Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

UPDATE: Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe on its bright & sunny way! NOW OPEN

***UPDATE: Rise & Shine opened on 1/1/10. Get thee to the biscuitry!***

Otherwise titled: Blogger & Bicyclist Becomes Boffo Barista & Biscuit Baker!

Not so fast, though. Even when it dawned on the author of So This Is Your Life (& fellow Platt Park resident) Seth Rubin that the title of his blog applied to him too, he wasn’t entirely sure about ditching his gig as a construction project manager to become the proprietor of Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe, opening in early January to serve breakfast, lunch, & coffee at 330 Holly St., in a cute little space he’s sharing with Basil Doc’s (he’ll close when the take-out outlet opens, at 4:30pm).

Rise&Shine
“I was gonna have [Basil Doc’s owner] Mike Miller talk me out of the restaurant business, knowing how hard it is,” Rubin tells me when I swing by for a look-see. Instead his cycling buddy said, “We’ve got space at 3rd and Holly. It’s between two really great neighborhoods”—namely Crestmoor and Hilltop—”without their own coffeehouse.” (Starbucks had been in negotiations a few years back to move into the little mall that contains Locando del Borgo, but the deal fell through.) “So it ends up being about as low-risk as you could ever imagine for the restaurant business, with a clientele of multimillionaires I can educate on the finer points of coffee.”

Not a multimillionaire himself, Rubin has relied on his training in urban & environmental planning to redo the storefront’s interior. “I’ve gotten things up and running for less than a new espresso machine costs,” he laughs (he got his own machine from a former coffeehouse owner in Louisville ). “They should rename Craig’s List. I own it now.”

But if coffee—sourced from Pablo’s, which “I’ve been drinking forever at Stella’s“—proves the base of his business, at the pinnacle sits a biscuit.

“You can’t get a biscuit in this town,” the North Carolina transplant notes. “The only biscuit people have been able to come up with is Lucile’s, which is cakey and sheet-cut. My own inspiration is a place called Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill. People would line up before football games to get ’em, wrapped in deli paper” (which is how Rubin plans to serve them as well).

Though he admits a short stint at Café Europa constitutes the extent of his pro career, he’s been cooking seriously since he was a kid. “Going way back in my biscuit history, it was my sister who made terrific biscuits,” he says, with one caveat—they contained eggs. “A biscuit should be flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and buttermilk. That’s it. Look on the back of the old Clabber Girl boxes or in The Joy of Cooking. That’s basically the recipe you’ll find. It’s not a big secret.”

To prove it, Rubin starts baking some right then & there.

Rise&Shine
Though you can order them plain, of course, he’ll offer a hell of an array: not only a variety of egg sandwiches but also roast beef with cheddar & horseradish, turkey with havarti & honey-mustard, a BLT, a vegetarian option, a biscuit dog, & one super-special sandwich about which mum’s the word for the nonce. There’ll even be cinnamon rolls made from biscuit dough. Cookies will come courtesy of the owner of North Star, Tattered Cover’s onetime purveyor, who’s now restarting operations.

Still, that plain biscuit is pretty damn special all by its lonesome—being moist &, as an acquaintance recently described Ritz crackers, “effing buttery.”

R&Sbiscuit

“At my other job,” Rubin recalls, “I was looking at a clock at 9:15 and saying, ‘Crap, I have to be here until 4:45.’ Here, there’s always just one more thing I want to do before I leave. Then I get home, and I can’t sleep, so I’ll read the health code.”

More power, & baking powder, to him, eh? More when Rise & Shine opens its doors.

A Quick Bite of Toast

Toast’s full name, Toast Fine Food & Coffee, says it all. This popular Littleton breakfast & lunch spot is indeed fine. I could just about end this post here.

Only since so many others apparently buy the presumed use of “fine” to mean “splendid”—”damn fine”—rather than “adequate,” I have to wonder what I’m missing. Two possibilities come immediately to mind:

1) All the other AM options in Littleton (or the lack thereof), in the dull light of which Toast might indeed come across as fantastic.
2) All the signature items (putting aside for the moment my distrust of the concept of ordering wrong).

