Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

No cheek, no cheese, pure cheer: chicken & waffles at M & D’s

Fond as I am of Second Home—or as I like to call it, My Second Home, & the exhibition kitchen my kitchen, the wall-to-wall wine rack my cellar, & the staff my servants (at least under my breath)—its sibling the Corner Office isn’t centrally located on the floor plan in my heart, too often crossing the threshold between cheeky & cheesy. Get a load of that faux-risque intro to its website & you’ll see what I mean.

It has its yaysayers, though, in part because it serves chicken & waffles. Personally I can’t imagine ordering chicken & waffles in any place where there’s more than a 2% chance the Prada-clad chick next to me will be trying to seduce her Hugo Boss–wearing Seann William Scott–lookalike of a date by sucking on the candy cigarette from her Dean Martini—which also contains vodka, scotch & an olive, yet somehow doesn’t spontaneously combust from the heat of its flaming stupidity—in ways I don’t even want to know are possible in this particular physical universe of ours, much less view with mine own eyes.

Because I only want the best for my chicken & waffles, that Southern revelation I had for the 1st time a decade or so ago at Little Jezebel’s in NYC, where they were served in heartpoundingly heady fashion with both gravy & syrup, & have craved on a regular basis with tears in my faraway eyes ever since. I’ve gobbled up my share of straightforward epitomes & frilly departures, like the last version I had, the Director by my side, at my beloved old neighborhood haunt back in Boston, Neptune Oyster, wherein the waffle was a veritable cube of fluff & the syrup was figgy (perhaps thanks to Artibel fig molasses,


a Calabrian product whose label boasts what after 8 years or so since I read it for the 1st time remains some of the most gorgeously mangled English I’ve ever come across, recommending as it does that you “find its better utilize in confictionery, in particular like substitutive of the bee honey” or add it “up the greated-ice drink, like sauce up the beffsteak, and irons cooking fruit, for sweet of simple dough, up and other use suggested of the immagination”).

Now I know where my next plate’s coming from, & I couldn’t be more tickled not only that it’s neither the Drone-Filled Cubicle or whatever it’s called nor the likewise much-overrated Big Gross BBQ or whatever it’s called but M & D’s Cafe, with which the Director & I fell in love last night, so much we’d have cheated on each other with M & D, whichever one’s which, given half a chance, especially when Elsie, our waitress, informed us that M & D’ll be frying up chicken & waffles every Sunday beginning with this one.

Having gained 292 1/2 lbs., I checked, overnight thanks to the pile of killer rib tips & battered, peppered fries I plowed through like some sort of meth-addled farmer’s daughter,


I’ll be there with cowbells on.

Tidbits: Pajama Baking Company, East Europe Market

Entering Pajama Drug Company with a homicidally maniacal case of the DTs, I might as well be filthy & twitching & covered in oozing, crusty sores—only the ooze would be tan, smooth & tasty & the crust oven-warmed; they’d be PB DTs. I’d do anything, anydamnthing, to score another peanut-butter brownie, or even just a bite, or even just a crumb, a crumb flicked at my feet for me to scramble around for, but the only thing I have to do is shell out a couple of bucks for the whole, I swear, 6 x 6 x nearly 2 ball of wax, but it isn’t a ball of wax, it’s a block of sweet jesus, and then I’m hhhhhiiiiiIIIIGGHHH for hours that turn into days.


It’s really not a baked good, it’s a baked terrific: the brownie itself is almost stickily moist & dense & absolutely smacking of pure peanut-butter flavor; a layer of the stuff itself’s beneath the icing,


which to my nut-numbed taste is a little too vanilla in every sense of the word but does offer a touch of contrast.

When I come down, I’m too addled to eat anything but condiments, the food group I turn to in times of trouble. During the East Europe Market jaunt I blogged about not long ago, I picked up a shitload (the only size available) of this eggplant-&-pepper spread from Estonia or Croatia, I believe,


so now I pop off the lid


& dig in with a spoon. I don’t know what you’re supposed to serve it on or with, & I don’t care. It’s eggplant boiled down, or rather pulped, to its essence—at once extremely creamy & sharply tangy. The bits of pepper add a touch of sweetness & salt adds salt, as well it should.

