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And Hugo's doesn't skimp on other tastes. I was fully prepared to hate the sweet sauce on the six "mahogany" wings ($5.95), since the first whiff as I raised a crisp-skinned limb was that of maple syrup. But two wings into the pile I was ordering another round, because the brown-sugary coating on these suckers (they really are mahogany-colored) was addictive. "My ex-husband came up with those," Young admits, adding that while he's not her honey anymore, they're still friends. She didn't say if he was the one who suggested pairing the wings with a blue-cheese dipping sauce, but I'd ditch it if I were her: The salty bite detracted from the sweetness of the wings. Ranch dressing is another option, Young says; that might be a better match for the strange but wonderful wings.
Another dish that benefited from Young's sweet tooth--she's also a former pastry chef--was an order of baby back ribs ($6.95 for a half-rack) that came swaddled in a blanket of sticky, molasses-thick barbecue sauce. On one visit the ribs were a little on the dry side, on another they were succulent--but both times they had plenty of those brittle, caramelized edges just made for nibbling. The sauce, though, was what really made the ribs: I'd lick its bold sweetness off fingers, forks, you name it.
Young's dishes are usually so vividly flavored that I was surprised to find a few dullards in the lineup. The shrimp quesadilla ($6.95) was overpriced and no more than okay-tasting: a mere smattering of shrimp scraps in a mix of cheddar and Jack cheeses, jalapeno flakes and diced onions and tomatoes sandwiched thinly between two tortillas--one of them burned. An order of fish-and-chips ($7.95) brought bland, watery cod floundering in a shell of beer batter that had no flavor beyond oil residue from the deep-fryer. The batter would have gotten a boost from cayenne; Young says it's supposed to be in there, but I didn't taste any. You couldn't miss the cayenne in the fish tacos ($8.95), though: A hefty dusting covered the grilled fish bits that had been soaked in (too much) lemon juice. The fish had no layers of flavor beyond the cayenne and citrus--not even a hint of grilling--and the usual accessories of cheddar cheese, tomato and lettuce didn't add much to the dull tacos. At least the lackluster calamari ($6.95), cloaked in a dull, crumbly batter, came with a potent chipotle aioli that added some zip.
1205 E. 13th Ave.
Denver, CO 80218
Region: Central Denver
I later learned that one of my visits--the one where the meal was most disappointing--coincided with Young's mid-afternoon break. You can't blame her for needing one; she'd been working a double shift that day and left the kitchen to her staff after lunch in order to regroup for dinner. Evidently, they're not following her instructions as closely as they should. They need to listen to Young.
I, for one, could listen to her all day. "Now, honey, don't you be too heavy on the negative," she says as she ends our telephone conversation. No problem, honey. Just keep doing your Southern belle imitation in Hugo's kitchen, and the mouth will rise again.
Hugo's, 1336 East 17th Avenue, 863-8252. Hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4-10 p.m. Sunday.