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Mouthing Off

Lunch bunch: I took a lot of grief for my critique of the Laughing Dog Deli, at 1925 Blake Street, last year (Mouthing Off, March 14, 1996) because my negative review was based solely on problems I had had with delivery orders.

Well, I've now eaten in the Dog five times, and my original assessment still stands.

This is a place fraught with snags. First of all, the setup is an invitation to chaos, since the line of people waiting to pay for their food extends into the line of people ordering their food. And the drink station is located across the room, so that people going for their beverages constantly criss-cross through the jumble of people standing around for their food. There's just no good flow.

This might be forgivable if the food were so good that it made the rest of the Dog's mess palatable--but it's not. To the deli's credit, the salad bar is very good; everything seems to be fresh, and at $3.99 a pound, the salad is a fair deal. And I did find two sandwiches I liked: the Ellis Island ($5.50), featuring prosciutto, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, basil pesto and parmesan with a balsamic vinaigrette, and the Suburban ($5.25), with turkey, guacamole, Jack cheese and cumin mayo in a tortilla.

But the food in the Dog's deli cases tastes as unappetizing as it looks. Honestly, every time I dropped in, I found myself staring at salads that had a dark skin across them. Obviously, no one had been stirring the things and no one had been buying them, because they were always full to the brim and dried out on top. Yuck. I did take a chance on the chicken salad (sandwich, $4.95) and, as I'd suspected, it was very dry and chewy; all the liquid had evaporated. The specials--there are several daily entrees posted on a memo board, as well as non-salad items in the deli case that actually seem to get rotated--were awful, too: watery Chinese dumplings, too-salty quiche, a fajitas sandwich that tasted like bad pepper steak made with chicken.

I'm sure I'm about to get bombarded by letters from fanatics, but I think I've given this place enough chances. If you don't like what I say about the Dog, bite me.

Of course, a place doesn't have to be well-organized and spiffy to serve good food. One of my favorite low-cost, filling meals is the Wednesday special at the Mexico City Lounge, 2115 Larimer, where $5.75 buys three deep-fried steak tacos and a soda. This order is not for the faint of heart, because the tacos' fat and cholesterol counts make fettuccine Alfredo look like health food. But for sheer unbelievable flavor and great greasy atmosphere, these eats can't be beat--and few meals stick with you as long as this one does, if you know what I mean. Go early to get a table, because the place fills up quick, and don't be afraid to get aggressive about ordering. But do go, and go soon, because once again, a "for sale" sign has sprouted on the outside of Mexico City, as it did two years ago when its founder passed on. The place didn't sell that time, and with any luck, it will stay in the family's hands this round as well; after the loss of Johnnie's Market, at 2030 Larimer Street, earlier this month (see Patricia Calhoun's "Street Dreams," in the October 16 issue), it would be a shame for the neighborhood to lose this institution, too.

When we visited Mexico City last week, the crowd featured the usual regulars; we competed for the waitress's attention with two cops who were ordering food for their co-workers via walkie-talkie--was that four tacos, or four three-taco orders? We just kept the greasy tacos coming to our table, where PR dude and Mexico City fan Lew Cady (he led the effort to prevent the owners from changing the "Lounge" label to "Cafe") was trying to grease the wheels for some PR on the "Beerdrinker of the Year" contest sponsored by the Wynkoop Brewing Co. It was a shameless publicity ploy, but then, several at the table noted that the Wynkoop has pulled more flagrant stunts, such as last Saturday's "Running of the Pigs" (which turned into a walk to placate pig-loving activists) and naming a beer after just about every personality to hit town, most recently Kurt Vonnegut, celebrated with "Kurt's Mile-High Malt." (That brew, based on Vonnegut's grandfather's recipe, earned the Wynkoop a writeup in the October 13 issue of New York magazine.) And then, of course, there are the Wynkoop's more noble ventures, including taking an old warehouse and turning it into Denver's first brewpub a decade ago--an effort that won the Wynkoop a prestigious 1997 National Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, presented last week at a ceremony in Santa Fe. The requirements for the "Beerdrinker of the Year" award are not nearly so highfalutin--they simply ask that beer drinkers state their beer-drinking histories and personal beer philosophies. If you drink a lot of beer and would like to win your weight in Railyard Ale, send your resume to the Wynkoop, 1634 18th Street, by November 1.

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