To be continued when the wooziness subsides.

The dumbest thing I ever heard & its relation to Buckhorn Exchange

This needs prefacing at length with a monologue by Lewis Black, who recalls standing in a line at the movies or something

… when from behind me, a woman of 25 uttered the dumbest thing I’d ever heard in my life … She said, “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” I’ll repeat that. I’ll repeat that because that’s the kind of sentence that when you hear it, your brain comes to a screeching halt. And the left hand side of the brain looks at the right hand side and goes, “It’s dark in here, and we may die.” She said, “If it weren’t for my horse”—as in, giddy up, giddy up, let’s go—”I wouldn’t have spent that year in college,” a degree-granting institution. Don’t! Don’t think about that sentence for more than three minutes, or blood’ll shoot out your nose. The American medical profession doesn’t know why we get an aneurysm. It’s when a blood vessel bursts in our head for no apparent reason. There’s a reason. You’re at the mall one day, and somebody over there says the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard and it goes in your ear. So you turn around to see if your friends heard it, ’cause if your friends heard it, and you can talk about what the jackass said, then it’ll be gone. But your friends are over here, pretending they’re gonna buy a cellular phone, and they’re not gonna buy a cellular phone, because they don’t even understand how the rate structure works. So you turn back, to find the person who said it, because if you can ask ’em a question like, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKIN’ ABOUT?!” then it’ll go away. But they’re gone. And now those words are in your head. And those words don’t go away. Cause the way I see it, 7% of our brains functions all the time, because 99% of everything that happens is the same old stuff. We get it. All right. Move on. Get it. Right. But every so often, somethin’ like that happens: “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” So your brain goes, “LET’S FIGURE IT OUT! Son of a bitch! I wonder what that’s about!” I wonder, was she riding the horse to school? No, she wouldn’t be riding the horse to school. Maybe it was a polo pony; she had a polo pony scholarship. Maybe she sold the horse and that’s how she … she was betting on the horse! WHAT THE FUCK?!! And then you realize that anybody who went to college would never say anything that stupid in public. And as soon as you have that thought, your eyes close and the next morning they find you dead in your bathroom.

That’s exactly what happened to me, the death on the john & everything, one day some years back in Boston. I was in a crammed cablecar on the B Line, which runs straight through the hell on earth that is Allston/Brighton, crammed as it is in turn with the damned souls of BU & BC coeds—not tortured, mind you, in fact perfectly blithe, in fact soulless, but nonetheless or hence utterly damned—when I heard a girl with a larynx like a squeak toy say this:

“I’ve never tasted an artichoke. I mean, I have, but I haven’t, do you know what I mean?”

I’ve regretted not giving her at least half of what she was (&/or wasn’t) missing by wringing her neck ever since.

Until now. Now that I’ve been to Buckhorn Exchange, I’m really relieved I’m not doing time for choking the life out of the only daughter of a Norwegian shipping magnate or whatever sort of heiress she presumably was to be able to afford tuition at BU or BC. Now that I’ve been to Buckhorn Exchange (BE?), I get her; I hear her; & I can honestly say with her that I’ve had something but not had something. A number of things, in fact—namely alligator, rattlesnake & above all Rocky Mountain oysters.


Says the menu: fried, center-cut alligator tail with seafood cocktail sauce. Says I: if you say so. Practically minced & heavily breaded, it could’ve been leg meat. It could’ve been crocodile leg meat. Hell, it could’ve been ocean perch. Maybe it needed freshwater swamp–critter cocktail sauce to really bring out the flavor.


Says the menu: rattlesnake marinated in red chile & lime & served with a chipotle cream cheese. Says the dictionary under the entry for “with”: used as a function word to indicate combination, accompaniment, or addition. Apparently the chef confused it with “under”: in or into a position below or beneath something; or, better yet, in or into a condition of subjection, subordination, or unconsciousness. As in: The rattlesnake was rendered unconscious when it was smothered under a blanket of chipotle cream cheese.


