Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

The Salad Series: Making Do at Casa Grande, Estes Park

I was hot, cranky & hungry when I met the Director in downtown Estes Park. We had dinner plans up at our cabin in a few hours, so lunch needed to be quick, light, simple. Anywhere would do.

Anywhere turned out to be Casa Grande, which turned out to be fine. If you’re looking for better than fine, you’ve come to the wrong place. It’s cute, though, in an Arriba, arriba! Olé, olé! kinda way.

IMG_0055_800x600 pic swiped from website

The chicken fiesta salad included bacon & black beans, a little shredded cheese, guac & sour cream & pico de gallo. It wasn’t a party in my mouth, but it wasn’t drudgery either. Just a little get-together among the usual suspects.
CGsalad

The Director’s tacos de carnitas came as a slightly bigger surprise, given that the outer tortillas seemed to have been griddled with an unnecessary dusting of cheese. They came with decent refritos, rice that barely registered on the Richter scale of flavor. The meat was a touch tough.

CGtacos
An uninspired post for an uninspiring meal. Can’t win ‘em all. Take it for what it’s worth if you’re cruising the EP strip in search of sustenance.

The Saucy Salad Series: WaterCourse Foods, The Crushery, Highland’s Gardens Cafe

When one is aiming to lose a few, one often turns to light, fresh, healthy salads. When one is not so much aiming as ambling casually around the admission that one might need to lose a few, one opts for big, fat, funky, junky salads.

These are those.

***

WatercourseDickens

Named the Dickens—as in, I assume, “what the”—WaterCourse’s answer to oft-disparaged rabbit food is

039_DONNIE_DARKO

evil sci-fi bunny food

(assuming Frank were a vegan, which granted doesn’t seem likely). It starts off innocuously enough with a blend of romaine & green leaf sprinkled with cannellini & cubed butternut squash & accompanied by a side of maple-dijon dressing. But then it makes you do bad things with deep-fried spears of seitan (seitan! seitan!) & huge onion rings. It really is an intriguing mix of contrasts, crisp-fresh with blatantly greasy, salty with earthy-sweet.

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The Crushery’s schtick centers on Crusherycroutons

croutons,

which are chewy, not crunchy, housemade from tricked-out panini-pressed bagels; the above, for instance, are pesto-provolone. As for the salad they come on,

Crushery#13

the #13 combines a super-scoop of tuna salad—nice & simple with celery & not too damn much mayo—with spinach, red onion, sliced cukes & black olives, plus a chive-ranch dressing that’s pleasantly milky rather than dippy, if a bit too salty.

The same dresses the #14, composed of roasted red peppers & eggplant, artichoke hearts, provolone, more black olives & sufficiently pungent garlic-truffle croutons.

Crushery#14

There are 5 other signature salads, but you can also concoct your own with everything from chorizo to sauerkraut, corned beef to cream cheese, pickles to cherry peppers; dress it with the housemade likes of Ancho 1000 Island or wasabi dressing; & “crush it,” to use the shop lingo, with, say, horseradish-cheddar or caramelized onion–gorgonzola or bacon-brie croutons. No matter which you go with, though, it’ll guaranteed be big enough that you could glue all the pieces together to make a double-decker sandwich.

***

In & of itself, the Highland Garden Cafe’s lunchtime salad of grilled beef tenderloin on mixed greens with avocado, fresh mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, cukes & blue cheese dressing would be relatively healthy from a low-carb perspective if it were satisfying.

HGCsteaksalad

But since it really isn’t, being rather bland, you wind up snarfing half your pal’s exquisite pan-seared tilapia with smoked bay scallops, new potatoes & squash in lemon-caper-butter sauce, at once rich & piquant, too. At that point you might as well top it all off with caramel bread pudding.

