Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Root25 Taphouse & Kitchen Breaks Ground in the DTC

I rarely have cause to be sniffing around the DTC, but after an invite to the media preview for this brewcentric newcomer in the Hyatt Regency, I took a glance at the goods & liked what I saw—not only a serious collection of local beers, both on tap & in bottle, but also a gastropubby menu that’s itself drenched in booze. I counted some 17 alcohol-infused dishes, from the chocolate malt-honey butter on the buttermilk pancakes for breakfast & the Avery White Rascal salad dressing to the chorizo-IPA consommé, beef-cheek pastrami sandwich slapped with Vodka 14 aioli, & hops-smoked pork shortrib with malted cranberry-bean puree & apple-mustard marmalade. And I liked it all no less when I saw it for myself; hotel director of food & beverage Ben Hardaway admitted to me that he’d had to make some noise to realize his vision in the face of corporate hesitation, but he did it. Good on him.

For this casual premiere, the team graciously put the spotlight on their purveyors above all—take this salad bar courtesy of Grower’s Organic, featuring some of the prettiest black radishes, baby carrots & teardrop tomatoes I do believe I’ve ever seen.

Or this spread of locally produced salumi & cheeses (think Continental Sausage, Avalanche, etc.), plus housemade accompaniments. That pan-fried pancetta in the foreground? I want some more RIGHT NOW. I want to wrap this apple I’m eating in it. I’m not even one of those bacon freaks who won’t give it a rest already, but the pancetta-apple scale definitely tips in favor of crispy pork product.

I didn’t manage to get around to the prime-rib carving station (but the Director, who adores the stuff—RIP Rodney’s—raved about it). Why not? Because I was too busy snarfing up the sandwiches: BLTs with house-cured bacon, green tomatoes, smoked cheddar, & cipollina aioli; grilled cheddar-&-swiss with roasted tomatoes, onions, arugula, & amber ale-infused Dijon mustard;

& the RIGHT ON whiskey barrel-smoked beef brisket with rutabaga sauerkraut & Hazel Dell mushroom ketchup on jalapeño-cheddar bread. One of those surprises that makes your pupils dilate—you think you’re biting into one standard thing that turns out to be a whole other rainbow thing. (It didn’t hurt that the delish cocktail I’d paired with it was whipped up by none other than that old smoothie Sean Kenyon, on hand to guest bartend.)

I was also loading up on wings & drumettes, for which the kitchen goes to town. The chicken itself is malt-roasted; then it’s coated in 3 different sauces—Wynkoop Black Lager buffalo, Left Hand Milk Stout BBQ, & spicy Dry Dock Apricot Blonde; finally, it’s served with housemade ranch & ridiculously chunky, good-quality blue-cheese dressing.

Dessert was a charm offensive of assorted Mason-jar pies, eclairs, & truffles.

And while the bartenders kept the flow of suds from Funkwerks, Elevation, Odell, Avery, Great Divide, Upslope & other beloved locals going, I was tickled to see their investment in a barrel-aged cocktail program—there must’ve been 8 or 10 of these on the counter for sampling (click to read the labels).

It goes without saying that you wouldn’t expect such passionate, community-conscious effort from a hotel oriented toward business travelers. Here’s hoping these guys get the crowd they aim to cater to.

Root 25 Taphouse & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Now Open! Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria

Think of the latest outpost in Frank Bonanno‘s sprawling empire, located way down south at the Park Meadows Mall, as a breezier, more streamlined, family-friendlier Osteria Marco. Though smaller, the menu shares obvious elements with that of its older sibling, including an assortment of formaggio fatto in casa & imported salumi, a few salads & panini, & above all pizza, here baked in a custom-built Italian oven. But you also got your crudo & your fritto—that is, raw & fried—selections, & at a family-&-friends preview this week I started with one of each as a real-world compromise to starting with all of each (my appetite floating in a whole other dimension as it does).

