Eat Colfax


Friday, October 8, 2010

Bourbon Grill Welcomes Me Back!

Hola everybody, I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya. No but seriously, I do apologize for the extended delay in posts. Eat Colfax had to take a hiatus. But now I'm back! However, I will make this disclaimer right now: keeping up with my eating and writing duties on a weekly basis is definitely a challenge, and I will no longer keep myself on a strict deadline of posting every Monday, or even once a week. Bear with me folks. I'll do and deliver the best that I can. 

So I finally decided it was time to restart this project, and on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon I waltzed over to Bourbon Grill only to discover they were closed. Sigh. Nowhere online told me that, nor do they have their hours posted on the building. So beware. Apparently the Holy day rabble that wanders Colfax isn't worthy of a little fattening up. The next day we had more faith and sure enough, door open and neon signs aglow; but lest you think you can enter that door, you cannot. Bourbon Grill feels like a permanent street-food truck, sans tires and engine. You order at a window and get your food to-go, all in ubiquitous styrofoam. Bourbon Grill offers Southern food in all of it's drippy, messy, greasy glory. Oh and cheese steaks, or cheeze steaks rather, which definitely satisfies those three adjectives. I order what they're known for, which would be Combination #1: Bourbon Chicken with steamed rice, 2 Side Orders, and Sm. Drink. Mom grills the meat and Pop takes the orders and money. 
I spy the steam well through the window, the hotel pans mostly brimming with hearty side dishes, the electric yellow of the mac'n'cheese all bubbly and calling out to me. Grilled corn or green beans? The corn looks strikingly similar to the mac'n'cheese, if I didn't have near-perfect vision I'd be confused, plus I like my food to represent a variety of the color palette so I go for the beans. It's still summer dammit and I want to believe they are fresh and local, but I realize that's probably a more likely origin for the corn. We wait a few minutes on the "patio", which is just two plastic tables on the sidewalk under the gigantic red awning, the cars and exhaust and the busy 5-way intersection that is Colfax and Franklin and Park Ave making it a not-so-inviting locale to eat some grub. The man bags everything up for us and we stroll over to the park. 

We find my favorite cement picnic table and Kristin plops down the bag with a thunk. I reach for  the top box and it's a good thing I was going in for a really solid grab because that box had to weigh at least 5 pounds. Add to that the ultimate flimsiness of the styrofoam and I almost lost my whole day's project to the squirrels. You get your money's worth at Bourbon Grill, that's for certain. I open the box and am truly astounded at the massive pile of chow in front of me. The mac'n'cheese looks like some kind of velveeta-y soup with little elbows floating on top, the beans are sprawled every which way, and I can see the cheese sauce has oozed over the side of its allotted slot and is now forming a very solid base under the beans. And the chicken, oh my god. Is there a whole chicken in here? Okay, it's at least half a chicken. The rice, while I have no doubt was once steamed, is now heavenly drenched in the sweet bourbon sauce, with steamy drippings of grilled chicken soaking in to every kernel. Booya. Time to dig in. But the nice man only gave us feeble plastic forks and no knives, and this chicken is going to need some rassling. Fingers it is.
These chunks of chicken really are huge. I rip them apart and am a little bummed at the more than fair amount of gristle and fat. That's what makes it taste good but it sure ain't edible. The beans are snappy and perfectly cooked, and dipping them in the cheeze sauce makes them all the more delightful. Oh and the cheeze, as I'm now going to refer to it: I don't know what it is, how much of it actually came from a cow or a chemist, but it is real real tasty. But truly, not enough pasta in there. Oh well, all the more to dip my vegetables and chicken in. This is truly picnic food and it feels good to be eating it outside in the warm Colorado sunshine. 

Bourbon Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 30, 2010

Streets of London: 3 Guys Pies

Wednesday nights at this well-known Denver dive are apparently not very brawl-inducing. This was my impression of the place, as I live so damn close to it I can hear the fracas more often than not, always breathing a sigh of relief when my clock reads 2am and I know I can finally get some sleep. I brought 3 friends along for the ride, thinking there's safety in numbers. But it turns out no protection was necessary: the place was only half full and everyone was behaving themselves. 

