like a Brooklyn Cocktail, if you invert the vermouth proportions
(Amer Picon acts somewhat like Antica in cocktails, and whilst I love maraschino, I also love how the blackstrap here works in a supporting role
to the carmelized flavors of bourbon, in lieu of the potential of maraschino to be a bit of a bull in a china shop.)

At least, that’s
what I think of when I see this recipe. Hope this clarifies where I was coming from.

Best,
Kevin Burke

***

What a peach, eh?

My Own Private Fern Bar: Pearl Street Grill

Of all the things my generation just missed—the heyday of CBGB, abiding faith in the executive branch, sex before AIDS—I grow perhaps mistiest over the fern bar fad. By the time we came of age in the late 1980s, what had been for about 15 years the type of establishment for newly minted, nubile adults to mingle in—invariably & deliciously while downing daiquiris to the wry yet mellowtones of Rupert Holmes & Randy Newman, or, later, Midori Sours against a medley of, say, A Flock of Seagulls & Heaven 17 —was already ceding ground to New American bistros & warehouse raves.

The definition of a fern bar is a bit shifty (Wikipedia notwithstanding), but mine own mind’s eye scans a split-level expanse of wood panels, stained glass, brass railings, pendant lamps &, yes, a token plant or 2; here, the likes of white zin & tuna melts never left the building—no comebacks, ironic or otherwise, required.

Zoom outward with your own mind’s eye, & you’ll see that this about covers it.

PSGsign

That there’s a detail from the Pearl Street Grill, which opened in 1983, &, I’m betting, has hardly changed since. Why should it? It’s rolling in every ingredient comprising success’s recipe: well-foot-trafficked location; comfy, laidback atmo & service to match; sun-dappled back patio; a repertoire of the kinds of eats that lull us Americans into the sense of well-being only goofy self-indulgence fosters (if I may speak for the entire nation. I may? Shit then, hooray for universal health care, GLBT rights & gun control!).

Goofy self-indulgence being both the Director’s & my middle name (coincidentally enough, eh), we still come here far more often than any particular aspect of the experience justifies. Unless you count the fact that they give us no guff about setting up our Scrabble board & playing in their midst. Hence the game going on behind this Cobb,

PSGCobb

which hardly distinguishes itself in the lineup of Cobbs I’ve had locally; ditto the Caesar, the Greek, & the steak salad. All are just fine, of course. But where the point is supergoofy self-indulgence, the logical choices are things like the 2-cheese-&-green-chile-stuffed Mexican egg rolls, the asiago-artichoke dip with garlic beer bread, the shepherd’s pie—

PSGshepherdspie

a veritable F9f6b571-c578-4515-ba16-3de0a68a6f05 of mashed potatoes & melted cheddar,

with mammoth chunks of tender lamb & carrot sucked into the rich muck of gravy below—

[UPDATE! On my rec, Comrade L gave it a whirl. Boy, was my face red when it came out within 2 min., no exaggeration, of her order, only to offer up chalky potatoes, half-cooked carrots, & gravy that was literally rather than metaphorically muck. The reason for the stark difference is anyone’s guess, & I still generally trust PSG to glorify junk food properly, but consider yourself duly warned re some inconsistency]—

& the oddly off-menu, housemade sweet potato chips.

PSGchips4

I can’t imagine that the happy hour pretzels are housemade,

PSGpretzel

mainly because pretzel making’s a tad labor intensive—but so much the better if they are, because they’re just right, hot & soft yet super-chewy; for that matter, if they’re from a box, the kitchen does a noteworthy job of disguising the fact.

PSGdipThe honey-mustard dipping sauce, meanwhile, is made in-house, & it’s quite good—light & vibrant, not the bilious bottled goo.

Other surprisingly well-made dishes include the mussels in an excellently peppery, garlicky, white wine–based broth, served with grilled bread & plenty of lemon wedges

PSGmussels

& the occasional special that is beer cheese soup, smooth yet robust.

PSGbeercheesesoup

The Director’ll also vouch for the buffalo burger, I for the nachos ¡con gusto! with ground beef & green chile, & both of us for the fact that, if Pearl Street Grill’s one of its namesake’s less brilliant lights, it remains one of its more solid fixtures.