We all reach a point where we’ve had our fill of a trend: beets, brussels sprouts, marrow, molten chocolate, Fernet Branca, what have you. Because it’s our job to cover trends as they develop, food writers tend to reach that point well before the average diner. Then again, we also get over being over things quicker, I think—we’re reminded that before they become trends & after they cease to be, they’re just ingredients that have their time & place.

Take raw tuna. There are only so many ways to prepare it; I’ve had them all countless times, & since I’m usually on a mission to try the new & unusual, I tend to ignore it. I’m glad that, this time, I didn’t, because the sliced ahi crudo was terrific topped with a salad of chopped romaine, basil & olives in caper vinaigrette. Simple, straightforward, refreshing. I also liked the pan-fried polenta pictured with it below, though if I ordered it again I’d mix it up bite-for-bite with some house-cured lonza or something! Because why not!

As for the pies, come on—Bonanno’s probably been making pizza in his sleep since he was 12. Of course the crust boasts great structure, with crunch & pop & give; of course the toppings are premium. The question that remains is one of personal preference, so I can’t offer much guidance except to say that the fresh, velvety ricotta—which appears on 4 of the 10 combos—is just dreamy; it certainly made for a meltingly delicate counterpoint to the mozzarella, garlic, olive oil & chili flakes also on the punchy Walter White, along with, of course, Blue Sky crystals—I mean blue-cheese crumbles! Heh.

Meanwhile, earthy accents highlighted the overall lusciousness of my companion’s wild-mushroom pizza with béchamel, robiola, & truffle oil,

but the pie I’m jonesing to try next combines fontina, ricotta & sausage with broccoli rabe & garlic butter, which sounds like just the right balance between salty juiciness & jolts of bitterness.

Finally, Osteria Marco’s butterscotch bread pudding has made the trek to Lone Tree intact; it’s a springy, peachy take on a typically heavy dessert.

In short, it’s heartening to see an independent chef bringing octopus, burrata & Aperol spritzes to the ‘burbs, damn the old “will it play in Peoria?” dilemma. Here’s betting it will, at that.

Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Pane Bianco (& much more) at Udi’s Pizza Café Bar on Colfax

Since the Director’s place of employ is in the Lowenstein Cultureplex, I end up in those parts a lot. So I have to confess to some disappointment upon hearing the news that a branch of Udi’s would replace Encore on Colfax; a passable sandwich shop does not a twinkly, cozy hangout make.

But a full-service, contemporary Mediterranean-American restaurant with a well-stocked bar does a twinkly, cozy hangout make; as it turns out, I like almost everything about this place.

In fact, it’s not even all that distinguishable from its predecessor. The long, narrow space looks pretty much the same, & so does the menu—a smart, breezy collection of small plates, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, & heartier entrees. One thing makes all the difference, however: THIS.

Pane bianco just means “white bread” in Italian, but here, the structured loaf you might expect is not what you get. Rather, the high-risen round is a lot like a giant puff of pizza crust: golden, crunchy, & touched with olive oil on the outside, airy, soft, & chewy on the inside. On 3 visits I couldn’t keep my hands off it until it was gone, & I’m craving it hard all over again just looking at it here, pictured with baba ghanoush—which, however, is a little too pure in eggplant flavor for my tastes; I’m an eggplant fiend (by all its beautiful names: melanzana, aubergine, berenjena, etc.), but it can be sharp on the palate, & in this case I think a little more tahini would soften those bitter edges.

Good thing the bread comes with all the other small-plate selections too, including these terrific Tunisian-roasted carrots:

root-sweet, loaded with smoky cumin, & accompanied by a smear of thick, rich tzatziki—which is also offered separately, doused in olive oil & sprinkled with za’atar. The word “intense” doesn’t usually apply to yogurt, but it sure works here.

Some of the sandwiches also feature pane bianco, including this French dip I got to go—which is great, because why shouldn’t tender, thin-sliced roast beef & aioli be the icing on the cake of killer dough? I didn’t even mind that they forgot the side of jus—for which I mistook the container of orange-balsamic vinaigrette meant to accompany my salad. Look, I’ll dip anything in anything, so what do I care. (Ever had sushi with hummus? Primo.)

