By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Sitting in the calm, cool darkness, bathed in the blue submarine glow of the television, I see them coming. Infomercials, spreading like kudzu across the stations, filling those weird hours between 3 a.m. and dawn. Paid programming: the last refuge of the terminally insomniac.
Get rock-hard abs with rubber bands. Make a delicious ham-and-cheese omelette in just ten seconds. Lose twenty pounds in time for bathing-suit season (a little late for that, I think, eyeing the curve of my professional belly beneath my T-shirt). Earn your first million dollars by placing tiny classified ads in your local paper.
I flip through the channels listlessly, abandoning the Beverly Hillbillies to catch a demonstration of a chef's knife that can saw through a tin can and then still cut a tomato into slices thin enough to read the newspaper through. I learn that through the power of positive thinking, I can release my untapped potential for making $10,000 a week in the real estate market. I spend five minutes debating whether my mother would actually like the gaudy, giant lump-turquoise necklace offered for just $99.95 on the Home Shopping Network. The host squeals over it, says the necklace is flying off the shelves, swears that it will make my dear, sainted mother the envy of all her friends and neighbors. Yeah, if all her friends and neighbors were living in a Coral Gables nursing home, maybe, and believed that rayon double-knits and slip-ons from Payless were the height of fashion.
240 Union Blvd.
Lakewood, CO 80228
Region: West Denver Suburbs
Lobster corndogs: $14
Tuna ménage-à-trois: $12
Duck cigars: $10
Crab cake: $14
Cioppino: $22< br>Chicken: $15
Lamb chops: $31< br>Duck breast: $22
Just 200 bucks will get me a bottle of pills that will make me sweat off hundreds of pounds while I sleep; the " before" picture is a Polaroid of a 600-pound woman in a hospital bed, the "after" a professionally re-touched shot that looks like it was clipped out of a back issue of Vogue, showing a model playing volleyball on a beach in Hawaii. There's another ad for an herbal supplement that claims (anecdotally, of course) to cure cancer. Still another features a man in a white doctor's coat, posed before a wall of diplomas, who promises that his miracle formula will grow hair on my bald spot and give me a hard-on like a Louisville Slugger.
The best infomercials -- which is to say, the ones so blatantly sleazy and pandering that you can almost see the wide eyes of the audience they're targeting in the spaces between the pixels and reflected in the mirrors of the host's porcelain smile -- offer the wholly impossible directly to the truly hopeless. They're selling longevity, the false promise of staving off death, decay and obsolescence with some pill, some salve, some magic beans.
As I sit there, eating a microwaved bowl of leftover cioppino, I have to laugh. Sure, I feel bad for those desperate enough to call the 800 number at the bottom of the screen, but I now know where you can find the true key to eternal life: 240 Union. And I know its secret.
Yes, I'm talking about restaurant longevity here, but short of personally living forever, there's nothing quite so difficult as keeping a restaurant full and vital well into its middle age. And 240 Union has managed to keep things cooking since it opened in 1989, an evolving outpost of good taste in the suburban wilds of Lakewood -- initially brought to us by general manager Michael Coughlin and partner Noel Cunningham (the man behind Strings, which celebrates its nineteenth anniversary this month), with chef Matt Franklin now also part of the ownership group.
In its way, the corndog is the most indicative item on the menu -- a signal flare showing precisely what this kitchen is up to. When you see a menu that includes a lobster corndog, you know you're not going to be eating Larousse for dinner, or Escoffier, or even Waxman. A lobster corndog tells you that you're going to be buried in Americana -- translated, maybe even deconstructed (such a filthy word these days), but recognizable nonetheless. A lobster corndog speaks of gimmickry, but at 240 Union, it's on the apps menu, which is where gimmickry belongs. Here, it denotes a certain intelligent, indulgent sense of humor, which is one of the benchmarks of a kitchen still operating at peak form.
You can tell when a galley is teetering on its last legs because all the fun goes out of it. But a lobster corndog? That's both quirky-cool and smart; an upgrade of an American classic and a dumbed-down luxury. At 240 Union, it arrives in a plastic basket, accompanied by coleslaw and bagged Fritos. The corndog crust is ideal; the shredded lobster mix bulked out with celery and pointless kernels of corn. I would've liked bigger chunks of lobster meat among the shreds. I would've liked texture from the shellfish, not from the corn. For that matter, I would've liked for the corndog to come dipped in solid gold and mounted on a bed of fresh hundred-dollar bills -- but hey, no iteration is perfect. This is still the best corndog you're likely to find anywhere, and despite its minor failings, it works pure magic on a psycho-culinary level.