Streets shares the building with another eatery, Spices. Although I did spend a fabulously hung-over morning there once, waiting a baffling 20 minutes for a breakfast burrito to-go (we were the only patrons and the single sound I heard from the partially open kitchen was the ding of a microwave), Spices does not have a Colfax address nor an entrance on that street, so consider it un-Eat Colfax-worthy. The food available inside Streets of London is actually run by another company: 3 Guys Pies. Sound convoluted? Add to that the adjoining Scooter Liquors and you have yourself quite the hodgepodge of places to buy food and drink, not a strip mall, but a chubby L-shaped block of cement and brick and asphalt, surrounded by a triangle of streets where Park Avenue reaches it's terminus. In my opinion, (and the patrons' and purveyors' of Steets of London no doubt), 3 Guys Pies is the best thing to have inhabited the building, providing honest-to-goodness New York style pizza to soak up the pints and perhaps provide a greasy and cheesy if not quiescence than at least civil air to those disorderly late-night folks. 

The patio was full when we got there, so we grabbed a bar table, the 4 of us taking a minute to adjust to the dim and figure out the protocol to ordering. Actually they make it pretty clear at Streets: two signs declaring "Order Here" and "No Wait Staff on Duty", although having worked in restaurants and bars myself I'm aware that there are always some customers who are blind/lazy/ignorant. We go up to the pizza window, where the extent of their menu hangs above the counter in brilliant yellow and red and green. Well-organized, easy to read, in short, enticing. I see they offer gluten-free crust (I mean, if you're not jumping on that band wagon already you're sunk), pizza by the slice, whole pies ranging from 14 to 30 inches (30 inches!), calzones and salads available in half or whole sizes, subs and pasta. Standard NY pizza joint fare, with topping choices galore, although nothing overly unusual (still looking for pizza with broccoli in Denver). I order a small chef salad and a half-calzone with spiced meatball, sautéed onion and pineapple, 10 bucks and some change. I hear my name called some minutes later and pick up my "side" salad at the window. Wow. If that's a side I can imagine a "whole" coming in a salad-serving bowl. Mine is served in a lovely ceramic dish, the ingredients perfectly rounded over the top, each pepperoni and crouton and mushroom slice placed deliberately atop the lettuce, a plastic ramekin of house-made Italian dressing tipping precariously on the side. It's almost like a cold pizza, and you really gotta dig through the meat and mozzarella to get to the greens below. It's delicious and filling and as my companions' slices come out I come to realize that 3 Guys deals in enormity. The slices, perhaps coming from the 30 inch monster, are draped over the paper plates like a flamboyant man's wrist. They're a little unwieldy, and using the method of picking up the plate and eating about 6 inches off the pointy end first is a must. Everyone is "mmm"-ing and I'm excited for my hot portion to arrive as well, which it does soon after. Again, this is a half-calzone? It's been cut in half, so to me, it's two halves, which if I remember my math classes correctly, equals a whole. Bang for your buck here folks. The ricotta and mozzarella are oozing out of the perfectly plumped up crust. Cutting into it, I laugh at my innards-choices, it's really a bunch of white foods, even the crushed up meatballs have not escaped a color change, having just soaked up the sauce. And you know what they say about white foods. Well, they're tasty that's for sure. The sauce though, the mixture of ricotta and herbs, is a tad too sweet. Sure, it could be the pineapple or the onion (i.e. my own fault) but the spiciness of the meatballs is a bit lost and I can't help but think there is something a little off about it. A healthy dose of marinara brings back the savory acidity, but not quite enough. I manage to polish it off, along with two pints of London Pride, and am already planning my next visit where I will stick with a traditional Neopolitan. 
3 Guys Pies on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Caffe Sanora: An Ode

Neighborhood coffee shop, just around my corner,
Small inside and out,
Just big enough.
Patio too hot in the summer,
I never seem to get the shady seat.
But I watch the sun make it’s way from north to south, 
Across the sky, 
Over the months,
And take shelter under the half-shade of the Colfax locust trees
At the square table by the trash can.

At any given hour there are sirens,
The very same I would be hearing from my balcony.
But here I feel the whoosh of the truck as it screams by,
See the look of expectant indifference on the firemen’s faces.

Chess players, men all, playing for joe or a smoke or just to break up
A monotonous day in the sun.
A bowl of water for the myriad dogs, dogs who watch people and dogs
Who watch other dogs,
The humans busy staring at pawns or computers or crosswords or
Off in the distance.

A constant dumping and refreshing of the ashtrays.
They don’t try here, they just. . .are
Calm and perfect, accepting and guarding of its patrons.
It is a responsibility to run a café on Colfax,
A café that allows me to smoke next to the door, a café that lets in doggies,
A café with a constant flow of every demographic imaginable.