In the above light, you’d think the pizza would be equally smashing. Not quite. The crust is certainly all that, as is the zingy fresh tomato sauce—& those are the most important parts, to be sure. But the toppings still need some refinement. Take the vegan kale pizza, which sounded intriguing but proved out of whack: it was basically just a pile of nearly raw kale, plus maybe two slices of mushroom, with the bare minimum of advertised breadcrumbs & no detectable note of the garlic or truffle oil it also supposedly included.

Or the version with prosciutto, béchamel, gouda & caramelized onions—sort of; the below pie boasted the right amount of the former 2 ingredients, but not nearly enough of the latter 2. (In the rare bites where I did get the full effect, it was a throbbingly vibrant one.)

The mushroom-sausage pizza with mozzarella & red peppers was, however, ready for its close-up, so clearly the potential’s there.

To take a quick carb break, Udi’s salads aren’t wildly original—you got your Cobb, your Greek, your chicken “Oriental,” etc.—but they’re solid. The combination of frisée, radicchio, poached pear, blue cheese, & slivered almonds in balsamic vinaigrette may not be conceptually fresh, but it’s literally refreshing, crisp, balanced, generous, & fine. You can have similar salads all over town, but I’ll vouch for this one.

Same goes for the beet, goat cheese, hazelnut, & watercress salad. Overplayed times a million, sure. But nicely done nonetheless.

To return to meatier stuff (click below to enlarge): the falafel burger’s a bit dry, but the earthy, nutty, herbal flavor’s delightful, highlighted by the chipotle aioli—& the Jerusalem chicken is superb: juicy, evocatively spiced, comforting in the extreme.

So next time you’re catching a flick at the Sie Film Center, stop by the bar—I’ll probably be there, face down in a bread pocket.

Udi's Pizza Café Bar on Colfax on Urbanspoon

Swimming in Thai Flavor

I never cruise through Aurora without spotting 15 places I want to try; it was a new East African joint that turned my head recently on the way to meet my pals/partners in chow crime Denver on a Spit (DOAS) & Mantonat at Thai Flavor, which sits in a strip mall next to a West African place (that happens to make amazing meat pies), the Ghanian-owned African Grill & Bar. As Mantonat puts it, “Peoria Blvd. is a kind of Bizarro World version of west Denver’s Federal Blvd. In fact, Thai Flavor lines up directly on an east-west axis with the the block of restaurants on Federal that I’ve been frequenting recently for Westword [see above link], as if the strip mall it’s located in is a slightly distorted mirror image of the row that includes Hong Kong BBQ or Lao Wang Noodle House.”

I’d like to say that, once inside, I stopped grasping at the riches around me & focused on the task at hand, but we all admitted afterward that we were a bit distracted—partly by DOAS’s hilarious little twin squirmers, but primarily because we were seated at a table near the entrance in the middle of the room in broad daylight. It’s always hard for me to concentrate when I feel like I’m circling my wagons on the prairie. (I definitely get that old urban myth about mobsters who insist on sitting with their backs to the wall.) Though the adorably gregarious old guy who, I assume, was the owner helped to make us feel at home, if we’d been concentrating more we might have sampled a broader selection; instead “we ended up with what seemed like several plates featuring the seafood mix—shrimp, scored curls of squid, & mussels,” as Mantonat observed later, adding that “the pacing of the dishes threw me off; I think I must have eaten half of your order before my curry came out and we realized that we needed to swap plates.” (What a gentleman. It was the other way around—I who took a big chunk out of his food before clarity set in.)