Says the menu: Rocky Mountain oysters with horseradish dippin’ sauce. Period. Says I: substitute “Rocky Mountain oysters” with “chicken fingers” or “calamari fritti” or “not even roadkill but bits of the blown-out tire that hit the roadkill.” You’d still get the same thing.

Too bad; covered every inch with the stuffed heads of ibexes & impalas, bucks & buffalo, humming with the sounds of a dead ringer for Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski on the autoharp,


the place is a kick in the assless chaps. & there is 1 anomaly of a nibble, a gem among the rubble—namely the buffalo sausage with red-chile polenta & what the menu calls “spicy wild-game mustard,” which seems to contain both honey & horseradish, much like my soul. The sausage was rich, firm & pepper-spiked; the polenta was properly creamy; the mustard I could & did eat all by itself, with a spoon.


But overall Exchange appears to be a euphemism for Sellout, Blackmail, or plain old Bum Deal.

Buckhorn Exchange on Urbanspoon

Cool stuff in my house (Part 4, giving Divino its usual due)

these plates printed with 3 martians & 1 superhero


this picture of a shoe by local artist Susan Goldstein


these glasses printed with wraparound black lace


this picture of a booty by local artist Judy Anderson


& this bottle of Cynar (available at Divino), a digestivo made with, but not particularly redolent of, artichoke. Though considered an amaro, or bitter, it’s really a dolce-amaro, sort of molasses’ doppelganger—& refreshing regardless.


While sparing you the details, I’ll attest to its ability to blaze wide, long trails straight through everything from polenta con gorgonzola


to troppo, troppo lardo.


Ora questo, amici miei, `e italiano.

Osteria Marco mostly hits the marko

Osteria? Not even closteria. Not in my book, anyway, which is literal & filled with snapshots of snug, humble spots in Orvieto & Agrigento & Trieste; not to my mind, full of memories of the kind of place where you might catch glimpses of a lumpy old mamma in slippers at the stove through the kitchen door, stirring pots & plating your fettine di cavallo arrosto (a horse is a course, of course, of course) while her son il cameriere brings round shots of grappa every time his team scores in the soccer game on the little black-&-white set at the hostess stand. An osteria is not sprawling & sleek & buzzing with lovelies freshly descended from their 400-million square feet of Lodo loft.

Misnomer aside, though, Osteria Marco is a pleasure, sheer & simple. Aided by a bartender who was engaged, savvy & honest—a rare combo, though less rare, it strangely seems to me, among bar staff than among waitstaff—we grazed & grazed & grazed some more, basically laying waste to the fecund field of meat & cheese that is the menu while drinking deep from the red red springs of the Quartino.

Speaking of fields, I sowed the inaugural soil of Denveater with the seeds of a Top 5 list that has since lain fallow from not neglect so much as the lack of crop potential. Until now. OM’s much & rightly ballyhooed burrata’s officially up there with Black Pearl’s calamari, Rioja’s pork belly & Sushi Sasa’s black cod. In fact, it’s the literal cream of the crop, a sort of deliquescent mozzarella. Or the salty marshmallow of cheeses. I’d totally use it for fluffernutters, especially between chargrilled slices of country bread like these.


Gnocco fritto usually evoke nothing so much as mini-sopaipillas; here, they’re more like cheese crackers. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re more like, otherwise known as frico, only solid instead of lacy. See for yourself:


OM’s gnocco fritto


typical gnocco fritto


typical frico

Be it another misnomer or not, the result is a fine mouthful—all peppery, cheesy crunch.

As for these utter rose petals of braesola—wine-cured beef—


their thinness may actually have done their flavor a disservice; to say that braesola is salty by definition is not quite to say that it’s definitively salty. Like good pastrami, it should still register as beef. Still, they’re just so heartbreakingly pretty, no? In fact, forget rose petals, they’re enough like cross-sections of the still-beating heart of a redheaded beauty sacrificed to the gods only seconds before that maybe I wasn’t even supposed to eat it, just eye it in awe.

