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The cinnamon roll ($1.70) at Apples Corner Brunchery in Aurora, another diner-style breakfast-and-lunch spot with down-home appeal, has a different accent--but that's because owner Les Romero hails from New Orleans. Romero bought the corner plaza space in 1988 for a doughnut shop, and three years ago he decided to turn it into a full-fledged restaurant. Unfortunately, the odd octagon shape made renovations awkward, and it feels as though the kitchen is right out in the dining room. Countryish decorations and checked tablecloths help, but from certain tables, diners are treated to a view of the guy washing dishes.
At least those dishes arrived at our table bearing good, homemade food. The cinnamon roll was gooey, buttery and rich, just the kind of sugar shock welcome early in the day. And the sinful Mississippi mud muffin ($1.50) went far beyond mere sweetness; its dense chocolate cake encased a creamy substance and was roofed with fudge icing and rife with walnuts. The sweetness of those two starters was balanced by the spiciness of the entree we split, a combination platter of red beans and rice and gumbo ($4.95) that was an incredible deal. Romero says he put the beans on the menu in honor of Monday being "beans day" in New Orleans, when blue-collar types on lunch break look for the small cafes that serve the cheap but stomach-stuffing dish. This version called for cooking the garlicky kidney beans with white rice for so long that the two components were almost inseparable, with added kick coming from a credible andouille sausage (the menu says it's Italian, but since that was printed, Romero has found a good source for the Cajun). The okra-glued gumbo was another Southern specialty, filled with chicken shreds, fresh tomatoes and the Holy Trinity of green peppers, onions and celery; its bite was provided by cayenne and white pepper. Romero proudly credits his mother with both recipes.
But he and his staff claim full responsibility for the fried spaghetti ($3.75), a preparation inspired by the "propensity for leftover spaghetti noodles at home because you never measure it right," says employee Steve Williams. The kitchen fries the already cooked noodles in oil with garlic and parmesan until the cheese gets all crispy and greasy. Yum. When the richness of the dish got to be too much, we dipped into our salad, a typical diner model made atypical by the dollop of homemade blue-cheese dressing created from crumbled cheese, sour cream and mayo.
Back for breakfast, we tried the pancakes with eggs and bacon ($4.95)--the cakes were heavy and enormous--and a side of excellent potatoes ($1.85). The tubers had been sliced, then baked, then quickly grilled with a paprika-flecked seasoned salt and showered with parmesan. You can get crunchy, overcooked home fries anywhere; these soft, barely buttery spuds were a real find.
Just the thing if you're a loosemeat and potatoes kind of gal.