Then again, seafood is clearly the star here anyway, comprising Thai Flavor’s entire list of house specialties—with good reason. They do it right. Mussels in particular stood out: plump, juicy, perfectly cooked—& able to shine in every instance thanks to the kitchen’s light touch. The key difference between mediocre & quality Thai, in my book, is that the latter is surprisingly subtle. Thai-cooking experts often refer to the importance of balance between elements—sweet, spicy, salty, sour, bitter—and while I agree with that, I’d add that the ideal result is above all refreshing; the brushstrokes aren’t as bold as they are in, say, the neighboring cuisines of Malaysia/Indonesia/Singapore. Seemed to me Thai Flavor nailed that distinction in almost all the dishes we tried: from the steamed mussels with a vibrant dipping sauce—not the ubiquitous, neon-pink, sweet-chili stuff but a simple blend of fish sauce, citrus, & fresh chilies—

to Mantonat’s jungle curry

& the mixed stir-fry that both DOAS & I ordered (though neither of us can remember exactly what it was called—it doesn’t appear to be listed here),

which were all exceptionally light, fresh, crisp, & peppery. The seasonings highlighted the main ingredients rather than the other way around. Mantonat had that impression too: “The entrées showcased a more elegant side of Thai cooking; the sauces seemed more broth-based & less reliant on coconut milk or massive hits of spice blends. Despite ordering my curry ‘Thai hot,’ I never approached that moment of terror when you realize your tastebuds are being tortured but your brain has yet to receive the full impact (although I have been working on building my tolerance, much as the Dread Pirate Roberts slowly built up an immunity to iocane powder). The vegetables were definitely allowed to speak for themselves. I’m a fan of huge flavors that make me sweat & reach for a beer, but occasionally I like to be reminded that something as small as a green peppercorn can lend its little voice without completely overwhelming a dish, adding just a hint of peppery zing & a caper-like pop.”

DOAS, for his part, felt chili spice was a little underutilized in the kitchen, so he covetd the condiment caddy that gave me the sweats just to look at: “For an extra fun kick, the jar with the mix of red & green sliced peppers was tremendously hot, so I did get that familiar burn that builds and builds past heat through pain to the sort of numbed pleasure-state that I strive for when I eat Thai.”

I was likewise enamored with the accompaniment to the fish cakes, which I could’ve eaten by itself—again, I assume lime juice & fish sauce formed the base, but it was also chock-full of red onion, cucumber, cilantro, & crushed peanuts. I don’t think the fish cakes themselves

or the fried catfish

were quite as successful, simply because they weren’t quite hot enough, temperature-wise, to remain crisp for long. The potential was there, though—both dishes were put together well, the coating was deft, the flavors clear & bright.

As for the marinated-eggplant salad with shrimp, strips of sweet omelet, red onion, & basil,

I’d had it once before & remembered it vividly; the follow-up left no doubt in my mind that it’s the masterpiece here. It’s so colorful & unusual: by turns tangy & delicate, sharp & soft, crunchy & silken-textured.

For DOAS’s complete take on our oceanic extravaganza—& more comments from Mantonat—click here.

Thai Flavor on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Toast at Caffè on

I shared this killer panino di tre formaggi, pomodoro & prosciutto from Frasca Food and Wine’s take-out Caffè with the world via Esquire, but you, should you choose to follow me there, best not share it with anyone.

You’ll behold it in all its glory when you click the link, but what you won’t see are the housemade chips that accompany it, in bags emblazoned with a custom photo by Dave Woody, who did the prints that hang throughout Pizzeria Locale. Che adorabile!

More Noshes for the New Year from Pastavino

Surely it’s possible to have an ultra-fattening meal at this mod Boulder trattoria—but it isn’t easy. Having derived so much pleasure from this lunchtime tuna dish, I’ve since returned to try a number of items, & even the heaviest of them were rendered with a light touch—as is typical in cucina italiana, of course; the heaps of meat-&-cheese-smothered carbs we all grew up with in the States aren’t typically found in chef-owner Fabio Flagiello’s homeland. (Which isn’t to say they’re “inauthentic”; Italian-American food has its own history &, at its best, myriad charms. But that’s another post.)

