Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Scrounging around Kinga’s Lounge for something like Polish grub

***I’m in one of my fits of existential pique, the kind wherein blogging feels like anything but its own reward. I’m going to do it anyway, because I generally believe in acting as if. Wish me luck.***

Ever since my always-on-the-move pal Larry asked me about it last fall, & my pal Beth of Living the Mile-High Life‘s husband Todd wrote a review of it on his blog, Broomfield Restaurant Reviews, I’ve been meaning to get over to Cracovia for some pork fat to slather all over my face. After Westword reviewed it last week, the craving really kicked in—but dreading the postreview masses, I opted instead, at Beth’s suggestion, to check out Kinga’s Lounge on Colfax with her, Todd & the Director in tow.

I don’t know how I knew that the nondescript-bordering-on-divey bar area in the front wasn’t all there was to the place (genius?!?), but I did, & kept going, through an utterly quaint dining room

Kinga's3

& on into the even more charming fireplace lounge in back, all carved wood & stained glass panels, oil paintings & antiques, leading in turn to a cute little smoking patio overlooking the side street.

Kinga's1 Kinga's2

Couldn’t be nicer for knocking back some vodka, I figured, & it wasn’t. For one thing, our waitress—a pretty young thing who, we came to understand, was family (to the owners, I mean, not to us)—missed nary a trick; as friendly as she was knowledgeable about the menus, she led me to Zoladkowa orange-clover vodka, which I got with an OJ chaser, not expecting just how sweetly spiced it would be all on its own.

Kinga'sorangeclovervodka

She also talked Beth into a shot of my beloved Zubrówka bison-grass vodka (more of which here), & Todd into 1 of the more pilsnery of their dozen or so Polish beers.

Kinga'sbeer

Love me those full-on red leather boots beneath the bowtied braid, peasant blouse & flouncy apron.

That Kinga’s is an American bar 1st, Polish eatery 2nd was, however, clear from the menu, which is about 3 parts standard grub to 1 part Old Country cookery. We nonetheless made do, starting with new-to-me zapiekanka, apparently a popular snack over there, here topped with sauteed mushrooms & onions, what seemed to be provolone, & a yummy, slightly spicy sauce that the waitress said was the chef’s secret but then confessed that it was probably just a mix of household condiments X, Y & Z. Anyway, it was perfectly good as French bread pizza–like items go. One can’t help but wonder what it would be like with a quality baguette, but one also realizes that the cheap stuff is likely more appropriate from the standpoint of tradition.

Kinga'sbread2

My so-called meatballs were really juicy patties—mainly lighter meat like pork & veal, I think, & topped (though I’d asked for it on the side—our waitress’s 1 minor slip) with some sort of enjoyably gross cheese sauce. Beth nailed them as “differently flavored Salisbury steak” (she’s good, that one!). The fried potato disks & cucumber salad (which, despite appearances, proved somehow lighter & more refreshing than its counterpart at Café Berlin) were also perfectly respectable.

Kinga'smeatballs

Ditto the Director’s pierogi stuffed variously with potato, cabbage & meat; though dribbled with some sort of butter sauce, they were relatively light, resembling ravioli more than anything that might have missed its calling as empanadas.

Kinga'spierogi

Beth’s wienerschnitzel was certainly a honker, & not bad, though a bit dry.

Kinga'sschnitzel

Of the two kinds of kielbasa on offer—smoked red & boiled white—Todd opted for the former, which came with a mess o’ sauerkraut; he wasn’t wild about it, however, declaring Cracovia overall preferable.

Kinga'skielbasa

I don’t doubt it, but I remain enchanted enough by the backroom vibe to plan to kick it there more often.

Kinga's Lounge on Urbanspoon

Boston Tea Party Turns Denver Thai Party: Thai Basil & the dearth of dandy Mile High Thai take-out

I’ve roasted the skin (hope it’s thick!) off poor Thai Green Chile; I’ve sprayed phrase-mace in Jason of Jason’s Thai Bistro’s face; I haven’t bothered wasting even an inch of cyberspace—& it’s infinite!—on Swing Thai or Spicy Basil. Yet looking at the menus of the likes of  Chada Thai, with its miang kum & haw moak, and reading the raves for Edgewater’s US Thai, I realize that it’s too soon to conclude from my experiences thus far that there’s no Thai around here to speak of except in snarky tones.