As Rebecca from From Argentina with Love and I sat with our faces up to our eyeballs in motorcycle-helmet-sized mugs of (good, actually) coffee, we could see out just well enough to survey the almost studiously plain dining room of naught but Formica & folk art—mostly in search of our somewhat scattered if sincere server, but catching frequent glimpses of lofty stacks of pancakes & French toast that, in their thick drippiness, looked, indeed, damn fine. And while some flavors can probably rot your soul in seconds flat—e.g., the Oreo-crusted cakes with hot fudge, marshmallow Fluff & (not “or” but “&”—oof) whipped cream—others seem truly inspired. Sweet-toothless as I am, carrot cake flapjacks with cream cheese sauce & pecans sound dreamy rather than cloying even to me. And as for the savory Santa Fe French toast stuffed with egg, chorizo, green chiles & mixed cheeses & topped with avocado sauce & smoked chile sour cream—the day my last drop of sexual attraction dries up is the day I order me up a big ol’ plate of that flabtastic nonsense. Hell, two.

As it was, though, I got the hefty-enough omelet with cheddar, havarti & gruyère, topped with pork green chile & accompanied by fried potatoes & rye toast.

Toastomelette

And it was, yes, fine. I wonder in hindsight if combining 3 cow’s milk cheeses that, on the spectrum of mild to pungent, all land somewhere in the middle is a missed opportunity—maybe a blend of fresh goat & smoked jack, say, would prove more distinctive. For its part, the green chile didn’t ricochet around my mouth like the best, zingiest ones do, but I liked how thoroughly threaded through with stringy bits of pork it was.

Meanwhile, if I ordered wrong—or at least less right than the pancake pickers—Rebecca ordered wronger. A bit of her crab cake Benedict yielded more filler than crab under flat-out awful, gummy hollandaise with a weirdly sour, not lemony but acrid, aftertaste.

Toastcrabbenedict

Of course, there are other answers to the question of what I’m missing. Like “the truth” or “my marbles.” I appreciated what I saw on other tables, & the menu descriptions thereof, enough to think my assessment could be off & to ensure that I’ll return. Plus, it’s a challenge—if neither Toast nor Marmalade can ultimately cut the mustard, the field will be wide open for someone to launch Syrup or Schmear or some such & sweep the cafe competition. Eh?

Toast on Urbanspoon

Love & marriage at Lucile’s Creole Cafe

Hunger’s a crock around most of the clock I’m on; love of food, food, food means never having to say you’re hungry (or full, for that matter). But there is one time of day when stomaching the least bite sounds like a chore, anything more than that a downright dung-sweeping labor of Hercules—& that’s early-to-mid morning. So when my friend Rebecca of From Argentina With Love suggested breakfast at the Wash Parkish outlet of Lucile’s, I figured I’d just stick with chicory coffee (great, by the way—bracing but not bitter). Sure, it’d have been nice to give the repertoire a whirl since I hadn’t been there in 15 years, when I used to brunch at the Boulder branch. But a doughnut’s just a doughnut, even if it’s a beignet, right?

Right. But a homemade biscuit’s not a doughnut. It’s a little bit of what I live for. And this was one of the better little bits I’ve encountered in a long spell. Not least for being, as bits go, giant (what, 6x6x3, maybe?).

Lucile'sbiscuit Funny I should  say that,  though, really,  because  texturally  Lucile’s  biscuits aren’t  standard-  bearers—not so  much the  layered, flaky  disks of  roadhouse  tradition  as snack cakes,  with a loose,  round crumb.

But that crumb conveys so much buttery savor you can eat the things plain. And since the butter served on the side’s foil-wrapped crap, such full flavor’s key, especially for someone lacking the sweet tooth that true appreciation for Lucile’s housemade preserves deserves. (That said, the orange marmalade’s nice & heavy on the rind.)