While white flour’s a no-no on many of today’s diets, those of us whose regimen entails simply trying not to eat like a draft horse all the time are in luck: breads are baked in house (generally about 3 types on any given day), arriving warm with olive oil, balsamic vinegar & red-pepper flakes for dipping. (Also on the table is a trio of sea salts, much appreciated since traditional pane tends to be very low sodium.)

One of these loaves was supposedly flavored with rosemary, the other with black olives; damned if I could really tell whether they were, but fresh bread is fresh bread—staff of life & all.

Admittedly, anything with the word “fried” in it isn’t on anyone’s diet. But Pastavino’s fritto misto—literally “fried mixed”—of calamari, bay scallops, caperberries & a single ricotta-stuffed raviolo is unusually delicate & greaseless, paired with a bright, pure tomato sugo. So if you’re powerless to resist a little splurge, you could do much worse.

Same goes for the gnocchi alle noci e salvia—that is, with walnuts & sage, as well as brown butter, fontina sauce & a sprinkling of ground espresso beans. Though definitely one of the richest pastas on the long menu (there are 15, including 3 daily specials), it too is executed with restraint—gently coated, not drowned, in burro & formaggio. (And if you split it with a pal, as I did—what’s pictured below is a 1/2 portion—you won’t even feel guilty at all.)

Then again, you could hardly do better than with the acqua pazza (“crazy water”), an examplar of cucina povera (“poor cuisine,” ironically among the richest aspects of Italy’s culinary heritage). Pastavino’s version isn’t so impoverished, containing vino bianco as well as mineral water—but it’s highly refined, subtle, even pristine with steamed clams & chunks of sea bass, cherry tomatoes, olives (albeit black ones, not green as advertised), & chopped parsley. Gently delicious.

Ditto the tonno al pistacchio—perfectly cooked pistachio-crusted tuna atop a mixture of balsamic-marinated onions & roasted fennel, alongside a dollop of zingy salsa verde.

Streamlined elegance permeates this place—& your bones as a patron of this place.

Pastavino on Urbanspoon

Preview: Lunch Launched at Central Bistro & Bar

Last I gave Central Bistro & Bar some love, Lance Barto was heading up the kitchen; now Gerard Strong’s at the helm, & the CIA-trained Hudson Valley native is looking every bit as sharp as his predecessor. I had ample opportunity to arrive at that conclusion: the media preview of the lunch menu, which is now being served Wed.-Fri., included a sample of every. single. dish thereon (with the exception of the ice-cream sampler). Two days hence, I think I’m about halfway done digesting the 16-course meal.

Among them, there were only a couple items I could’ve taken or left—most made my eyes shiny & wide. Here’s a look-see, with my very very favorites in bold:

Dungeness crab salad with pomelo, avocado & housemade herbed yogurt

Caesar salad with a sprinkling of prosciutto bits; save some croutons for dipping into

the preserved tomato soup, the depth of whose concentration goes way beyond the bottom of the bowl

Beautifully nuanced cream of asparagus soup with green garlic & chives

Duck-fat chicken-salad sandwich on sourdough with a touch of apple & petal-delicate seasoned potato chips (they’re cut on the meat slicer)

More of those incredible chips alongside the roasted pork sandwich with charred onion, pickled red jalapeños & garlic aioli—the shaved meat is so impressively tender & gently seasoned—& the boxcar burger, easily as good as any of its kind (paired with fries, aioli & ketchup)

Central tartine with mushroom ragu, white cheddar, sunnyside egg—a beauty, eh?

The ubiquitous chicken & waffle with sausage gravy

Crab mac & cheese, unusually sprightly with mascarpone & pepper relish

Steak frites: grilled bavette steak marinated in soy, sherry vinegar & green garlic, topped with oyster mushrooms & accompanied by fries daubed with blue cheese

Seasonal vegetarian selection, currently hand-cut pappardelle with maitake mushrooms, asparagus, kale, green garlic & parsley in a white wine-butter sauce

The signature Nutella waffle with banana butterscotch & pretzel ice cream

And the surprisingly light & springy sweet-potato cheesecake with spiced-crumb topping, pecans & whipped cream.