That’s especially true insofar as I’ve been insisting, by a series of associations, on ordering the stuff in. I tend (as I think most humans, with our serotonin levels & various biological drives, do) to associate carbs & fat with comfort. I tend (as the luckier among us humans do) to associate home, with its old sofas & filthy sweatshirts & sweethearts lounging around on & in them, with comfort too. Thus I tend, as I think a lot of lucky-gimme-gimme-yay Americans do, to associate the delivery of carb-heavy, fatty foods to my front door with comfort. And thus in turn, I think, do we tend to order in those dishes immigrant cooks have altered precisely to suit our inborn palates, as opposed to the more “authentic” (whatever that means, as usual) dishes we’re more willing to try when already out of our comfort zones anyway, i.e., seated in the restaurants, away from our couches. To basically quote what I wrote in this Chowhound thread I started to get to the bottom of precisely this here theory (which is already yielding interesting & insightful answers, God bless that site), “Takeout/delivery seems to center on Americanized versions of dishes, be it pizza, Chinese, or whatever.
For instance, when I think of eating Chinese in, I think of Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in bed digging with their chopsticks into moo choppy gumshoe or whatever in Manhattan…No one’s ordering, say, tripe and jellyfish. As for pizza, if I’m ordering it in, I’m not likely to be getting a pie topped with zucchini blossoms and fresh mozzarella.”

And as for Thai, the ultimate hot-sour-salty-sweet cuisine, if we’re ordering it in, we’re not likely to be calling up the joints that specialize in miang kum & haw moak; we’re going for noodles whose sauces are oozing with brown sugar, tamarind &, for fuck’s sake, ketchup.

Point being twofold: A, as an American I can’t ask to be catered to like everyone else & then complain when I’m catered to like everyone else. I can’t shit on, say, Thai Basil for loading everything I order with sugar & thickeners when sugar & thickeners are where it’s at in most of the stuff I order. And yet B, as an American, just because I can’t doesn’t mean I can’t. I’m an American! As no less a quintessential American poet than Whitman put it, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” True that.

In short, I still say Denver Thai take-out largely sucks until proven otherwise. As for Thai Basil specifically, about half of my fair sampling of dishes can be taken & shoved, to use another expressly American line:

TBhotandsoursoup
hot & sour soup, actually sweet & starchy viscous liquid

TBdrunkennoodles
drunken noodles, actually oil junkies

TBtofu
golden tofu, actually beige cushion stuffing

TBcrispyfish
& crispy fish with black bean sauce, actually breaded whatever (for a while we thought it might be some funky duck; that’s how unfishlike it was) with

TBblackbeansauce
shiny chunky fructose glop.

But I guess if (duck-fish aside) it walks like junk food & talks like junk food, then it’s probably junk food. By contrast, the green curry with chicken, if neither particularly green nor chickeny, at least had a nice medium texture & a moderate kick;

TBgreenchixcurry

TBscallopredcurry
ditto the more generously laden red curry with scallops.

Potstickers & spring rolls were potstickers & spring rolls, neither here nor there—which is a good thing; both are all about soothing texture, remarkable only (unless you’re in the rare presence of a dumpling master) in the negative, i.e. if the former are doughy or the latter loose. These weren’t, so okay then.

TBpotstickers

TBspringrolls

Both here & there, meanwhile, were the marinated crispy duck—rich & glistening & definitely *not* to be confused with the aforementioned crispy fish—

TBduck

& the Indonesian chicken salad, not to be confused with…anything definitively from Indonesian cuisine or any another so far as I know (do tell if you know otherwise), but yum nonetheless with roast chicken, cashews, raisins, mixed greens & peanut sauce.