HGChalibut

In all fairness, the description of said salad on the current menu differs from that of the one I ordered a few weeks ago, listing horseradish–sour cream dressing plus an actual chunk of stilton in lieu of blue cheese dressing. Maybe the chef has since decided it lacked luster too. Anyway, my bad in part for opting (grudgingly, in grim carb-counting mode) for the least interesting-sounding salad of the bunch; compare for instance to jicama, pink grapefruit & avocado salad with cumin-honey dressing, chicken, papaya & avocado on greens with papaya-lime-honey-buttermilk dressing, or roasted rainbow trout on warm spinach with ricotta salata, dates, pinenuts, roasted red peppers, croutons & balsamic vinaigrette (a dressing I mostly doze off in but which is probably appropriate here, so long as the vinegar’s quality).

Besides, that absolutely charmante, sun-dappled garden patio setting could make the grayest-skinned schlub feel lithe & elegant. It’s like a vibe diet.

The Super-Duper Salad Series (Part 9): Radda Trattoria, Cherry Creek Grill, Racine’s

Ever since my first trip as a tot when I got carsick after swallowing the fluoride (I also ended up in the ER once after drinking furniture polish; even my freak childhood accidents are taste-based), no good has ever come of any of my trips to the dentist beyond the occasional hit of nitrous oxide. Until now: Dr. Eric Van Zytveld (if only Eric were spelled with an “h”; he could be the star of some kind of cross between

200px-630507549Littleshop.poster.cropped )

just told me to eat more steak—you know, for the iron content. Sweet! Because I’ve got leaves coming out the kazoo right now, & I don’t even know where that is.

Take Radda’s signature salad of Belgian endive sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts & grana padano & dressed with truffled “citronette,”

Raddasalad

i.e., vinaigrette using lemon juice instead of vinegar. Lemon-fresh it was indeed; in fact, the truffle was negligible by comparison. Which was no skin off my nose, since A) that would be gross, especially if I confused it with the cheese shavings & B) I thought there was plenty going on as it was—citrus-tartness, chicory-bitterness, filbert-earthiness, the cheese’s salty tang. (In fact, I lost far more naso-epidermis to my $12 polpetti con cannellini;

Raddameatballs

at 6 clams a small meatball, neither should have been dried out, which both were. Since Radda’s a sibling of Mateo, & since I dig Mateo, & since my pals liked their

Raddasandwich Raddagnocchi

chicken pesto panino & gnocchi alla bolognese, respectively,

though, I could nonetheless be suckered into going back for dinner sometime, especially if they’ve still got that fettuccine with rabbit, pomegranate & cauliflower (in Italian, coniglio, melagrana e cavolfiore—how almost comically gorgeous is that?) they’re listing now; after all, the prices, with no plate except the bistecca over $16, would be hard to beat so long as the food were too. I’m snarky, but I’m easy.)

Or take the Cherry Creek Grill’s Macho Salad—a moniker every septuagenerian from the prefeminist era must think is just a hoot—

CCGmachosalad

but the thing is popping with flavor muscles, I’ll give it that. Actually, though, with more avocado & chicken chunks than there are shreds of green, as well as slabs of fresh goat cheese, corn, ripe tomato, plentiful homemade cornbread croutons, almonds & dates—& not that Deglet Noor crud I’ve recently bitched about here & here, either, but luscious Medjool nuggets—it’s really more like an enlightened, oven-liberated casserole than a lunkheaded salad.

Or take the be-all end-all of the local bowl o’ sundries—Racine’s Nutty Cheese Salad.

Racinesnuttycheesesalad2

A top seller since the fern-bar era, it could’ve just as easily been dubbed the Cuckoo Cashew Salad, or the Loco Avocado Salad, or the Bananas Bananas Salad. Apparently, however, it could no longer be called the Preposterous Popped Wheat Salad, since the menu no longer lists the ingredient, which is a bit of a shame, but only a bit. It doesn’t even really call for the chicken I got on top—a little mixture of banana, avocado, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, grape tomatoes & shredded white cheddar & fontina cheeses atop mixed greens with a creamy, not cloying or sharp, honey-mustard dressing goes a long, long way. As does any given one-liner from the wisecrackers behind the bar, who according to a friend all attended “the Henny Youngman school of bartending.” Heh.