What would Dave think of that?
Dave, the owner, 
Whistling and humming to the ever-constant classic rock radio station,
Dave who seemingly knows everyone but me.
You checked on me one time,
When a gravely-voiced bum decided to try
To have a dialog with me.

Once, a man ferociously washing the windows outside,
His too-long squeegee pole perturbing the patio patrons,
Desperately looking like he needs his job
And not more coffee.

I come here to write.
I come here to think when I’m anxious.
The constant hum and honk and clatter of cars,
Never a quiet peace,
But peace in knowing that people will always just
Go about their business.

This morning I ate something,
A bacon, egg and scallion croissant,
Heated in your microwave.
Buttery, decidedly non-American,
Baked by your “in-house baker”.
Give me more than that Dave.
Recognize me, know that I drink the same double Americano
In my black Caffe Sanora mug.
I’ve seen your “in-house baker”, a little smidge of a woman
In hair net.

I am not a regular anywhere,
But I frequent this place more than any other,
And I want you to know that.
Cafe Sanora on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Irish Snug: Where's the salt?

This project never ceases to surprise. First, I want you readers to understand the objectivity I am forced to deal with. I don’t pick the eateries, they just exist where they are, lined up on Colfax like dominoes that I slowly knock over one week at a time. Most food writers are either assigned or personally choose to eat and write where they do, and with that comes some sort of expectation, and perhaps excitement, knowing there is press or buzz or rumor of deliciousness. Not that some of my eateries don’t possess those things as well, but they are not the impetus for my visit. And so, when a place like the Snug pops up, I do get excited, I do have expectations, I think about what I’m going to order days before I go. I can imagine the smell of the steam wafting from the plate, the first bite of comforting Irish pub food, the last bite, a little sad, wanting more but satisfied enough with a shot of whiskey for dessert.

And so I had these expectations, on my umpteenth visit to the Irish Snug. We snag a table in the main room and are greeted immediately and have our beers within two minutes. Score. 20 ounces of Murphy's Irish Amber to whet my palate and sip as I peruse the menu. Kristin looks like she's going to pass out from low blood sugar so appetizers are a must. The Snug's menu is neither typically nor traditionally Irish, but they do have the smattering you'd expect, meaning, corned beef and cabbage, liver and onions, shepherd's pie. We start with hash-browned zucchini, which is mixed with parmesan and fresh garlic. I'm reminded of (and hoping for something akin to) one of my favorite side dishes cooked by mom in the summer: little zucchini rounds breaded and fried in the ever-loved electric fryer. What we get looks similar to latkes, two triangles of hash with diced roma tomatoes and sour cream on the side. It's hot, steamy, my mouth is watering and I take the first bite and, and. . .well, it's not bad, but, where's the zucchini? I can see specks of green but taste something only subtely vegetal. If I were blind-folded I would not know it was supposed to contain zucchini. But it's fried well and the parm and garlic are there and when you're dying of hunger you might tend to be less discriminating. 

For dinner I opt for corned beef and cabbage and Kristin for fish and chips. A caveat: I have only had corned beef here. Once, the corned beef egg rolls (sounds odd but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense). Another time, the corned beef sandwich. I like me some corned beef. And while I do try to branch out when I eat for this project, I just can't do liver and onions yet, especially after Kristin described the horror she experienced as a child, the metallic taste, etc... And quite frankly, I was hungry for corned beef! You know, my expectations and all. The menu uses the word "traditional" twice in it's description of the dish: first, "a traditional favorite", then, "with a traditional white wine parsley sauce". The former I can agree with, the latter not so much. Correct me if I'm wrong! But after a Google search, images and all, I could find no reference to any sauce being applied to corned beef and cabbage. But I like white wine, I like parsley, and I (usually) like sauce, so I feared not. The plates arrive, and sure enough, mine looks like a heaping mass of food covered in white gravy. Always with the gravy! I dig out some corned beef, a little cabbage on the end of the fork, and all I can taste is pasty flour. Unsalted, pasty, flour. There is not even a suggestion of white wine or parsley, just bleached, white flour with perhaps a teaspoon of butter. And unquestionably no salt. I take another bite, and another, hoping for redemption in the mashed potatoes, but alas, completely under-seasoned. This begs for an explanation of my relationship with table-top condiments: I never add salt and always add pepper. Truly, most restaurant food doesn't need salt. It should be a chef's first thought, the assaisonnement imperatif. This dish, known for it's homey, comforting, dare-I-say blandness, should at least activate my salivaries from the beef ("corned" meaning cured with salt corns). But the Snug chef has chosen to make the dish utterly tasteless by drowning it's key ingredients in liquefied flour. Of course, I break my rule and shake on some salt, to no avail. Salt applied after the food is prepared does not have the same gustatory conclusion, and in this case, didn't help the situation one bit. On to Kristin's food: same story. The fries had not a kernel of salt and tasted like they'd been sitting a while. The fish batter, again, no zest, no flavor, no salt! 