Pearl Street Grill on Urbanspoon

Further proof that Denver’s the flat-out be-all end-all for dive barflies: Gabor’s

I didn’t move to Denver because it’s way up there among the booziest burgs on earth, but I sure do feel at home as a result. Some of the local histories I’ve perused offer all kinds of clues as to how the mile-high city, emphasis on high, got that way. For instance:

  • Arose in the flush of the Gold Rush as a hub for prospectors who tumbled down from the mountains either to piss their newfound fortunes away on wine & women & song & such or to drown their sorrows over their lack thereof.
  • Established its 1st seat of government in a saloon (located in what’s now LoDo).
  • Experienced a late-19th-c. influx of German immigrants who established breweries & opened beer halls in the vicinity—e.g. Adolph Coors.
  • Preceded San Francisco as the Beat HQ; the city-approved Beat Poetry Driving Tour includes stops at My Brother’s Bar & the Colburn Hotel (home to Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill)—hangouts both for Cassady, Kerouac & Ginsberg.
  • Boasts Colfax Ave., once famously referred to in Playboy as “the longest, wickedest street in America,” lined with the more-or-less legendary likes of the Satire Lounge, the Lion’s Lair, PS Lounge, & more, along with (even today, as it supposedly gentrifies) all manner of users, losers & cruisers.

Having already fallen hard for more than my share of hardcore local bars—among them the aforementioned Charlie’s, Lincoln’s Road House, Kinga’s LoungeSkylark Lounge, Sputnik, MeadowlarkCandlelight Tavern, & more—the knowledge that I’ve still got miles of unexplored barritory to go before I pass out, from the Wazee Supper Club downtown to, per L, the Kentucky Inn near Wash Park, just makes me nuts with glee.

That said, from here on out I may never get further than Gabor’s, a little secret the Mad Russian & the Whistler let me in on after we beat it the hell out of Bar Substandard following the glorious Everything Absent or Distorted’s style-cramped set last weekend.

Windowless unless you count a row of these,

Gaborsglass

filled with corny movie memorabilia & other pointers toward a cinematic motif apropos of nothing in particular, e.g. the menu cover,

Gaborsmenu

but otherwise nearly empty & utterly quiet early on a Saturday evening, the place became my cheerfully sadsack new hero from the get-go. The wine was cheapo & the snacks, bad as they were, couldn’t have been better.

That includes the “no joke,” to quote the menu, cordon bleu balls.

Gaborschickenbites

Supposing I don’t even try to hypothesize as to whether they actually contained any chicken or ham or swiss or if the dipping sauce was or wasn’t some sort of herbed honey mustard, & supposing I just leave the oft-meaningless but in this case, I think, very telling adjective “interesting” to do the descriptive work—you’ll know precisely what I mean, yeah?

Despite almost identical appearances, the olive & asiago bites with marinara

Gaborsasiagobites

actually did burst with recognizable salty savor. And as for the Director’s dinner, the sight of a scotch pour as big as his burger, replete with romaine as fresh as Gabor’s aura is faded,

Gaborsburgerscotch

was absolutely one for sore eyes—now happy, nevermore Gaborless eyes.

Gabor's on Urbanspoon

Wine Poem 5, with notes on quirky Village Cork

I’ve articulated the kick I get out of the Village Cork before, but it’s worth doing every so often. Not that there’s much to articulate—it’s just a quiet neighborhood wine bar with a little French country flair, a tiny, super-simple menu of hors d’oeuvres, a slightly larger, subtly idiosyncratic list of wines, and…and. There’s always an “and” there—some odd little twist, some passing moment (as though there were any other kind) that brings me back & back.

On a recent trip by my lonesome, it was the soundtrack that got me: the loopiest set of 40-year-old tunes you could compile, from the themes from both Superfly & Midnight Cowboy—you know, that sweetly weary Harry Nilsson ode to humble American rootlessness—to Stevie’s “Living for the City” (“New York City! Just like I pictured it”).

Settling onto a corner stool at the bar, I started with an easygoing Greek red, just a $6 George Skouras that came with a dish of olives—a new-to-me gesture—& followed it with an intensely figgy $12 Rotllan Torra Priorat & an order of ceviche that lacked a tad in citrus but didn’t skimp for a second on shellfish.