So as long as I was snarfing after all, I got a side of red beans. Hey, it’s not like I was suddenly ordering up a slop bucket. We were still just talking sides, right?

Right. That’s what we were talking. But it ain’t what we were eating.

Lucile'sredbeans

What we were eating was a big ol’ bowl of rich, spicy, soupy beans & ham cooked on the bone. Salty but not too salty, thick but not too thick, it was so good I kept gobbling until I thought I couldn’t eat another bite—which is when I came across a huge chunk of pork shaped exactly like a boomerang. I felt like throwing it on the off-chance that it would come back to me later, just when I needed it most.

As Rebecca lingered over her Eggs Jennifer—basically Eggs Benedict with spinach, tomato & avocado instead of ham, plus grits & spuds—

Lucile'seggsjennifer

she pointed out the okra & grilled shrimp skewers the bartender was threading & arranging in a pint glass for bloody mary garnishes, & it occurred to me how beautiful they looked—like a bouquet. Then it occurred to me that, were I ever to become a white-clad bride, I’d want my bouquet to be a giant bloody mary. It’d be a nice day for a red wedding.

Then it occurred to me I might want to get married for that reason alone. Hey Lucile’s, clear me an aisle; I’ll be back, dragging the Director behind me—kicking & screaming, at least until we can figure out how to put a scotch into the buttonhole on his lapel.

Lucile's Creole Cafe on Urbanspoon

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

Sunday brunch on Monday & other bright ideas from Breakfast on Broadway

Last spring, while giving a thumb up to the cute & quiet little florist’s-slash-coffeehouse-slash-ice sculptor’s studio Flower Wraps, I made passing mention of its sibling, a then fairly new cafe called Breakfast on Broadway. Since its menu appeared to me to exhibit a certain joie de déjeuner (petit & grand), I somehow cajoled my friend Joey Porcelli—though she swears she ate enough eggs to last her a lifetime and then some while researching Rise & Dine: Breakfast in Denver & Boulder—to join me there recently.

I hardly have a good feeling about anything anymore due the much-aforebemoaned work pressures of the past couple of months, never mind the sleeplessness & begrudged sobriety attending them. But I had a good feeling about BOB the second I walked in. With its sunflower pots, winter-sunshine-colored walls & smiling welcomes, it seemed genuinely cheery—not ironically cheery like Snooze or corporate-training-video-memorizingly cheery like IHOP, just cheery.

I had an even better feeling when I saw the blackboard specials, from smoked Colorado trout on brioche with bacon and an egg, sunny side up, to a $5 bottomless mimosa—a drink special they offer not only on weekends but also on Mondays. Brilliant! It’s like voting your conscience—something I’ve been thinking about a lot these days: doing it only when it matters least isn’t doing it at all. It’s when your vote matters most that you should listen to the voice that’s telling you to, oh, choose an indie candidate whose name millions still curse for the 2000 election—which doesn’t mean you, by which I mean I, with my jerk-prone political knee, will vote my conscience rather than my nominal party loyalty, I’m just saying the thought crosses the mind—but the point is, can you really claim to drink before noon if you only do it on Saturday & Sunday? I think not. Knock back a few mimosas before work on Monday, though, & you can have all the Boozekowskiesque cred you require.

Not that it means a whit coming from me, who lacks it at present. I stuck with coffee as we pored over a menu that gave me the best feeling yet: too new to be posted online, it made all kinds of quirky & unexpected promises I so hoped it could fulfill. Butternut squash pancakes. Rice pancakes. Smoked gouda grits. A po’boy with fried pickles. Yam fries. & this:

BOBeggs

The oysters Rockefeller benedict goes like so: toasted English muffin, Pernod-sauteed spinach, fried oysters, poached egg, classic hollandaise, plus potato cakes on the side.