Our half-eaten plates get swept away and followed with a Naked Tinker Ale, from Tommyknocker Brewery. Believe it or not, when it comes to alcohol that often is described in edible terms, i.e. beer and wine, I am not usually able to come up with the right word. But one sip and I am instantly transported to the beautiful edificio that is the Mayan Theater: buttered popcorn. It's just all wrong. We need something to end the meal properly. A shot of Redbreast 12yr., neat, with ice on the side for me, and a Tullamore Dew 12 yr. for Kristin. There now, that's the ticket. The waitress brings a pint glass of ice, not quite right, but it'll do. I've never experienced a lack of sodium when visiting the Snug on previous occasions, but tonight just wasn't on point. Thankfully their Wednesday night band, the Gypsy Swing Revue, started playing and we sat back and relaxed with our whiskeys, thankful for the atmosphere and the opportunity to support a decent local band.  And mom, if you're reading this, which I know you are, did you pick up on some clues? (:

P.S. Eat Colfax is taking a week off, as I'll be on vacation. Woo hoo!
P.P.S. That's the last time you'll see an emoticon on this blog. 
Irish Snug on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 2, 2010

Her Bar

Well dear readers, I have to be honest with you, I'm in a slump. It seems I somewhat inadvertently skipped not one, but two eateries, due to my own lack of diligence and research. But perhaps something in me wanted to skip ahead, geographically, temporally, to neighborhoods more frequented and. . .friendly? Truly, this stretch of Colfax, from Pearl to Marion and perhaps a few blocks beyond, is just hot, nasty asphalt and cement and exhaust, no trees for respite from the July sun or the stretch of chains, fast-food restaurants all. This is a strip you walk through, not to. But one of my original intentions for this project was to not shun the neighborhoods --because of preconceived notions-- but to embrace them, discover their secrets, or at least discover what the particular eatery brought to Colfax at that location, and conversely, how an eatery's particular location effected it. That first stretch of 15-or-so restaurants fit nicely into my plan, made the project easy to explain and define, even to myself. But Colfax, all 26 miles of it, isn't merely about package deals. The random strip-mall stretches and lonely bus stops and billboards and busted-up sidewalks and seemingly arbitrariness of it all is bogging me down. Where is the soul when it's not obvious? Oh yeah, in the eateries. The hodgepodge of Colfax does have a common thread: the need to serve and be served something to eat. Even Her Bar, which seems like a rather incidental eatery (hence my previous neglect of it), has chosen to offer more than libations. Sometimes it doesn't have to be about the neighborhood, sometimes it's just what's inside that counts. And Her Bar, being an obvious destination location, is definitely in that camp. So tonight, I'm going to find out why lesbians would also choose to eat at their favorite watering hole. 

So I knew they’d constructed a patio, a serious plus for any bar, especially in the evening when it’s actually tolerable to be outside. It seems this added square footage also coincided with Her Bar’s acquiring of an Executive Chef (that’s what it says on the menu), someone named Cajun. When I read this I laughed to myself: I had checked the website to confirm the food rumor, had merely skimmed the content (not because I’m that inattentive but because the font was so hard to read I literally could only skim it for readable words), saw the word “cajun” and assumed I would be in for some spicy seafood and later on, heartburn. But no. At least no to the spicy seafood. The menu at Her Bar kind of looks like something a tweenager would present to her parents, proudly, if she were making dinner for them in a mock-restaurant fashion.  You can feel the care, the thought, but you surely can’t see it. This would be quaint, acceptable, if I truly was being made dinner by a twelve year old (hey, maybe I was) but this is, ostensibly, an eatery. A sampling of items from the menu: “a selection of worldly cheese” (Kristin: they must be well-traveled!); “rings of fire onion rings, with choice of dipping sauce”; “Veg-HER” (raw veggies with sauce choice, not entirely sure about the pun); burger sliders; buffalo chicken sliders. My favorite part is at the bottom of the menu, a section called “After Dinner Drinks”, which includes a Tuaca lemon drop martini and a jalapeno margarita. The sweetest touch is at the very bottom, with the requisite comments about alerting the staff to food allergies and a gratutity of 20% or more for parties 6 or larger. It just seems so, restaurant-like, it’s really trying, and yet. . .