VCceviche

I don’t know why the photo looks like something out of a Watergate-era promotional pamphlet from the good folks at the Southern Shrimp Alliance or what have you, but doesn’t that just add to the mood of mellow reverie suffusing the Village Cork? Why, I think it’s time for some versification.

Wine Poem 5

I
Perhaps per se happens. All it is can be!
Another word for it would be—wait,
it’ll come to me—Granted shape is just a phase. Granted form—
a bottle in the dark, a body clad—
just comes between to and from,
from and to, abstract to the touch. Or so it seems
in light of the wine in the light, barely flickering,
of all its bilabials one icy eve.
Amarone, barbaresco, primitivo,
after all
the anticipation the first sip almost, almost hurts—
a little bit, admit, a touch—
like on certain liquids you can cut your lip,
the downwardness of fluid having after all an edge—
When the wine winds down,
nearby is nearly, the word is not to be.
I want everything, nothing included.

II
Brown-butter bread pudding with mulberries and milk jam—
makes it sound like sculpture.
The heart is its own brain. It pauses, hesitates.
Something’s just on the tip
of the heart’s tongue, the heart taps
fist to brow to jar
memory into place. Perhaps
it’s a name unsure of its place—
the name is not Claude Muchmore, it is not
Javier Flores, it is not
Spiro or Vladimir or Mars.
The heart smarts like a shin smacked
on the corner of the couch, not sofa,
not settee or divan,
damning itself
for its willed inattention to the world,
its faux velleity, oh, so faux—
The heart thinks, I’ve heard this song
for twenty-something years,
the heart knows the lyrics by heart

(and you just stood there shaking—you stood there shaking)—

The heart has hips and sways. The heart has lips and applies
pressure, logic, balm.
The heart acknowledges the dichotomy
between mind and body mind and body fail to acknowledge
and in the moment
of so doing wilts like an old head
of greens, escarole, romaine, soporific.
Thinking things is coming to not terms but blows.

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.”

The Dish Redux: Jonesy’s EatBar

Fan of easygoing neighborhood eateries that I am—your Black Pearls, your Billy’s Inns—I was sorry to see The Dish go. Which means I’m happy to see it come back, with a goofy new name & a shiny new veneer but the same old funky, friendly ways. Stopping in for drinks, pal Beth of Living the Mile-High Life & I got just enough of a taste of the place to confirm a bigger, sloppier bite would be in order ASAP.

Not that a mere nibble of Beth’s “lamby joe” sliders (1 of 6 kinds) wasn’t plenty sloppy, hence the name—with caramelized onions (&, supposedly, bacon & blue cheese, though I didn’t catch any in my 1 mouthful), the shredded lamb leaked its dear juices all over the place. Substituting the buffalo fries for the 3rd slider was a smart move on Beth’s part; while the fries themselves are just fine—crispy enough for not being, I suspect, hand-cut—the goodly drizzle of blue cheese dressing & Frank’s Hot Sauce makes ’em new & keen.

JEBslidersfries

Rumaki blasts back from its Trader Vicsian past—or semi-rumaki, rather; I’d just as soon the kitchen wrapped chicken livers up with the water chestnuts & bacon per the classic recipe, but a dollop of kicky pineapple chutney does a different trick.

JEBrumaki

Note, by the by, the cool mismatched plates, a signature quirk from the Dish days. The owner even held on to some of the oldies, which I still love for looking like a Rorschach test out of a dentist’s nightmares.

Dishdish

A side order of mac-n-cheese charmed for its simplicity: no casu marzu–&-caciocavallo farfalle here, just elbow noodles with cheddar, cream & a wittingly Krafty consistency.

JEBmacnchs1

I’ll be back for Indian-spiced cauliflower, goat cheese sliders with fig mayo, shredded lamb–scallion gnocchi &, really, just about all else.

Jonesy's EatBar on Urbanspoon

“I don’t know where I is”: Bewilderment at Brewery Bar II

It took me a good 5 minutes, scanning Yelpers’ reviews of this crumbly old watering hole on S. Kalamath & trying to make sense of the raves, to realize the phrase in the title was a reference to the original location & not some tribute to lolcat lingo.

