By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
4. Gateway Diner, Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania. Chicken croquettes and meatloaf sandwiches on the menu, smoke in the air, a signed picture of Tommy Lasorda on the wall -- what more could any diner junkie need? The Gateway is a classic, part of a dying breed of joints with nothing going for them but history and the loyalty of their regulars. Everything about the Gateway -- the smells, the flavors, the accents, the really, really frightening colors of the pies -- acts as a concentrated distillation of everything I've always loved about East Coast diners, all packed together into one small space, frosted with a scrim of ice (I've never been here in the summer) and served with the sweetness of an iodine malted.
5. Peppermill Inn, Las Vegas, Nevada. The Peppermill isn't the greatest diner in the world -- but if that world is going to end, what better place to watch it than Vegas? And better yet, a spot in Vegas that's at once a restaurant, a bar, a swingin'-'70s Fireside Lounge, the end of the line for just about every busted-out card sharp in the city on any given Friday night, and a kick-ass, chrome-and-Formica, smoked-glass and red Naugahyde nightmare of a diner. This was where I went to write my vows on the night before Laura and I were married, right down the street at the Treasure Island casino, between pirate shows. They didn't care that I'd brought my own whiskey with me, didn't raise a fuss when I paid for my coffee with whatever change I had left in my pocket, and when my waitress asked me what I'd been doing all night and I told her, she gave me a free doughnut. That's my kind of place.
Out to lunch:At one point, Mirepoixwas my kind of place, too. This spot in Cherry Creek's posh JW Marriott isn't a diner by any stretch of the imagination, but when I reviewed it nine months ago ("Paradise Found," November 4, 2004), I liked it anyway. The Marriott group had brought in Adega's Bryan Moscatello to get the room going, and the food showed the same skills he displays at his LoDo landmark.
Moscatello and the Marriott parted companies this spring, though, and Thomas Baranoucky (Moscatello's former sous) became executive chef while the owners considered how to lure outside business into a hotel restaurant -- never an easy task. Last month, Mirepoix rolled out a lunch menu where everything edible is going out the door for ten bucks a pop. It reads like a brave attempt to lure diners away from North, which is rocking the clock just a few doors down, in the 100 block of Clayton Lane. And it could work, except for one thing:
Nothing at Mirepoix is quite as good as it once was. When I reviewed the restaurant last year, I found Mirepoix very good indeed. But when I stopped in last week, the once-brilliant scallop chenin blanc bisque was overburdened by allspice or nutmeg or turmeric or one of those very heavy, very wintery spices totally out of place on a light and breezy summer menu. Every spoonful tasted like a scallop-infused Christmas cookie. The tempura shrimp salad was a dull, ugly mess of bad intentions: cheap, chopped romaine, overdressed, encircled by cold, limp and chewy tempura shrimp, then set with a fan of totally misplaced avocado slices that did absolutely nothing for the plate.
These disappointments were followed by a big, beautiful bowl of open-face ravioli stuffed with summer vegetables. The handmade ravioli skins were excellent, the vegetables had been handled well (except for the spinach, overcooked by about six hours), and the sauce that everything swam in was delicious in a cut-grass-and-sunlight sort of way. Problem was, you couldn't experience all these flavors in a single bite, because the chef had unwisely decided to do open ravioli with a brothy sauce -- leaving nothing to hold the filling inside. Touch them with a fork, and the whole artifice collapsed.
Sure, it was just one meal -- and lunch, besides. But I also had to wait about 25 minutes for my first course (in a dining room that was just a quarter full), then was rushed through the remainder of my meal, with servers asking if I was done while a plate was still half full and telling me that my entree was up and sitting in the window so I should really take it now.
The dessert menu looked really interesting, but since they'd started closing the big, wrought-iron gates across the front door while I was still eating my salad and no one ever asked if I wanted dessert before they brought my check, I never got to find out.
Leftovers: The Ivy Cafe -- second outpost for Goose Sorenson, owner and exec at Solera -- is closed. Not permanently, he says, but certainly for the time being. He shuttered the bagel-and-coffee joint a couple of weeks ago, after spending the past several months bouncing around the country, cooking a James Bearddinner here, guest-chefing there, hitting the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and doing all those other things that take up a fella's time when he's chasing after serious food-world celebrity. This past spring, he lost longtime partner Brian Klinginsmith, who bailed out of the restaurant business entirely; that meant that Goose had to take on the back-of-the-house paperwork, too. To top that off, he had to leave town three times in the past month for funerals.