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: Shotgun Willie’s, or, Don’t look, ma, no panties

Ha! Bet you weren’t expecting that. Shotgun Willie’s isn’t known for its, um, fresh produce.*

But it isn’t not known for food; beneath that giant pistol-topped sign

SWsign

is a marquee that often reads “Prime Rib $6.95,” which caught my eye not long after I arrived in Denver a year ago & got me to thinking it was high time I confront head-on a post-traumatic fear of strip clubs triggered by a bachelorette party in Oklahoma City in the early ’90s, where I saw women I could still picture on their Big Wheels stuffing dollar bills in the tie-dyed thong of a bubble-muscled meathead with a real live mullet—not the ironic gestures theretoward you see today but a frosted blonde business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back. I recall actual whooping & grinding with pumped fists, & then everything goes black.

So I just kept it in the back of my mind, until a recent piece on Chow.com titled “Strip Club Eats” named Shotgun Willie’s among the top 10 in the nation—singling out for special praise the cheese-stuffed, deep-fried, bacon-wrapped shrimp Fernando—& I was finally moved to act. Thus did the Director & I find ourselves admittedly somewhat shyly huddling in a back corner in a room like a pinball machine—all flashing neon &, uh, flippers & plungers & bonus plays—to catch the show, onstage & off.

While it’s true sociological insight can & does flash anywhere humans interact, there’s just something about a strip club that fosters heightened awareness & curiosity about the people around you, starting in our case with the fact that the Director had to be fingerprinted in order to start a tab—a preventative measure, our cocktail hostess explained, against customers who swear up & down to credit card company telereps, their wives standing dubiously by, that they’ve never set foot in the place. We watched dancers of all shapes & stripes &, judging by the head on the 1 in the Director’s illustration at bottom, planetary persuasions, leading us to theorize about the history of strip clubs from antiquity (King Herod’s palace being perhaps 1 of the more notoriously gruesome forerunners) onward through the civil rights era & the women’s rights era to modern-day iconization in pop culture via The Sopranos & Courvoisier-soaked hip-hop videos & pole-dancing classes at your local gym (but not, unfortunately, via the darkly brilliant, all-too-forgotten Cassavetes flick The Killing of a Chinese Bookie). We watched as patrons from various walks of life—wannabe thug, anonymous Joe, hyper-dapper gent—seemed indeed to assume the zigzag ways of pinballs, ricocheting between stages 1 moment, then slowing to a strangely quiet stop as something came over them, moments of faraway self-reflection, tallboys still in hand, bass thumping. (Of what was it I was thinking?, as Stevens so hauntingly overwords it in “Metaphors of a Magnifico.”) Then they’d resume zinging & dinging around. We tried to separate the regulars from the newcomers, the probable misogynists from the hopeless romantics. Shotgun Willie’s seems to draw more of the latter (maybe it’s that name, pretty Looney Tunes as innuendos go—pretty Yosemenite Sam. Heh), contributing to a surprising roomwide undercurrent of, on the 1 hand, respect for &, on the other, protectiveness toward the showgirls, nearly as palpable as the upper current of lust.

Granted, everything seems palpable after a few indifferent but enormous glasses of wine.

But even then, not everything seemed palatable. For obvious reasons I didn’t bring my camera, but as the below clearly shows, our fried mushrooms left a lot to be desired. They weren’t, mind you, actually leaking black sludge—not sure what the Director was going for there—but they were reeking of a recent thaw, clearly prefrozen in bulk.

SW1

The Director’s steak, by contrast, was well done, by which of course I mean not well done at all but medium-rare, which is really all you can ask for, other than for it to not sprout black hair. I assume that’s supposed to be sizzle. As for the next drawing,

SW2

I have confirmed that the figure to the left is not in fact a severely addled Bavarian beer maid but a gung-ho guy’s guy whose penchant for peasant blouses & minis are his business. To his right is a fine rendering of a salad, though not the 1 I had that night, which was pretty light on the lettuce & heavy, heavy, heavy on the grilled chicken & fried onions, cheddar & avocado, black beans & barbecue sauce. So, you know, (y)um.