It’s really just a step up from somebody’s back yard. We sit on the patio, after having our bags searched and my favorite water bottle confiscated (it’s a club license thing I assume, and I forgot how serious a butch bouncer can be). The patio is a big wooden deck with a narow wooden bar running the length of it, a smattering of bar stools, and 3 gigantic, round, plastic tables. There’s a free mini-basketball game, colorful and tacky triangles of fabric strung overhead (shade?) and then the bar itself: a portable wooden structure that I’m pretty sure I saw at Home Depot last week, a little metro rack behind it with the booze. It’s casual out here, to say the least, but I like it, I like it a lot. It is so utterly lacking in pretention that I’m a little shocked at what I’ve grown used to in my adult eating-and-drinking life. The service, at first, is a little difficult to assess. We sit at one of the round tables, see the lovely bartender flitting about, flirting with the bouncer, smiling at us but not really serving us. We go to the bar to figure it out, plus it’s high time I get some alcohol in me. I was pleasantly surprised by their one non-corporate beer option, Alaskan Amber. I was convinced I’d have to settle for shwag-piss. And two shots of tequila, Kristin declares. Alright, how about Cuervo, we don’t want to seem too high-falutent, with our microbrews and all. The bartendress pulls out two –are you ready for this?—plastic ramekins to pour the tequila in. Yes! The first shot has a little extra protein in it, and the second and third as well. I mean, it’s an outdoor bar after all. I’m totally undisturbed, I would go so far as to drink it if it were a high quality tequila, but I know that’s uncouth, even at the lesbian bar. The bartender is a little embarassed and offers us a different (better) tequila for the same price. Sold. We take our plastic ramekins and bottles and menus back to the table.

There are three women with very large drums on the patio, each one beating to their own rhythm, albeit quietly. Kristin asks if I’d rather be inside. No honey, it’s nice out, but I know how much pain you’re in right now. If it gets worse, we’ll move. There are fliers strewn about the table, one of them declaring tonight “Tribal Night”. Aha. Hopefully we’ll get opinions formulated, food in our stomachs, and notes diligently taken before they go into a trance. The bartender comes over to take our orders. It’s really a toss up, that is to say, it really doesn’t matter what I order, I know this already, so I go for spicy, my original intention: buffalo chicken sliders. Kristin is feeling healthier so she gets the Veg-HER and watching her say it I had to stifle a laugh. Aparently the sauce choices are bleu cheese and ranch. But of course. The food seems like it takes forever to come out, considering we’re getting the equivalent of crudite and chicken strips, but no matter. We’re on our way to drunk and if people watching is your sport, then Her Bar is an event of Olympic proportions. Finally the paper plates are delivered, mine piled high with waffle cut french fries and three little buns hiding the poulet underneath. Mmm, waffle fries! I’m 99% sure they are those of the Alexis brand one can find in one’s grocer’s freezer, but cooked in a deep fryer with a sprinkling of salt they are heavenly. What ever happen to waffle fries? Are they out of vogue? Okay Her Bar you get points for bringing me back to a time when I surely wouldn’t be caught dead in a dyke bar. Oh how I’ve grown. Kristin’s plate looks like something Amy Sedaris would be really proud of: baby carrots, broccoli, celery, green bell peppers, and button mushrooms, all raw and kinda sweaty and. . .do people really eat raw mushrooms like that? The bowl of ranch has a parsley garnish sprinkled on top. Again, I’m coming back to, to, my seventh grade best friend’s parents’ wet bar in their musty, dark basement. The sounds of the mini basketball affirm my daydream. So the waffle fries are great, the veggies are veggies, and my sliders, you ask? Two chicken nuggets, drenched in Frank’s Red Hot, bleu cheese sauce drizzled on the bun. It’s a chicken nugget sandwich. The phrase executive chef pops in my head again and while I would love to expound on the myriad ways this is an entirely ridiculous notion at a place like Her Bar, this blog is not meant to be a forum for me to judge my fellow queer women. Y’all can talk to me in person about that.