That said, the mozzarella in carozza was also sliced too thin; as it’s basically a grilled-cheese sandwich, the bread should, IMO, squish a bit, the cheese ooze a bit, beneath its toasted surface. This was nothing but toasted surface, hence rather on the dry side, juiced up mainly by those pickled onions.


Not so the exemplary grilled artichoke; tender even at its outermost & glistening with olive oil, it was almost as good as the best carciofi alla giudea I’ve ever had in Rome—which isn’t even a fair comparison, because the latter have the incontestable advantage of being fried.


The above being a spot-on suggestion from our smart bartender—our smartender (whose name I wish I’d gotten, but keep your eye out for a lanky 20-something bearing a passing resemblance to the guy who played Randal in Clerks)—I asked for his thoughts on dessert, stipulating contradictorily that I didn’t actually want dessert, I wanted more cheese.

He recommended the ricotta, which was indeed as light as it could possibly be & still exist, paired, by his own accord, with a dish of strawberries in syrup—


a sweet touch in every sense of the adjective.

Osteria Marco on Urbanspoon

Hama Hama ding dong: oysters at the Cruise Room

Or, as I’m gonna dub it, the Snooze Tomb. Or maybe Booze Gloom. Granting that the Oxford Hotel’s off-lobby haunt is a dandy old time capsule—with its deep red glow & all those Art Deco trimmings,


the scalloped banquettes, the bartenders decked out in red jackets & bowties, the rootin’-tootin’ big-band soundtrack, etc. etc., it’s irresistibly Shiningesque,

so you’ll want to hang all night with Jack & Lloyd & the whole bloody gang in the cloche & stole you were wearing when you died—its affiliation with the adjacent McCormick & Schmick’s is a real buzzkill insofar as it casts a colorless corporate pall over all that crimson cool. The apparent duplication of the seafood chain’s shabby, uninspired list of wines by the glass—while undoubtedly just right for working girls’ night out when 6 pinot grigios & 13 blends of cab-merlot are in order—is a particular letdown in the kind of place where the corks on dusty old bottles of claret or some such vintage thing should constantly be popping. Same goes for the cocktail list—where are the sazeracs, the corpse revivers, the bucks & fizzes & flips? If anybody should be flaunting some mixpertise beyond a knack for making pink drinks pinker, it’s bartenders in bowties, no?

Still, I can’t deny the obvious upside—namely access to McCormick’s oyster roster.


My dear Tatamagouches, on the left, were the roughest of the bunch with their salty mini-wallop. The others were squeaky clean; the Hurricane Harbors, on the right, proved mild but meaty, like if someone replaced them with mushroom caps it might be all right, while the Hama Hamas at the bottom were as delicately edged with seafoam-flavored lace as they look, despite their enormanormity. I swiped the biggest shell as a keepsake. Look how long & thin! It’s not just a shell, it’s a Shelley Duvall. (Far be it from me to Overlook one last Shining pun, heh.)

Photo 17

Hush little baby don’t say a thing, Rodney’s gonna sling you some diamond rings

& if those diamond rings don’t shine, I owe you a half-bottle of wine / But don’t press your luck cause the other half’s mine

That’s my lullaby-slash-guarantee & I’m sticking to it. The onion ring is the banana of bar snacks: its ideal is deceptively simple hence oft-elusive. Just as the 1 is almost always stiff & underripe or mushy & overripe, so the other is slimy or doughy or stringy or stale or any combo thereof 9 times out of 10.

But that 10th time is magic. That’s when the golden breading is crunchy through-&-through & seasoned so you notice; that’s when the onion is thickly sliced yet slick & translucently juicy-sweet. That’s when a multitude spills from a sparkling heap like treasure.


& at Rodney’s—which is like the Double R Diner of Cherry Creek, complete with its own Log Lady (except she carries a book, but paper comes from trees, so close enough) & the type of waitress who’ll plop down on the stool next to you & tell you a few of her secrets (not backwards like in Cooper’s dream, but still, not far off)—every time’s the 10th time.