* Kids’ Korner: How now! There are approximately a dozen double entendres sprinkled throughout this post—some marked by pregnant pauses, or rhetorical devices used to express hesitation for comic effect, some not. Can you find them all?

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: lunchtime at Black Pearl

There is something so achingly civilized about a lady lunching solo with a good book on a sun-dappled patio: Say she’s wearing a maroon felt cloche. Say she’s absorbed in Forster. Say she sips from a flute of champagne after turning this or that page, & from time to time takes a neat forkful of the Waldorf salad before her.

Unless she’s me, of course. I pretty much snarf it all down in a tee-shirt & low-tops while engrossed, indeed, in some freaky read like the one I’m finishing now, Umberto Eco’s On Ugliness—undoubtedly provoking the wrath of fellow diners who lose & keep losing their appetites with each sideways glimpse of its contents:

Eco1

Eco2

Here’s hoping the vision of loveliness that was the chopped salad I recently had for lunch at Black Pearl overshadowed such (awesome!) nastiness.

BPsalad1

By “recently” I mean my smart little neighborhood fave has just resumed midday-meal service after a year-plus of lunchlessness. Where anarchy reigned, order is restored in the form of a fairly short, fairly familiar menu: a good 70% of it, I’d guess, replicates the dinner repertoire. Sandwiches & salads comprise the rest: think grilled cheese with a sunny-side-up egg & garlic-spinach cream; crispy calamari tacos with shishito peppers, crabcakes over greens.

As for the above, not only was it generously sized and properly dressed—by which I mean every bite was slicked with good, strong, creamy garlic vinaigrette; whoever decrees that it’s better to err on the side of underdressing than overdressing should be left in a snowdrift in the altogether for awhile—but it was chock-full of tchotchkes: pulled chicken (dark & light meat); chunks of avocado & Medjool date; radish slices, cherry tomato halves & pieces of asparagus so thin I almost didn’t recognize it & thought maybe it had developed a smack addiction since I saw it last; &, best of all—& worst of all, as my only complaint is that a little more would have gone an even longer way—a few utterly buttery chunks of gorgonzola.

BPsalad2

Granting, however, that not everyone’s as mesmerized by a fine salad as I am, I submit my humble apologies to the guy next to me who ordered the steak.

Eco3

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For the record, the above paintings are William Hogarth’s The Reward of Cruelty; The Deceased Lovers, Death & Lust by some unnamed 16th c. “Master of the Upper Rhine”; & Chaim Soutine’s Carcass of Beef, respectively.

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.

The Salad Series: The Oceanaire’s bay shrimp & crab chopped salad with Green Goddess

Hey, I like the feel of an Art Deco–era supper club in Miami Beach as much as the next guy snapping his fingers in pinstripes and wingtips. Ergo I swing by the bar at The Oceanaire now & again, a chain whose links seem to obtain their high polish from sentient beings, not lobotomized corporate lackeys—for better &/or worse, which really could be worse. The Lodo branch, for 1, resembles an independent operation more than a franchise in both its strengths & its weaknesses—the latter including above all human inconsistency, which I’ll take over robotic consistency any evening.

What’s both consistent & human here are the bartenders—always young yet seasoned, both warm & sharp. What’s consistent & molluscan are the oysters: with 7 or 8, Pacific & Atlantic, on ice at any given time, the raw bar here’s got the best selection that I know of by far. (McCormick & Schmick’s shmcmormick & schmick’s. When a West Coast operation opens 2 branches in an East Coast city—especially 1 as bursting with local pride as Boston—it’s asking to get smacked. But then, its owners appear to be born that way, eh?

Billanddoug

to be played by Louis Anderson & Dennis Hopper at his most self-parodic

Point is I still won’t set foot in there. The Oceanaire got its start in Minneapolis, which is so dumb as to be endearing.) Shucking skills are fair—occasionally I hit a bit of grit, occasionally pine for an extra sip of liquor—but the regular opportunity to try new-to-me varieties like Wildcat Cove is reason enough to belly up.