TBsalad

These latter appeased me just enough to keep me from throwing Thai iced tea into the harbor—Rocky Mountain spring, whatever—at least until I’ve made it over to Chada.

Thai Basil on Urbanspoon

Mark & Isabella: “kind of a big deal around here…okay…over there”

***UPDATE: Mark & Isabella’s is now CLOSED.***

So I hear this guy Mark Tarbell’s a real swell out in Phoenix; more power to him. I also hear The Oven‘s worth sticking your head in, heh, & I will at some point, say for the BLT pizza with smoked provolone & “white sauce” (garlic-based, I’m guessing?). To a longtime Italophile like yours gruelly, that sounds like one great greasy grimy guilty pleasure.

Or not so guilty, really; as a longtime Italophile like yours foolly, I’ve already passed that awkward phase in my relationship with Italian-American cuisine, that rough patch of abiding scorn for all its deviation from “the real thing”—underlaid, deep down, by a slight twinge of recognition that red sauce is a real thing, its own thing, the evolution of cucina povera siciliana into the cuisine of hard-working, hearty-living immigrants who suddenly found themselves in the land of super-plenty, surrounded by more meat per minute than they’d seen in their lives, meat piled in store windows & spilling out the doors & growing on trees & falling to the sidewalk with a plop. In other words, while all else being equal I’d rather be in Italy, period, after my years in Boston’s North End, I’ve come to appreciate the occasional big ol’ overflowing bowl of anypasta with lotsaragù; I won’t even sneer if someone—say, someone behind the scenes at Mark & Isabella in Lakewood’s Belmar shopping complex—thinks it’s a hoot to pull an adjectival switcheroo & call it American-Italian.

I will sneer, however, if the menu itself is misleading, if the dishes themselves are mostly mediocre, if the whole meal amounts to a bit of a shitshow. Now that’s American-Italian.

Though I’d had a glowing feeling while looking the menu online, foreboding set in promptly upon our setting foot inside—something about all those giant photos of giggling little girls lining the walls. Namely the fact that they were giant photos of giggling little girls lining the walls. Ew. Then there were the goofy slogans on the all-female floor staff’s tees—”Got lasagna?”; “Buonjourno”—why? Why the appropriation ad nauseum of an ad campaign that has long since become an empty cliché? Why the irrelevant play on French? I crossed my fingers that the senseless smarm would stop there, & the Director & I grabbed the last two seats at the bar; the joint was swarming.

Oh, did the smarm stop there. Far from being cutesy, the bartender positively oozed frustration as she darted around, pouring booze & punching buttons & moving to the next thing as she was still finishing the last thing. Waiting 10 min. just for her to acknowledge our presence, we watched her & the waitresses zooming to & from the bar mutter heated exchanges—clearly the dining room was understaffed for a Saturday night. Later, when she’d calmed down enough to summon a genuine smile, she apologized for the frenzy, adding, “It hasn’t been like this in months.”

Sucked to be them, in short, & I felt for her. But not as much as I felt for us; our happy place at the bar had turned all dark & stormy, & we had to drink extra to calm our nerves. Well, & to fill the time between the placement of our appetizer order & its arrival—nearly 30 minutes for a piece of cheese.

Pieces of cheese, to be precise.

MIhunk

I say precise, you say nitpicky. Fine. But the menu makes a promise: “Hunk of the wheel—grana padano with local honey & date compote,” it says. And—dreaming of a trattoria in Parma where I once sat before what must’ve been fully an eighth of a wheel of parmigiano-reggiano, a huge wedge accompanied by nothing but two types of mostarda di frutta & a knife, which I used to knock off chunks to my heart’s content on the honor system—I took it at its word. Granted, what we got was very good—the cheese firm & tangy, the crostini charred to a nice bitter crisp, & the compote downright superb, tasting of nothing but dates melted down to their rich, sweet essence. It just wasn’t technically what we ordered.