Hmm, that’s a metaphysical glitch bordering on Twin Peaks territory in itself. If Rodney’s coffee should ever taste to you black as midnight on a moonless night, I suggest you keep your eye peeled like an ideal banana for this guy


&, never mind mine, heed the lullaby of the 1-armed man who’s probably in the booth right behind you:

He is Bob
Eager for fun
He wears a smile
Everybody run!


According to the National Geographic, hornets “chew wood into a papery construction pulp” to construct their hives. No wonder they’re the namesake of this Baker district hang, whose repertoire is likewise built on the culinary equivalent of spitwads.

If that sounds a tad harsh considering I totally admit some items are edible & even, paired with sufficient hooch, enjoyable, hear me out. Compare, for instance, the Hornet to the Cricket.


Of the latter, one can say it is what it is: a belovedly shabby, grubby, greasy institution. Of the former, one can’t; the menu makes grand gourmet gestures that are as empty as they are random. Drop the pretense, solve the problem. It’s really that simple.

Take the shells & cheese with lobster. Even putting aside the fact that the concept is about as fresh as a croissanwich, you can’t get around the realization that nothing else on the menu contains lobster—as well it shouldn’t, this being a bar full of dead ringers for the Bush twins doing shots & chasers named, probably, for the Bush twins, courtesy of guys in cargo shorts with a condom for every pocket.

So, yeah, the notion that someone’s back there in the kitchen lovingly picking tail & claw meat from the shells of freshly boiled lobsters just to toss it with boxed pasta & serve it up for all of $12 to some schmo whose greatest triumph of the evening is maintaining a 45-degree angle on his stool is not one I’m prepared to swallow.

Or take those homemade potato chips in the background.


They’re thick-cut, golden-brown, well-seasoned—nice. Too bad they come with a side of bottled ranch that defeats thejr whole purpose. A chip’s a vehicle for dip; if it’s a hot rod, the dollop atop it had better handle it like a pro. Why pimp the ride if its passenger’s just gonna trash it pronto?

(As for that sundae, never even mind. Its concoction by the toque-topped team of crackerjacks known as Breyer, Hershey & Spunkemeyer—perfectly recognizable from their stints in my own damn kitchen—was just as I expected, & just fine. So long as there’s no bunk about hand-harvested vanilla beans & fifth-generation snickerdoodle recipes, I’m down with paying for someone else to do the scooping & squeezing.)

Hornet on Urbanspoon

Cool stuff in my house (Part 3, with a vigorous nod to East Europe Market)

This lawnmower,


which I’ve forbidden the Director to use ever again unless he grows a handlebar & wears one of these


(image unwitting courtesy of this blog)

& one of these;


these tractor lights we bought in a genuine 5-&-dime in Lansing, Iowa;


this shrine to St. Genesius, who protects against seizures, which the Director has been known to have, complete with several hospital ID bracelets & 4 foam monitoring electrodes;


& these wacky foodstuffs I purchased from among the dairy cases full of nothing but fresh sheep’s-milk cheese, the aisles devoted to imported biscuits & crisps, the others crammed with 1000 kinds of vegetable pickles & spreads (including, I swear, 100 kinds of avjar alone), the sausages behind the counter & all the other Bulgarian specialties at East Europe Market, which apparently not many people besides this guy & I have managed to catch a glimpse of from behind the Hooters at the corner of South Colorado & Arkansas:


In addition to the 1st 4 ingredients—pork fat, pork liver &, uh, pork, plus water—this Croatian curio also contains milk, dried onion & salt. Not sure where the tea comes in. Maybe they just tacked that word on there to make “pork” sound more civilized, like “ladies, won’t you please partake of this bobbin-lace head cheese or some string-quartet haggis?”


Okay (she squeals with glee), now this one is just too good to be true. For a buck 99, I just got me a can of lobster, whiting, tomalley—you read me, the lobster’s so-called liver (a load of crap, literally, if you ask me; livers aren’t green, unless the lobster’s had a string of especially tough nights)—butter, cream, milk, fish broth, farina (wheatmeal—think gruel), soybean oil, carrots, celery (I so did not see fresh produce coming), reconstituted onions (more like it) &, I shit you not, cognac. It says “chill before serving,” but I’m not sure I can. I’ll have to take a pill first. Heh.