On a spectrum from hash browns to veggie burgers, these potato cakes located themselves smack in the middle. Something in their seasoning & texture—structured, not loose—nudged them away from the usual latticework of grated spud & grease & toward a slightly more complex flavor profile. I found myself downing both before I even touched my little open-faced treats.

The which they were—transformed by the judicious but distinct trace of anise the pastis imparted into something wholly new: the muffin sweetened, the fried oyster perfumed, the rich hollandaise oddly, slightly lightened. If hollandaise were a heavy yellow cloud Pernod would be its silver lining.

Speaking of heavy, while the oysters were virtually chicken-fried, the far more delicate batter I’d count on from a pile of bivalves back in Boston would hardly suffice; these babies had to be sturdy to register as their funky, crunchy selves.

Meanwhile, Joey had the trout special sans the fruit of the loins of the hen:

BOBsmokedtrout

Now that’s a slab of brioche & a drizzle of aioli & an X-marks-the-trout of bacon; I took just a bite of the fish & the pig, & both were lovely—the former moist & smoked just enough, the latter just the way I like it—brown, not black, with a little give.

The underspiced gumbo didn’t bowl me over, though it did go over the bowl, heh. Given the care in presentation otherwise shown by the kitchen & waitstaff, I didn’t get the sense they were thrilled with today’s batch either.

BOBgumbo

Still, you know what they say about 2 out of 3.

You also know what they say about 5. Monday or no Monday, deadline or no deadline, it’s time for a drink. I’m signing off.

Putting Pete on the A-List: brunch at Beatrice & Woodsley

If it’s much longer before Pete List, exec chef at Beatrice & Woodsley, is bundled up with Denver’s other dynamite sticks—the Bonannos & the Jasinskis etc. of the dining scene—I’ll eat my hat, & not just any old hat either, but something like this.

Hot_dog_hat

The optimism with which I moved to this city over a year ago—whereby the culinary landscape appeared so fertile as to bear copious fruit, by spontaneous generation as much as cultivation, any moment hence—has born repeating ever since, if with slightly less emphasis. Urbanity can be its own form of provinicalism, city-slickness just reverse naiveté—& it’s only now really beginning to sink in that, for instance, there’s a dearth of Cape Verdeans in the Rockies (how I miss this place), an even worse dearth of squid in the supermarkets & so on.

But to peruse B&W’s menu is to feel validated. Encouraged anew. & hungry. For brunch, List is currently offering stuff most American chefs wouldn’t offer even after cocktails, never mind before coffee: turtle soup, frog’s legs, lamb hash & lamb pie, croque madames. I wish I were his mother so I could beam with pride.

On the occasion of the Director’s 40th year on this earth, we started with the frog’s legs to go with our champagne, flanked by barely poached eggs & sauteed in what I’d call a sort of modified sofrito, very light in deference to the delicacy of the meat—if flavor were sound frog would whisper so soothingly. (Unless you dwell on it until you hear the wretched croaking of Kermit mid-dismemberment, so don’t.)

BWfrog

The Director’s pork belly, I suspect because it was grilled as well as braised, didn’t have that virtually liquid center one comes to expect from the cut; it actually had more of the texture of slab bacon, which was fine by me. Beneath a drizzle of honey, the griddled masa cakes evoked open-face sopaipillas.

BWporkandeggs

I didn’t taste yet more poached eggs in spicy tomato sauce, but the Director says there was a lovely chipotle-like smokiness there.

Instead I focused on the special of the day—corn-&-crab-stuffed sole with cherry tomatoes in a champagne cream.

BWsole

Now that there’s a (pete) list of ingredients that would make some chefs quake in their clogs. None of them are known for their pungency; wherein would lie the spice rub? Wherefore the study in contrasts?

But the dish was stunning—the sole absolutely, almost abnormally rich & juicy, the onion-enhanced filling vibrant, the sauce complex. Even the tomatoes added pop.