By comparison, the Tuscan bread salad was what I ordered, technically. In spirit, though, it didn’t come anywhere close to a true panzanella. The winter tomatoes were somehow both hard & watery, & the bread, not to mince words, was awful, just so much damp cotton—not at all the called-for crusty cubes of country loaf soaking up without sagging under a simple dressing of olive oil & red-wine vinegar.**

MIpanzanella

Moist & tender meatballs with a right-o ratio of beef (& veal/pork? probably not, but maybe, given their mildness) to breadcrumbs would’ve been just great with sufficient salt (was the sprinkling on top an afterthought?); the marinara was likewise underseasoned. What, no oregano?

MImeatballs

Accompanied by the same marinara, the Director’s side of garlic bread was plenty seasoned; what it wasn’t was warm. At all.

MIgarlicbread

Good thing his lasagna was the one unqualified instance of excellence.

MIlasagna

The noodles were slightly past al dente, which if you ask me is the ideal texture for lasagna; the tenderness meshes with, without mushing into, the softness of the rest. The housemade sausage was abundant & spicy; the mozzarella on top had a satisfying pull.

Still, speaking of pull, whatever was drawing me to Mark & Isabella has lost its force. If there’s another local spaghetti shack that really salts your sauce, spill it. **(Likewise, I’ve just about had it with ordering panzanella in this town; Root Down’s take is a tricked-out travesty, whereas Izakaya Den’s fusion version is terrific in its own twists & turns—but only further goes to show how hard simplicity is to handle. The traditional recipe calls for plain day-old bread, fresh ripe tomato & cucumber, some basil, some red onion, good olive oil & vinegar, & precious little else. If you know of a place that does it right, do tell.)

Mark & Isabella's 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

No loughing matter: McLoughlin’s Restaurant & Bar

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

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

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

Mhummus

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

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

Mpie

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

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

Mbuffalosalad

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

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

McLoughlin's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

The Coupon Clippings: Oh, Little India, just wait til you grow big & strong!

Actually, it’s the size of Denver, not the subcontinent, that warrants consideration here—at least in light of the fact that, by default, this enduring metro mini-chain constitutes the biggest fish in our quiet little Indian-restaurant pond. From the standpoint of quality, however, it hardly rises like a beautiful breaching dolphin from the vast & murky stateside sea of batch-cooked curries.

In other words (to keep those metaphors flowing), the banks of this little mile-high fishing hole need broadening. And maybe they’ll get it; now that the far more sophisticated India’s Pearl is circling, smelling blood, maybe joints like Little India will gradually sink (or get swallowed) or swim. But judging by the meal we recently had delivered from the S. Downing branch (using a coupon for 10% off), at present it’s just treading.

Mind you, in so doing it produces a solid example of Indian cuisine as most Americans understand & want it—Punjabi comfort food on a spectrum ranging from moderately authentic to mostly pseudo. Take our pals’ chicken tikka masala, whose origins, while uncertain, are most likely British.

LIchickenmasala

Basically what we’re talking here is chicken in tomato cream sauce. Minus the standard Indian spicing, it could be Italian pollo con sugo di pomodoro alla crema, or French poulet sauce aurore, or 100 other dishes from around the world. For that matter, it could be lamb masala (for which said apparently masalamaniac pals also opted).

LIlambmasala

Because under a foot of sauce, even when we’re talking lamb, we might as well be talking chicken, for all the impact the meat has on flavor.

Ditto the Director’s lamb vindaloo, which, sadly, doesn’t really come tilted at a 45-degree angle.

LIlambvindaloo

But it does come oversauced—or, rather, undermeated. It isn’t a question of ethnic authenticity so much as kitchen generosity; next to this,

P13

for instance, it looks less like lamb vindaloo than just, you know, vindaloo. Tastewise, meanwhile, it was more like vindal, hold the ooh. I mean, it was hot, but not so hot I couldn’t eat it, which is pretty much the defining characteristic of a proper vindaloo as I understand it: something I don’t have the guts in any sense to go through with.

As for my lamb saag,

LIlambsaag

its mildly cumin-smoky creaminess was lovely enough, but again, I simply prefer more lamb & spinach in my lamb & spinach, as opposed to more yogurt (cf.

Saag ).