Even before I started looking like a seahorse with flatulence (not that they’re not absolutely charming, by the by; I’ve seen them in tanks at the New England Aquarium’s exhibition hospital, & they just keep floating up), I often opted for salads here—the BLT salad, boasting thick slabs of beefsteak tomato (a name whose connotations of a sexy hermaphrodite I always did relish) & buttermilk dressing crumbled with yet more bacon, & the crab louis, a total crustacean overload, being particular faves. Most recently I ordered the chopped salad with crab & bay shrimp,

Ocrabshrimpsalad

a carb-counter’s blessing if ever there was one, especially the dressing; it comes with a fine Greek vinaigrette, but I also asked for Green Goddess

OGrekvinaigrette OGGdressing

& was so pleased by the pungency of both—the 1 full of lemon & even hinting at actual oregano, the other terribly sure of its anchovy self—that I barely noticed how I barely noticed the cheese til I saw the photo. It looks like feta; it tasted like cottage cheese—cottage cheese played by Milton in Office Space:

Milton2

The Salad Series: Hanson’s Grill & Tavern’s Louisiana Station Salad (among other things)

A few years back, in the midst of a breakup no less sudden for being long overdue, I spent a week of evenings crying into my, I don’t know, Fetzer merlot or Glen Ellen cab or whatever they served at the lobby bar of the atrium cafe in the Holiday Inn in Brookline, Mass.—assuming you have, at some point in your life, been on a great American road trip, you know it, even if you’ve never been there—

RSTLN_LYBR_01_C RSTLN_REST_02_C

before realizing there was no place I’d rather be miserable. Colored by childhood memories of frolicking pre-ironically around the indoor pools and miniature golf courses of Holidomes from Oklahoma to California & back again, there was something so comforting about the blandness in the air—the dull color scheme, the chintz, the disorientation of each random passerby—& something just so touching about the menu, bearing the brunt of some poor old lifer cook’s belabored & belated attempts at relevance, that it occurred to me to compose an ode to the mediocre. I would champion the everyeatery.*

The idea didn’t fly, of course, with editors who pointed out that my command of the English language wasn’t such that I could singlehandedly render mediocre a compliment rather than (or, more to the point, by paradoxical virtue of its being) a pejorative.

To this day, though, I remain slightly enchanted by the idea of a guide to the everyeatery—especially when I encounter good old joints like Hanson’s Grill & Tavern.

It couldn’t, for 1 thing, be more predictably cozy in all its fern-bar trappings. Brick walls, wooden tops, upholstered booths, flatscreens flashing this bottom of the eighth or that third & long. It’s girls’ night out here, boys’ night out there, mom’s night off everywhere.

Meanwhile, the huge menu abounds in just the sort of quasi–New Americanisms I was craving when we stopped in last night. Sure enough, the Louisiana Station Salad hit the vaguely retro spot.

HansonsLSsalad

What you can barely see beneath the niblets & the shredded roast chicken (much of it juicy dark meat), the sliced avocado & scallions ringed by cornbread croutons are chopped tomatoes, dollops of goat cheese &—the kicker—date chunks, as well as romaine & iceberg. What you can’t see is how nicely it all comes together in 1 far from light but hardly flat-out unhealthy, in fact relatively nutritious, salty-sweet & crunchy-creamy mess. Speaking of creamy, I swapped the suggested balsamic vinaigrette, which I had enough of in, say, 1995 to last me a lifetime, for the charred jalapeno vinaigrette—oddly thick, cloudy & devoid of kick, but refreshing nonetheless.

The Director wasn’t so lucky.

Hansonstunasalad

That quesadillalike wedge atop his otherwise plain garden salad is supposed to be blackened ahi. Of all the things fresh fish should or could resemble, prepackaged flour tortillas aren’t even one.

Granted, that was just as well for my purposes. After all, one out of two ain’t bad—it’s mediocre.

*For the record, this term doesn’t come up on Google except as an obvious typo. Coinage points.