Which only goes to show how muddled I was by my own experience there, as in

Funny-pictures-kitten-is-going-to-be-confused-later-in-life .

The discombobulation began at the door, as the Whistler, the Mad Russian (both of whom you may remember from, say, here), the Director & I walked in to find not the dark, drowsy Mexihonky tonk I was counting on but a bright, bustling borderline–family joint. It continued via a server so loquacious I wondered if you can get high off the fumes of frying frijoles; for every 3 seconds she spent serving, she tacked on 3 minutes sharing enough of her life story we could probably fill in the missing details ourselves (likes Kid Rock; dreams of one day owning a classy salon; wears panties with the days of the week stitched on them. That’s my guess). But it ended with cooking so dumbed-down that, considering all the odes to its authenticity out there (albeit composed, it seems, mainly my fellow gringos), it occurred to me we might be in the wrong Brewery Bar altogether.

Let’s put aside the storebought chips & salsa & take the “minnies,”

BBminnies2

a name that bears the symbol of a registered trademark, which is funny, because I didn’t know you could get your own trademark for a product that already exists,

namely 042800005809 .

These supposed chile rellenitos amounted to dollops of processed cheese encased in stale crust, of no victual value whatsoever except as vehicles for that cup of green chile.

Granted, it’s the green chile, not the La Choy frozen egg rolls or whatever they were, that garner 90% of the kudos this place gets. And the green chile is good—simple, full of honesty (just look at that pork chunk) &, yes, spicy. Spicy. Not five-alarm, not lip-blistering, not infernal. Look, I’m still riding on capsaicin training wheels, & I could take it. Not to suggest that “scorching” is automatically synonymous with “superior”—but since many a Southwesterner suggests otherwise, it’s worth noting.

The same goes for the red chile on my shredded pork tamale.

BBtamale

The Director frowned on the inclusion of ground pork—red chile, he sniffed, should be meatless—but I loved that sort of Mexican bolognese seeping into my steamed, shredded pork–filled masa casing.

The refritos, on the other hand, were as tasteless as could be & still be made of food. I love me some lard, but I didn’t want some beans with that.

The Mad Russian’s burrito was like a weeknight in the middle of nowhere—uneventful.

BBburrito

Ditto the Director’s combo platter of enchiladas, 1 of which included some juicy-looking lumps of chicken—points for which the beef in another, he sniffed anew (he was doing a lot of sniffing—dude, it’s not a vertical Château Latour tasting), cancelled out, being ground.

BBcombo7

Ditto, ditto, the Whistler’s combo plate—actually 2 plates, containing 1 chicken enchilada, 1 beef burrito & 1 beef taco.

BBcombo10

BBtaco

What more is there to say? Mediocre’s mediocre. Medioculo’s half-assed. And Brewery Bar II might as well be Brewery Bar I, III, IV, or LXXVI for all it distinguishes itself from any other dive.

Brewery Bar II on Urbanspoon

Wallowing in the warm mud of meaty grub at the British Bulldog Pub

I’ve got a bulldog fetish that blossomed in a park near Harvard Square a decade or so ago when I saw one, within seconds of sighting a louche-looking Peter Wolf (irrelevant but true), getting attacked by two dalmatians. He stood there helplessly, silently, as they freaked all over him before their owners finally pulled them apart. After giving him a quick checkup & rubdown, the bulldog owner pulled the poor humiliated thing to his feet & they started walking again—until they reached a puddle 3 feet later & he promptly plopped down in an exhausted sprawl, refusing to move until the cool water had licked his wounds a while. His sadness was so human.

Like dear anonymous dog, my pal Joey & I recently plopped down exhausted in a sprawl at the British Bulldog Pub after a grueling morning, refusing to move until food nursed our gaping hunger-sores. But lo, meanwhile, the atmo was like unto a puddle of our own, soothingly shadowy & cool from the muraled wooden booths & wall panels

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to the stained glasswork & copper-tiled ceiling & scattered pubby memorabilia

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to the piped-in alt-80s broody-pop soundtrack—Siouxsie & the Banshees, Depeche Mode, OMD.