Finally, the mixed grill turned out to be a mixed bag: the chicken too tough, the fish too dry, the shrimp—while surprising juicy next to the fish—too few, numbering 2. The more abundant seekh kebab, however, was also moist & spiced right.

LImixedgrill

In sum, Little India strikes me as a euphemism for Stunted India. Unless management grows the balls to expand the kitchen’s horizons—&, since they’re doing just fine ball-less, I doubt they will at my lone behest—I’ll stick with India’s Pearl, mature beyond its years (months, rather) in its willingness to offer something (pages of somethings, in fact) different.

Little India on Urbanspoon

It burns, it burns: return to South Broadway Grill

***UPDATE: South Broadway Grill is now CLOSED.***

The problem with the 3rd time being a charm is there isn’t one that doesn’t make you a chump. Once bitten, twice lenient; twice bitten, thrice pissed. The poor Director, who had it worse than I did on our return as well as our initial visit, stated in no uncertain terms that henceforth I’d have to fly solo to South Broadway Grill.

Which is a damn shame, because, as I noted in my earlier post (which links to their reviews), I’m all thumbs up about the owners’ other operations, Flower Wraps & Breakfast on Broadway. What’s more, as I also noted, the menu, being a flat surface, couldn’t hold more promise without spilling it everywhere. Good old pan-fried, bacon-topped calf’s liver and onions? Ahi tuna nachos? Sloppy joe sliders? There’s almost nothing on the menu that doesn’t scream more flavor than your mouth really even knows what to do with.

But far too often the chef doesn’t seem to know what to do with it either.  Like the chicken and waffles before it, the Director’s turkey meatloaf with homemade ketchup & sides of mashed bourbon sweet potatoes & sauteed green beans with roasted garlic

SBGmeatloaf

came out to us absolutely at room temperature. Lukewarmth would have been an improvement. But it isn’t only their heat lamps &/or their sense of timing that clearly need major adjustment. In this case it’s also their recipe, which is grievously bland; the loaves were basically like fat, limp croutons, just vehicles for zippy, well-structured homemade ketchup & vibrantly luscious spuds. Meanwhile, the green beans actually squeaked to the bite. As it is with mice or most people’s kids, that is a rather diconcerting & irritating trait for a vegetable to have.

An appetizer of supposedly barbecued shrimp was better, if skimpy at nearly $15 (we got 2 critters each), but exactly what was barbecued about it is beyond me.

SBGshrimp

It looks pretty much like shrimp poached in court bouillon, no? Which, come to think of it, is also on the menu, so maybe they actually sent out the wrong dish. In fact (speaking of croutons), the advertised grilled ciabatta was nowhere to be seen either—that there in the photo was toast, through & through. Barbecued, poached, grilled, toasted—it’s like someone scrambled their glossary of cooking terms as a prank. Nice, fat, fresh shrimp in subtly spicy broth though.

The fact that they can do something right was, however, far more strikingly illustrated by the braised buffalo short ribs stroganoff over pappardelle.

SBGshortribpasta

The meat, tender & well seasoned, boasted a beautiful sear; the pasta, perfectly cooked, appeared to be fresh (so if it was boxed, all the more power to ’em); the mushroom cream sauce brought it all together super-smoothly.

So one out of three (twice in a row) ain’t good; more to the point, it’s bewildering. How can the kitchen be so amateurish 66.66667% of the time, so pro 33.33333%? I wish I could be a fly on the wall back there. But I don’t really wish to be a diner in a seat again, at least not anytime soon.

South Broadway Grill on Urbanspoon

Turning up the heat on the South Broadway Grill

***UPDATE: South Broadway Grill is now CLOSED.***

The curious little florist-run coffeehouse that is Flower Wraps & the likewise quirky daytime cafe that is its sibling Breakfast on Broadway having rather quickly endeared themselves to me (as you can see here & here), I was tickled to hear the owners had had the gumption & wherewithal to give it a third whirl, opening the

SBG ,

in the old El Ranchito space, just south of Evans on its namesake (303.993.2301).