Best of all, check out the bottom of the tin! I don’t even have to open it, I can just set it on the table upside down to impress all my fancy party guests. & then I can put it away til the next shindig! It’s an eternal feast in a 2 oz. package.

Photo 17

As for this, it seems to be basically a paprika-spiked tomato paste.


That or some sort of over-the-counter ointment. You know, just to spice up the old personal-hygiene routine.

delite, demoted to decent

As a big fat fan of Deluxe, I had me some high hopes for delite—above all that it might rectify the one beef I have with the former (the same one I level ad nauseum at Black Pearl): that the menu doesn’t vary enough for regulars. Thought maybe now they’d shake things up a bit—shift some of the old signature nibbles to the lounge menu, make room for some new sensations on the dining-room menu, that sort of thing. Not that—if Deluxe’s kitchen is (as it does appear to be) just too cramped to warrant all manner of simultaneous craziness—there couldn’t be menu overlap, just so long as a few of the shared items changed now & again.
And in all fairness, maybe they will; it’s early yet. But for the nonce, unlike that other Deee-Lite, I actually could ask for another supper dish, another succotash wish.
Everything was fine & dandy, mind you, but nothing was precious—save for these hand-cut potato chips with blue cheese & a drizzle of truffle oil,
but I’d had their likes before, next door. I’m not so jaded as to throw them out of the bed that in this case I guess is my mouth, but I’m not so green as to get all dewy-eyed & grateful to find them there.
I’d also had these potato skins filled with smoked salmon, tarragon cream & a touch of roe before. They were as vibrant as ever too, but again, I don’t go to a new place to have an old experience.
Fuzzy on film, fuzzy in my affections.
If you don’t count the parmesan-sprinkled flatbread with which a meal at Deluxe begins, this chicken & fennel sausage flatbread was novel, not to mention nice & crunchy, slightly charred, just the way I like it. The toppings were on top. They just didn’t pop out at me in any way shape or form.
As for that Levini I was so looking forward to, I guess I thought the vodka would actually be infused with rosemary and black pepper, not just get stuck with it as garnish. Which left the blue-cheese-stuffed olives to do all the heavy lifting flavorwise. Obviously that rosemary stalk’s not going to take much of the load off. (I actually started a thread on Chowhound’s General Topics Board regarding its wilted state: was that a function of alcohol’s toxicity or the weight of the olives, or was the herb just past its prime? Check out the responses here.)
Said my friend who henceforth shall be known as Fortune Rookie, though at first she wanted to go by her real name in all caps plus social-security number: “I used to have to stuff blue-cheese olives when I was a bartender. It sucked.” Said my friend Petey, making a stuffing motion with left index finger and right fist, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
The decor didn’t much diminish my funk.
While I still dig the groovy, Shagesque surf-mod artwork I noticed when I first peeped in,* the gray walls I didn’t notice until I was actually settled into a booth gave me the creeps. Which led me to wonder if I was on death row in a past life or something, which only enforced said creeps. At that point the word “bar” starts to echo maddeningly & pretty soon you’re stabbing everybody with forks to make a run for it.
At least Petey’s hoodie helped to brighten the gloom.
To play my own devil’s advocate, I’ll raise the following points:
1. My disappointment in delite is a product of my devotion to Deluxe, which generated expectations of the realization of a concept much higher than either the owners had or my fellow patrons would care for. Bar snacks conceived as anything more than guilty pleasures to soak up alcohol are wasted on the wasted.
2. With economic booms come experimentation. With downturns come comfort.
I won’t argue with the latter; reports of just how awfully tough the biz is these days are rampant. As for the former, however—the world is full of cookie cutters; I was & am still hoping, from folks whose vision & talents I admire, for something hand-shaped, with all the odd bits showing.
A description that, as I’ve said, at present fits Beatrice & Woodsley, not delite, to a calligraphic T.
*Which I guess the Shag Lounge also boasts in spades, but I’m even more agitated by the thought of that place than I am of prison.