So why would a lesbian choose to eat at Her Bar? Because she’s hungry, and probably drunk, and also, well, undiscerning. There I said it. There’s a time and a place to eat crudite and chicken nuggets, and I really don’t mind paying for it either. Humans are very accomodating, accepting, and adaptable, for how else would we have the ability to create a culture or have relationships? The rules of restaurants change, what’s acceptable to a diner changes, depending on where you’re eating. This seems obvious but it’s something to think about. Why else would we eat at Her Bar? Different  eateries have different definitions of “service” and “good food”, and Her Bar is one of those places that just barely slides by because quite frankly, the clientele doesn’t give a shit. But no one’s really paying attention, except for that femme-y girl taking notes over there. . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pita Grill and Hookah Bar

The Pita Grill is definitely one of those places I have quickly glanced inside and wondered "who goes there?" Perhaps the strip mall encompassing the block can answer that question, Pita Grill shares it with a payday loan place, Green Werkz dispensary, "Liz" Gift Shop (smoking accessories), Cricket Phones, Paris Nails, and Capitol Cigars. For as much hustle as I see of the passersby, myself included, I rarely see anyone inside these shops, apart from old men at the cigar shop late at night. This block doesn't have the same "hang out" vibe as say, the Roslyn block. I wonder about the struggle of these businesses to stay in the black, maybe the Pita Grill is the exception and foundation that keeps the others afloat. Grill aside, I like the idea of hookah bars, I picture a relaxed setting with cushions and rugs and soft, ethnic music wafting among the smoke, perhaps a belly dancer or two. I've never been one for flavored tobacco, hell I've never even tried it, but I'm certainly going to live up this experience. One thing that perplexed me: do you eat and smoke in the same room and isn't that kind of bothersome? Yes, says Kristin, who's been here once before, but it's not like you think. No, it is definitely not like I think. 

No cushions or rugs or soft, ethnic music. To be sure, there are 3 large black leather couches at the front of the shop, for those just there to puff, but that's where the comfort level ends. It's composed of two adjacent rooms, one just for eating, one for smoking or smoking and eating. The young host/server leads us into the smoking room, where I spy the black couches and the various hookahs on the window ledge, surrounded by a profusion of blinking Christmas lights. This place is hippie rather than Hafez, with strange bits of Americana thrown in: old-timey posters of "Bugsy" Siegle and Frank Sinatra; Raphael's Angels, fallen, with beers and cigarettes in hand; the requisite Bob Marley; a tv, mercifully muted, tuned to the GSN. Yup, that means Game Show Network. And the music, a veritable 80's gold mine with hits such as "The Heat is On", "Sweet Child of Mine", and "Hangin' Tough". When I'm not dreaming of cushions and rugs, "hookah" also says to me: I'm between the ages of 18 and 21 and I obey the law but I'm still trying to be cool (in a nerdy sort of way). College dorm room, that's what they're going for. And yet, no dorm is this cliché. The interpretation of American culture isn't quite right, it's too mish-mash, and then I remember it's all from the immigrant's perspective. I'm the insider looking at an outsider's version of America, of what he thinks Americans want to be surrounded by when eating out. It seems laughable but quaint, and also a little sad. I think I prefer the dorm room analogy. What would Hafez say? 

not a fire-breathing dragon
But enough philosophizing. Our waitress is clearly cut out for the job. She is an extension of this place in sight alone: long dark hair in a headful of tiny braids and ribbons, linen shirt, flowing skirt, direct, piercing eye-contact and smile that says "welcome to my world". I'm stereotyping, I know, but sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason. She gets right down to business and asks us what we'd like to smoke. I assumed the smoking would happen after the eating but not so. She recommends a blend of sweet and savory, the "Royal blend". Well okay then. Placing two hot coals on top of the aluminum foil-covered tobacco, she hands us a couple of plastic tips, mouth guards if you will. There is only one hose, I'm a little disappointed in that. There's something kind of sexy about 2 people each holding a hose in their mouth, staring into each others' eyes, and blowing smoke out of their noses and ears like dragons. But alas, there is really nothing sexy about this place, save the waitress perhaps. We order black tea with mint and honey, iced. It comes in a huge plastic pitcher, mint leaves in abundance, but taking second place to the copious amounts of honey. At least it's not sugary-grainy. The tea and the smoke really do go nicely together, and as I puff away, I notice that the airflow in the room is so heavy the smoke doesn't linger at all. It's kind of nice, but also kind of cold, and I wish we were drinking hot tea instead. 

