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Bite Me

Kinda Blue

Over at 1618 East Colfax, Bourbon Grill offers a perfect example of street-level eating. This place is a shack, a tumbledown storefront crammed between a nail salon and a vacant lot that once held a Burger King. And even calling it a storefront is being generous, because there's no store and really no front, just a kitchen that opens straight onto the street and a hole that you shout your orders through. Two plastic picnic tables are set up on the sidewalk -- that's the dining room. Paper menus are taped up on the windows, and there's usually a line in front of those windows. A lot of Bourbon Grill's business comes by way of the bus stop ten steps away (location, location, location). And the front door is always open to let out the smoke that rolls in chicken- and charcoal-scented clouds all the way down the block.

There's a food-court operation -- the Bourbon Street Grill -- that's a mall-ified version of this place. And like those happy, plastic cookie-cutter outlets, this Bourbon Grill serves Bourbon chicken -- whole breasts cooked on a smoky, char-black grill, then pulled off, laid into with a cleaver, and doused in a woody-sweet sauce that's all Liquid Smoke and sodium benzoate. I know that sounds nasty, but it's not. It's good in a lowest-common denominator sort of way (the only denominator that real street food should ever be concerned with), and for $2.99, you get the equivalent of two full breasts, chunkily brutalized with the cleaver, all grill-black and fatty but fresh and hot, too, served over rice in a bulging takeout Styro.

And unlike those mall spots, Colfax's Bourbon Grill also serves boiled cabbage, egg rolls, quote-unquote Philly cheesesteaks ruined with peppers and mushrooms, chicken wings and steamed vegetables. There's sweet-and-sour chicken right out of the wok, Texas barbecue sandwiches -- all manner of weird culinary combinations that would seem wholesale freaky served in any place with silverware or waiters but here feel just right.

On a Wednesday night, with Cajun still on my mind, I dropped by Bourbon Grill for a little something after work. I watched rush-hour traffic while waiting in line behind construction workers, an old Navy man with a faded Popeye tattoo gone smudgy blue on his shaved scalp, and four young rock-and-rollers sporting Napalm Death tees and enough steel in their faces to trick out an old Buick. It was a Colfax crowd (not the kind generally showcased by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, but still), and after ten minutes spent slouching around jawing with the neighbors, I ordered my Bourbon chicken (the same thing everyone was ordering, and the spécialité de la maison if ever there was one), as well as a chicken sandwich, Cajun spiced, with grilled onions and big, gooey gobs of white American cheese on a spongy sub roll that'd been sweating all day in its plastic bag.

The sandwich wasn't a Broussard's po' boy, by any stretch, but it was good, and it came from precisely the sort of place that I wish the Broussard family had made their stand.

In its headlong rush to ape every trend and fad exploding onto the scenes of food cities everywhere, Denver may have forgotten that not every food needs (or even wants) a pretty plate to sit on and a sculpted garnish to fuss it up. Service captains, soft jazz, flower arrangements and even construction-paper crocodiles all have their place, sure, but they don't belong in every place. And with my Bourbon Grill dinner, I was perfectly content to sit on the trunk of my car, eat in the fading sun and wish this spot served po'boys too.

Leftovers: Further east on Colfax, Tante Louise is moving "away from the French box," according to owner Corky Douglass. The venerable establishment, which I gave a bit of a kicking a year ago ("A Rocky Romance," February 13, 2003), has struggled some with its identity after replacing chef-about-town Duy Pham with former sous chef Marlo Hix. And considering the years (decades, really) that this place has stood as a bastion of old-guard haute French cuisine, this new menu is a daring departure. We're talking Kobe beef, scallop ceviche, goat cheese and spinach panacotta, hand-shucked oysters with grapefruit mignonette or (gasp) tomato-horseradish salsa. And while some house classics remain on the appetizer menu (foie gras, for example, and garlic-crusted sweetbreads), the entree side has seen even more change. Ginger-glazed duck breast in pineapple-miso broth? Roasted deer loin with roasted pasilla peppers and lavender-honey jus? Escoffier must be spinning like a drill bit in his grave.

As for me, I can't wait to see the old Tante get some new life.

Mirepoix, the newest venture from the guys at Adega, is having an invite-only bash on May 26 at the new J.W. Marriott in Cherry Creek, with a full-service opening just five days later. And, yeah, even before the grand unveiling, this restaurant is already being called a "culinary marvel" by the guys' PR machine, which I think is a bit premature. But I will give them this: Mirepoix hit its opening-date prediction right on the nose, and that's pretty rare these days. It's also in marked contrast to what the Adega owners found when they tried to open Table 6, which finally debuted about six months behind schedule and with an entirely different management structure.

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