The bar’s doing some nifty things too, offering half-pours of all wines by the glass & lower-alcohol cocktails so you can keep your wits about you midday—including the gin-based, agave-sweetened Blueberry Lemon Light:

Do it to it, kids.

Central Bistro Bar on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: The Universal’s BBQ Chicken Salad Sandwich (& more!)

About a month ago, the nice little buzz The Universal—a downhome daytime joint at the edge of Sunnyside—was generating took a sharper tone when then-chef Seth Gray was let go. Having had just gone in for a snappy little meal, I was suddenly all the more curious to return & see what sort of impact his departure was having on the type & quality of the food served.

The short answer is none at all. That’s no knock on Gray, & it’s certainly not meant to justify or weigh in on behind-the-scenes decisions of which I have zero knowledge. It’s simply a fact that the menu remains the same, & the kitchen’s still executing it with flair.

As I’ve noted many times before, I’m really not big on the American breakfast table—egg dishes, pancakes & the like leave me pretty cold in theory & sluggish in practice; here, there’s not much else to go for—a few sandwiches & salads, a few dishes based on grits (the house specialty). But I appreciate a thing done right. And at The Universal, every thing is.

I hope, for instance, that this sandwich special I had last Friday—so technically the Dish of Last Week—is still available, because it was rooty tooty fresh & fruity, combining succulent, tangy barbecued-chicken salad on a chewy baguette with shaved brussels sprouts, chopped lettuce & tomato in a thick & zippy layer of cilantro aioli; a sprinkling of spiced walnut halves added crunch & a touch of elegance. And the side of velvety buttered heirloom grits—in all their cheesy richness, though they don’t contain cheese—were just as addictive as they were the first time I tried them

in my companion’s Nitty Gritty, with eggs & flavorful, juicy chicken-apple sausage.

My own griddled Brie sandwich with apples and onions cooked in white-balsamic vinegar on multigrain bread brought salt, sweetness & sourness together in a warm gooey, crusty package; a side of chard sauteed with onion wrapped it all in a pleasantly bitter yet silken bow.

In short, if there’s still discord in the back of the house, it sure hasn’t spilled to the front. May all parties find peace & keep the kitchen fires burning.

The Universal on Urbanspoon

Bombay Bowl: Take this with a grain of insanity spice

I’m as impatient as I am sloppy, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of the so-called quick-casual genre, mainly because it’s synonymous with franchises, or would-be franchises. I mean, many a fine indie sub shop/pizzeria/taqueria manages to be both quick & casual without tacking on that tacky echo of corporate-speak, code for “1 step up from fast food.”

Though it’s presently a single-unit operation, Bombay Bowl is clearly built for growth as well as speed—which necessarily means it aims to be as many things to as many people as possible. That includes people who put fullness before flavor, convenience before ambiance, familiarity before discovery. Hey, those folks gotta live too—really!—but I don’t generally wanna eat where they’re eating.

Yet on a recent lazy whim, I went ahead & did just that (or close—ordered delivery). And then I did it again. Because guess what? Most of the food tasted good. Was it an uncompromising foray into regional-Indian culinary tradition? Of course not. But were the flavors fresh & distinct, the ingredients well handled? By & large, yes.

Especially the saag bowl, which I got with surprisingly tender cubed beef, extra sauteed veggies, chili-lime chutney & insanity spice. Served over basmati rice, the classic spinach dish brimmed with brightness & nuanced aromatics—except where that chutney spread like wildfire. Man, it’s hot. And I eat phall, so I’m not fooling around. As for the insanity spice, which comes its own little container—as near as I can tell it’s just ground chilies, nothing more. Insane indeed.

Yes, the samosa chaat looks a bit of a mess, but the mixture of chickpea-tomato curry, potato-stuffed samosas, cilantro chutney & raita worked for me, swirlingly robust & more properly textured than you’d guess. Think of it as the savory Indian answer to chopping up your birthday cake into melted ice cream.