Whether they’ve got the gumption & wherewithal to keep themselves from spinning right out again remains to be seen.

Sheerly on the strength of the kick we got out of the menu, the Director & I already plan to return: as at Breakfast on Broadway, just about every item exhibits some intriguing little twist. Like if they were girls in the fifties you’d whistle & go, “Say, you’re cute little numbers.” Queso dip made with smoked cheddar & crawfish sausage, green apple–freshened French onion soup, buffalo short ribs stroganoff—it’s all so retro-innovatively yin-yang.

On the strength of what we actually ate, however, we probably wouldn’t bother. Take the Director’s fried chicken & waffles, served with both sausage gravy & syrup—the way they should be but rarely are (it’s usually one or the other, which makes about as much sense to me as eschewing the cherry on top of the sundae like the girl on a diet in the old joke. What part of “chicken & waffles” don’t these people understand that restraint should seem in order?).

If only they’d looked as good as they’d sounded.

SBGchixwaffles

They’re like the pale, doughy 98-lb. weakling that, say, M&D’s brawny golden boy

MDschickenwaffles

kicks sand in the face of, & you’re actually on the bully’s side. (Not sure why I’m pulling all my metaphors out of the ass of the Eisenhower era here. Must be something I ate.)

To be blunter, the waffles were flat-out cold (hey! Like they really did get punched by the stud!), the chicken flaccid.

The Broadway salad, meanwhile, appeared to have a fighting chance.

SBGsalad1

But appearances deceived. Except for sufficient date & fig (which nonetheless could’ve used a little maceration), below that topmost sprinkling of grilled chicken chunks, goat cheese & almonds was virtually nothing but barely dressed romaine—along with precisely 1 polenta crouton.

SBGsalad2

We were finally issued something of a reprieve from our mealancholy, however, by Swedish meatball sliders.

SBGsliders

Or, rather, by some things called Swedish meatball sliders. Ground beef patties aren’t meatballs unless you live in Flatland. And Flatland’s out of eggs, breadcrumbs & onions. But the plain old Swedish sliders were a treat nonetheless—the buns very soft & fresh, the sour cream sauce rich & beefy to boot.

Still, seems like it’s been a while since I’ve been wowed by a vittle. Maybe it’s my party-pooper attitude of late. I’m probably cruisin’ for a bruisin.’

The Coupon Clippings: Gee, I hate to be the one to quell The Rebellion, but…

When this new South Broadway pizzeria spread the word that it was leading a fast food revolution, I all but grabbed my musket & set out that instant to join the troops behind their barrier of extra-large pies made with organic ingredients from scratch & piled high. Now that I’ve tried a slice, though, it occurs to me that any eatery that claims it’s “revolting” really is asking for trouble.

Oh, far be it from me to crack down on the people’s uprising; on the contrary, as I’ve said, we out here in the Platt Park area could use a little upending of the status quo. And I’m not saying the pizza actually turned my stomach—just that it ain’t about to break any chains (corporate on the one hand or oppression-forged on the other) or even make Pasquini shake in his glossy black boots.

Take this 3-cheese (mozz, parm, feta) thick-cruster, which I ordered with buffalo, sundried tomato & garlic oil instead of marinara.

Rebellionpizza2

You can tell by looking that what I got instead was fresh tomato; what you can’t tell by looking is that I couldn’t tell by tasting if there was the least drop of garlic oil on there or not. (For a girl who didn’t live down the block from

Reginas_1

the original Pizzeria Regina

in Boston’s North End so long ago that she can’t still see the rivulets of garlic oil running through the crevices of mozz, that’s a bit of a heart-slash-deal breaker.) Meanwhile, even partially melted, the feta was dry; and as for the crust, “big” is not the same as “thick,” nor is “soft” the same as “chewy.” Lacking all finesse, it was pretty much a puff of stale white air.

The thin crust was a little better, but only because it was less noticeable. Then again, even what was noticeable wasn’t really noticeable—not only was the cheese virtually flavorless but the sauce was flat-out bland. Apparently, its blend of herbs & spices is so secret it doesn’t even know it’s there (shhh!).