We order dolmas and lentil soup and grilled kabobs and a falafel sandwich. Typical, hopefully tasty, telling. Indeed. The dolmas are warm, that is, somewhere between hot and cold, and that just doesn't seem right to me. They are oily and mushy but I use those adjectives not in an entirely bad way. Just the right amount of vinegar to whet my palate for something more. Next the soup, in one of those tall white ceramic ramekins, steam rising off of it seductively and making me shiver. She also delivers a plastic ramekin of lemon juice, for the soup, if we so desire. It turns out to be the only condiment available, but I don't know that yet. The soup is a little watery, heavy on the ghee, peppery, but hot and steamy and therefore tasty, better than the dolmas. The kabobs and falafel come out, and while I really try my darndest not to compare, it's really impossible, isn't it? After a few bites, no more comparison was necessary, this food just really wasn't that good. The falafel was terribly under-seasoned, like mashed up garbanzos thrown into a fryer. Specks of tomato and lettuce soaking in a thin, whitish sauce lined the bread, bread grilled with that rather unpleasant grill flavor, not the delicious char-like flavor but the gas-is-on-too-high grill flavor. The kabob plate consisted of 3 oval shaped pieces of meat atop some bouillon-flavored rice with no added herbs, next to one giant hunk of grilled white onion, one giant hunk of mushy grilled tomato, and one giant hunk of grilled green pepper. I'm not opposed to large pieces of vegetables in general, or having to cut up my food, but the presentation was a little unappealing. A side of hummus was unceremoniously plopped next to the veggies, the little divot of olive oil slowly leaking onto the rest of the plate. The meat was under-seasoned, though not as badly as the falafel, but hey, it comes from an animal not a plant, so it's bound to be a little more savory. The veggies had the tell-tale grill mark on them, and sure enough, the same gassy flavor as the bread. Everything needed some salt and pepper and hot sauce, none of which were available on the table. 

After sampling everything I realize I'm hella thirsty, what with the smoke and the sugary tea, and we have to flag down our waitress for water, who now seems stressed out and hurried due to the three other tables in the room. I guess we can't all be peace and love and harmony all the time. I glance up at an aging Bob Saget hosting a quiz show, and for a moment I think there are a swarm of cops outside, but I realize it's just the blinking of the Christmas lights, reflecting on the window. 
Pita Grill and hookah bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tom's Diner

I moved to Colorado in August of 1997 with the plan of joining the hippie masses playing guitar and smoking weed in Boulder. Well, that and going to school of course. It wasn't long before my musical aspirations completely changed course however, when someone introduced me to techno and ecstasy. And techno and ecstasy, in the late 90's, meant going to Denver. And so I have this memory, faded and drug-laden at best, of leaving some club at 2 in the morning in dire need of salty sustenance, and finding Tom's Diner. Yes I'm 95% sure I can make this claim: Tom's was the first restaurant I ever went to in Denver.

And now some 13 years later it's like I'm stepping back in time, not because I'm suffering from drug-induced munchies, but because Tom's really is a throwback to the past. It's hard to pin down the exact decade, there are style elements from the 50's, 60's and 70's all intermingled, but one thing it's gratefully lacking is the often-too-loud 50's pop soundtrack and the ever-perky waitress. The music, the first song I hear actually, is "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega. Now that's interesting. For a second I wonder if it's someone's idea of a joke or it's the only song they play but then I hear the likes of The Pharcyde, Peter Gabriel, Sublime, and some reggae song, it's like a satellite radio station made just for diners. Diners on Colfax. The booths are all baby poop yellow and the tables are yellow mustard yellow, a combination that sounds a lot worse than it looks. The floor is brown and cream speckled tiles of various shapes and sizes and reminds me of the visitor center at Rocky Mountain National Park. Looking around, in fact, other aspects have a distinctly 1970's Colorado kind of feel to them: the exposed rock wall, the dark wood lattice work, lots of potted plants, and let's not forget the building itself. It's a UFO for godssakes! Tom's is some sort of irregular polygon with an absurdly pointy roof that definitely looks like it could be hovering above some dusty prairie town, disturbing the cows and the town preacher. With just a little hint of neon, a couple long strips precisely placed, you wouldn't want to fuck with this building at 3am on a Sunday morning when you're stumbling bleary-eyed down the street, it might just beam you up. But wait, don't be afraid, Tom's is open 24 hours! It will be there to welcome you with gigantic boxes of General Mills cereal (1 free refill, $3.99) and milk shakes made with the Cadillac of milk shake makers: a mint green and chrome beast of an appliance that can mix up 4 of those babies at a time. 
 Each booth is bedecked with a small bowl filled with creamers, and I say bedecked because of the perfect symmetry of it, a little geodesic dome of white and pink, 15 expertly placed creamers, like a bouquet of dairy that I dare not disarrange, thank god I got iced tea. I wonder if the 15th creamer, the one in the middle that seemingly supports the rest, ever gets changed out.