I blacked out those backgrounds because my kitchen was a mess, & didn’t even bother to snap a shot of the daal I’d reserved for lunch the next day (here’s one thing you should know about ordering from D-Dish: Bombay Bowl’s prices are so low that a normal order for 2 won’t meet the $20 minimum). The lentils didn’t show quite the same flair (perhaps the extra time in the fridge caused the muddying of their flavors, though I don’t see why it should have), & neither did the tikka masala I got on a later delivery, which unfortunately proved rather watery & bland—but the beef was still done right.

Finally, the so-called naan isn’t anything like the real deal—I’m guessing there’s no tandoori oven on site, eh? Rather, it’s a small, flat oval of something more like pita. It’s fine if not exactly as advertised.

Ultimately, if it’s the total Indian-food package you want, Bombay Bowl isn’t your place. If it’s comfort on the fly, you’ll find it here, at least in spots. That’s enough for me, occasionally.

Jackpot: Punch Bowl Social

Being shudderingly antisocial & unplayful by nature, I recognize I’m not the target market for the bananas hyperspace that is Robert Thompson’s Baker District bowling alley-pool hall-video arcade-watering hole-retro diner, especially given the strongly mixed reviews the latter, i.e. the only part I care about, has been receiving.

But as a big fan of Thompson & his exec chef Sergio Romero in general, I meant to give it a go eventually; a recent snowy weeknight seemed just the time to skirt the chaos inherent in all the parts I don’t care about. Maybe it’s the case that on a Friday night, the kitchen gets lost in the wild weeds of birthday & bachelorette bashes; I dunno. My experience, though, was totally satisfying; no reason I can see thus far that a neighborhood institution shouldn’t be in the making.

Because pickled eggs! The old-school pub staple ain’t fancy or subtle, just creamy, sharp & meaty by turns.

And housemade beef jerky with horseradish foam for dipping! Way barklike to be sure—I’m partial to jerky that’s a little more steaklike, as at Doug Born’s Smoke House & Sausage Kitchen in Montague, Michigan. Still, that doesn’t mean I kick this chewier style to the curb—so long as it brings such full-throated flavor.

And complimentary biscuits with herbed butter!

But nothing topped my pastrami sandwich. Layers of lovingly cured, pepper-crusted, shred-tender meat are slathered with sauerkraut, melted gruyère, & gribiche—a dressing of mayo, chopped eggs & pickles—then griddled on rye; the effect is warm & hearty & sepia-toned, an ode to delis gone by. Actually, one thing topped it—the baked beans it came with, richly textured & chock full of pancetta & cayenne. And get this—you’ll find the recipe in the Denver & Boulder Chef’s Table, edited by moi, when it comes out this summer!

Before you say you’re over chicken & waffles, listen up—PBS serves the soul-food classic with syrup &, not or, sausage gravy. The 1st time I ever had it, some 15 years ago just south of Harlem, that’s how it was done—but I’ve never seen it that way again until now. Kew-dohs. Not that that would matter if all the appropriate descriptors—hot, crispy, greaseless, juicy—didn’t apply to the bird, but they did.

You can’t hardly tell this is a Frito pie. Yet it is—an especially fresh, thoughtful twist on the trashy original.

Though this was my 1st meal at PBS, I’d been in previously for drinks—& every time I walked by the dessert case, something managed to catch my fancy: huge brownies, sticky cinnamon rolls, etc. Gotta love the effort to revive the pure Americana of daily-made, sky-high cakes & tarts à la Wayne Thiebaud—& the banana-cream pie was heartfelt, actually tasting of fresh fruit.

How ’bout that? Perhaps I just got lucky—but I don’t think so. Perhaps, rather, an operation of this size just needed some time to gel, & things will only get better from here. I for one am giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Punch Bowl - Social Food & Drink on Urbanspoon