Rebellionpizza3

OK, look—backing their antiestablishment, up-with-children-&-other-living-things manifesto 100% as I do, & unable to even fathom the sort of yeehaw gumption it must require to open any business, much less a restaurant, right now, I feel like a schmo giving these guys guff. Then again, precisely because they’re talking the galvanizing talk, they’ve got to walk the walk. I’ll give ’em another try in a couple of months, when perhaps they’ll have gotten the hang of putting the “coup” in “coupon.”

Sorta-Samba Room

I don’t do the samba, but I know it’s an Afro-Brazilian dance. I’ve done the
Samba Room only once, but once was enough to know it’s no Afro-Brazilian disco of authentic delights. It’s more like some office holiday party of attempts at smooth South
American–fusion moves. You know? Like some diligent corporate lackey came up with a festive theme & went all out decorating the lunchroom & sending a link to step-by-step instructional videos on You Tube, but it’s still just the lunchroom, & every other coworker watched the rumba video instead, & the fun only ever starts when everyone gets loaded.

That probably sounds like an insult, & it is, but only insofar as the phrase
“corporate lackey” signifies. Ethnoculinary authenticity being
the bugaboo that it is in a postpostmodern, multi-if-not-postcultural,
globally-thinking-locally-acting (or at least collectively pretending to) society like ours, there’s much to be said for
home-grown, even small regional chain–grown, approaches to the cuisines of
the world. But when a menu is shaped less by some passionate restaurateur’s personal experience & extensive research than by the P &
L statements & memos with the word “branding” in the subject line
& etc. his or her hired feasibility-study guns shoot off—as appeared to mine
both eye & palate to be the case—then there’s still much to be said, but
not as nicely.

Consider
the fact that it references just about every place in the world but Brazil
& its African relations: Colombia, Peru, Cuba, Argentina, Japan,
France, Maryland, New Orleans, even Hawaii in the form of “island sweet rolls.” Where’s
the ximxim, the vatapá, the moqueca & so on to which the name de jure if not
de facto alludes?

& for that matter, where’s the salt?

Why, right there, in the shaker just behind your 4-foot gladiolus of
ceviche & plantain chips, you might point out.

SRceviche

& right you are; in fact, I used that very shaker to season the visibly peppered but noticeably undersalted signature app, “made using the freshest available seafood & shellfish,” aka tuna. Hey, nada wrong with atún, other than the Spanish getting the letters backwards; it’s just that the implication of the description (oh, why can’t words just mean what we want them to mean when we want them to mean it?) is that we can expect an assortment of finfish & crustaceans. Still, lush chunks of mango & crisp bits of red pepper & celery, plus trace amounts of jalapeno, melded in swell fashion with the cubes of tuna—firm yet juicy, being so thoroughly marinated they could function as their own lime wedges—& in short it was really quite good beyond its misrepresentation by the menu & want for salt, the latter exacerbated by a heavy sprinkling of sugar on the plantain chips that was not merely unnecessary but in fact distracting, except perhaps to American restaurant franchise consultants acting on the assumption that their consumer base will demand bananalike sweetness from bananalike objects.

Likewise undersalted was the avocado-lime dressing on the house version of a Cobb; though nice & creamy, it thus couldn’t quite stabilize the jumble of chopped smoked turkey, mango, tomato & egg with manchego, blue cheese & black beans. Though not exactly bland, it didn’t pop as it otherwise might have.

SRcobbsalad

Whether or not my companion’s vaguely Asian-influenced pile of greens with wonton strips & ginger-mustard dressing was equally bereft of flavor enhancement, it was, she assured me, no model study in textures, the grilled chicken being as “dry & tough” & the strips as underfried as they look.

SRchickensalad

Less in disarray was the interior design, balanced appealingly between Latin vibrancy & urban gleam. I’d be down with happy hour at the bar sometime, but the odds I’d pair my pisco sours with arepas or empanadas on the potentially buzzkilling dare that they’d be made of sturdier stuff soulwise than the above are pretty small.