But it was the neo-Indo-Anglo menu, where aloo gosht meets fish & chips & peshwari chicken comes en baguette, that offered the funkiest comfort. Check out, for instance, the chappli kebab salad.

BBPsalad

If the addition of avocado, underripe at that, was a little awkward ethnically as well as visually, it also served a purpose—blunting, along with the crisp mixed veggies, the kick those minced beef patties had, just as tamarind sauce did for the even harder kick of the cilantro chutney. If the latter was storebought, & I won’t venture a guess 1 way or the other, it’s a good store.

Speaking of awkward visuals (&/or talk about food porn), those disembodied, barbecued penises in the corner were even more startling in the flesh,

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not least for being a) delicioso—casings crackling with char, porky insides mellow—& b) free, because our server’d heard “bangers” (a side of which is actually $2.50) when I’d said “baked beans.” Of course, once we’d cleared up the misunderstanding, she brought the latter as well,

BBP beans

which were worth the wait—bacon-edged & tangy rather than primarily sweet.

Although Joey could have taken or left her fish sandwich—

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in fact, that’s exactly what she did, eating half & forgoing the rest for tasting more “fishsticky” than freshly batter-fried—she applauded the coleslaw, deeming it lighter & more interestingly seasoned than your average picnic pulp.

In short, like its namesake, it’s an easy charmer. May a place like this never open next door.

British Bulldog on Urbanspoon

delite at the end of the tunnel

“They made me come ask you why you’re taking pictures,” said our table model (not to denigrate her skills as a server, which were as polished as her tall shiny boots), sheepishness darkening her tall shiny face until I wanted to mop her brow with a lace hanky & coo “there, there, now.”

“Oh, I always take pictures of my food!” I chirped—which, after all, is true. The fact that it wasn’t really an answer to the question didn’t seem to bother her, & off she went to report to whomever they were. I can’t blame them (unlike them)—at least 1 picture-taking customer in their recent past turned out to be a flaming bitcheroo. Wonder what her problem was. It couldn’t’ve been discomfort, since the space is great, sliding back & forth along a spectrum from sleek to almost louche, surf to urban, mod to pomo—with perfectly capable service to match. It couldn’t’ve been the crowd, since there isn’t any at the preternaturally happy hour when delite opens & she, apparently—like me—opts for a headstart on the sink into oblivion. Couldn’t, on that note, have been the drinks, because they’re drinks. Could it have been the food?

IMO, yes & no. Yes, because the menu, which overlaps with Deluxe’s as it is, has barely budged since delite debuted nearly a year ago; this kitchen is entirely too talented to settle for same-old to such an extent, as I argued then when my craving for novelty drove me out of its bed—okay, booth—& into the arms—okay, booth—of Beatrice & Woodsley, which opened the same week. No, because same-old is still same-solid. Rarely is a hair—eww, okay, garlic chip or parsley flake—out of place among this crew.

And there were, after all, 1 or 2 new-to-me tidbits—the deviled eggs with pesto & bacon, for instance.

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I might have mashed a little extra pesto directly into the yolk, myself, for maximum pestoxic shock. Still, my gang & I popped them all into our mouths like unborn–chicken gumdrops. Gallus-gallus gobstoppers.

Even savory-M&M-er, however, were the spicy edamame—stir-fried, I suppose, to just the right bite with chili & garlic, & maybe a little sesame oil? Maybe a touch of sugar as well as salt? Whatever, pop, pop, pop.

Deliteedamame

The open-face steamed pork buns

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didn’t cut my own personal mustard, i.e. Chinese hot, because I was—admittedly not reading the menu closely, so perhaps erroneously—all giddy to go for more traditional char siu bao, which are closed up to keep the meat juices in. Admirable as delite’s more elegant twist is, elegance doesn’t drip down your chin.

As for the menu’s aforementioned overabundance of signatures, you’d think there were only so many times in this life you can eat smoked-salmon potato skins

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& potato chips with truffle aioli & blue cheese.

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But, you know, you can learn something new every day, even at novelty-resistant delite. I learned that if there’s one thing it’s impossible to maintain disdain for once it’s before you, it’s potatoes, nineteenth-century famines notwithstanding. Potatoes & babies, maybe, satirical responses to 19th-century famines also not withstanding.