Keep on keepin’ on, List. Make forays into more & more offal, more & more obscure technique. Surprise us, challenge us, show us what’s what. I think this town’s nearly big enough for you.

Pimp My Meal!, Part 3: ¡Holy mole! ¡Hola, Lola!

Two wrongs don’t make a right, Two Mikes Don’t Make a Wright (although they do make for one fantastic fluke of a film, especially Mike Leigh’s diabolical segment), & mixed feelings about two venues in the WTF-were-they-thinkingly-named Big Red F Restaurant GroupJax & Centro (as expressed here)—don’t make for high expectations for a third.

But it turns out that at Lola, which Slim picked for me to try in Part 2 of Pimp My Meal!, the pickings are anything but slim. They’re as gordo as they are guapo; though kudos are therefore undoubtedly due primarily to chef-partner Jamey Fader, as near as I could tell from our prime seats near the open kitchen—whence everything that emerged looked so vibrant, so multihued & multifaceted, as to nearly make the famished Director & me crema our ropa interior—it was sous chef Austin Hall who was running the show yesterday at brunch.

So my sincerest gracias go to him, first for this:

Salsa_trio_2

While I prefer thicker, slightly oilier, salt-dustier chips like the ones I used to get at La Verdad back in Boston,

Laverdadchips
(image swiped from the hopefully laid-back author of Minty Choco Chip)

& while the house salsa was routine, the salsa verde, made with tomatillo & what I suspected & confirmed was of all things green apple, was a sweet-&-sour startler; the one made with charred Fresno chiles & what I suspected but did not confirm were smoked tomatoes was so suave you almost forgot it was spicy, like Javier Bardem playing Dracula.

Thanks are due second for this:

Greenhameggs

Just for kicks, I happen to have read & re-read this well into my retarded 20s:

Images_2

But now, in my insatiable 30s, I’m planning on eating & re-eating Lola’s inspiration therefrom. The open-face omelet that formed the basis for my Green Ham & Eggs had a moist, dense quality that was vaguely reminiscent of a Taiwanese oyster pancake, but instead of shellfish, it was loaded with chunks of chorizo verde—not as spicy as I’d have expected from the noun, but as herb-touched as I expected from the adjective—& topped with a silken layer of queso añejo (aged, queso fresco tastes less like feta & more like, I’d swear, gruyère). Swayed by a slightly puzzling but no less tempting array of all-aquatic add-ons—blue crab, fried oysters, grilled shrimp, lobster, smoked salmon—I asked for the latter & got not sliced lox but shreds of a lightly smoked (presumably in-house?) filet. Though I’d rather have had the crab hollandaise that was supposed to come with the dish but didn’t, perhaps due to an incorrect assumption that I couldn’t be so flummoxed by my own taste for the excessive that I’d want to mix sausage & cheese & crab & salmon all together, it (the salmon) was lovely, mellow as opposed to briny.

Best of all, though, was that hash—the onions caramelized to a crisp; the tangy spangling that was, I believe, browned & crumbled cotija; the whole thing nicely spiced; the cubes of potato themselves fried to melt-in-your-mouth (an adjective I swear to use only when it truly, totally applies, & who’d have thought it might ever apply to the funky spud? but there you have it) perfection.

Thanks third for the Director’s Lola Huevos, an awfully humble name for a dish of lobster enchiladas smothered in some sort of chipotle cream, along with refried beans & the scrambled eggs that get all the credit.

Lolahuevos_2

As huevos go, these are the equivalent of that tattoo of the big-breasted chick whose owner endowed it with actual implants—above & beyond sexed-up.*

*I realize it’s entirely possible that this metaphor is above & beyond sexed-up, especially considering I just heard the guy’s body rejected them. Perhaps this post will do likewise. Still, good stuff. Good coffee too, robust & thick. Oh, & tiny boxes of Chiclets come with the check—a cute-as-hell gesture, the equivalent of a guy making his tattoo of a chick wiggle her hips. I’ll stop now.

Lola on Urbanspoon