Okay it's time to pay attention to the menu. It's gotten bigger since last I was here. And the one thing I was looking for. . .something deep in my gray matter that I always found rather cutesy. . .nope, Grilled Cheese SWAK is not on the menu anymore. SWAK? Sealed with a kiss. How could they? I was seriously thinking of ordering it just so I could say it. Sure they still have grilled cheese, but it's no longer SWAK and therefore no longer worth ordering. They haven't lost all their humor since the menu update though, as I found this on the back page:

More cheekiness on menus! I say. The menu practically needs an index, with certain items appearing in more than one place. A list of the headers: Breakfast, South of the Border, Sides, Sandwiches, Baskets, Blue Plate Specials, Paninis, Burgers, Belly Bombers, Salads, Delicious Dinners, Sides (again), Drinks, and finally, Desserts. Is that all really necessary? No, it's just a way to show off their fancy use of the 50's style "rocket font" that's all over it. I don't need to see Santa Fe Chicken in 3 different places, I just want the SWAK back! After a good 10 minute perusal and forcing the waitress to come back twice, I settle on a BLT with fried egg and fries. She tries to take my menu but I'm not done with it, need it to cover my furious hand scribbling. I swear she raises an eyebrow. I like her, she's got just the right amount of crust for a Colfax diner waitress. She says things like "What do ya want to drink?" without the usual decorum of waitstaff. Ah, the freedom to speak without mincing words at your job. I'll take honesty over insincerity any day.

My food comes out pretty quickly, it's a slow, hot, weekday afternoon, and I've just guzzled 40 ounces of iced tea. I realize what a beautiful sandwich a BLT doth make. Bright colors in individual layers and textures, each ingredient good enough to stand up on it's own (okay, lettuce) but together creating a perfect edible harmony, a sandwich good enough for all walks of life. The last BLT I had was all deluxe moderne with ingredients like pesto aioli and pork belly and arugula. And you know what? That's just not necessary. A regular old BLT, especially the one I had at Tom's, is just as good as the fancy one and the simplicity of it made me think about and savor the ingredients more. Okay so I had a fried egg on it, I did fancify my BLT, but in a diner kind of way, not a bistro kind of way. The white bread was just toasted enough on the outside to withstand the possible saturation from the mayo and whatever water was left on the green leaf lettuce. The tomato was thick and bright and juicy (finally a good tomato), and the bacon was thicker than I expected, not overly crispy, the salt and fat swirling with my saliva and no doubt effecting the neurons in my brain, making me crave it even more with each bite. The fried egg was over-hard, the way I like it, especially on a sandwich, and gave it an added nudge in the breakfast direction while intensifying the salt-fat-protein experience that was happening in my mouth. Oh yes.

The waitress comes back with the check but I decide to go for the gold and get a shake. Chocolate. Now a definite eyebrow raise, who is this young chick comin' in here all by herself and stuffin' herself like it's her last meal? Yup, that would be me. I just have to see that beast in action, hoping it makes a lot of noise and perhaps emits little puffs of exhaust. But alas, it seems it's just for show, my milkshake gets made in one of those single serving kinds, silently plugged into the wall. Topped with Redi-whip in a tall, shapely, frosty Coca-Cola mug, it's pretty much just liquidy chocolate ice-cream, a little chunkier than I was expecting, they just don't make machines like they used to. Somehow I get it into my gullet, about 3 quarters of it anyway, and fall back in my booth, satiated, with hand cramp.

Tom's Diner feels like the end of something neighborly. I have just eaten at 15 restaurants in 3 and a half blocks of Colfax. I don't even know what the next eatery is! All I know is, I can't see it from Tom's. The foot traffic lessens, the parking lots get bigger and hotter, vacant buildings abound. There's a bunch of chains coming up, restaurant and otherwise, so I guess I'll be moving eastward in a more rapid manner. A section of Eat Colfax has been completed, and I've definitely broken down some of my walls. 
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