By Philip Poston
By Jonathan Shikes
By Noah Reynolds
By Gretchen Kurtz
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By Cafe Society
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By Patricia Calhoun
Still, both spots were serving the same purpose, separated by two dozen years and a million miles of desire. That old grocery store was dedicated to its community of farmers, drunks, rednecks and fishermen just as Fisher Clark tends to the needs of the yuppies, old folks, new money and urban/suburban neighbors who call Bonnie Brae home. In one store, there were sixers of Genny Cream Ale, Rocket Pops, explosives and Retarded Moose-brand oatmeal. In the other, Picholine olives, cans of sardines, a dozen kinds of olive oil and beautiful tins of Spanish saffron. In one, you could get a pack of bright pink bologna for 99 cents. In the other, an Italian (not New Orleansian) muffuletta sandwich of artisan salami, capicola, powerful oil, wonderfully strong provolone and an amazing, rough-chopped and savory tapenade of mixed olives squashed inside a roll stiff and chewy enough to hold it all together, for $7.95.
On my first visit to Fisher Clark, I managed to snag a counter seat and a hot corned beef sandwich on buttered-and-grilled marble rye that was the best corned beef sandwich I've ever had: stacked high, but not too high, with the house's own corned beef; slathered, but not smothered, in Dijon mustard, on bread that was just barely crisp, just barely warm and so delicious that I would've gladly eaten a second sandwich of bread-and-nothin' once I was done with the first. By four on another afternoon, the kitchen had already sold out of meatballs and was running short on baguettes, so I ate cookies for lunch: a simple, white drop cookie with a single preserved cherry, set in chocolate and mounted on top, sugary and perfect; a snickerdoodle, tasty but beginning to stale; and a Rice Krispie treat, wrapped in plastic, hard as a brick and inedible. Disappointed, I ordered half an Italian lemon torta to go.
723 S. University Blvd.
Denver, CO 80209
Region: South Denver
Driving home, I took one tentative, exploratory bite, and next thing I knew, I was hunched over the box in traffic, pulling off pieces of the perfectly stiffened crust and licking lemon curd off my fingers.
The kitchen at Fisher Clark, which occupies the former home of the Esquire meat market, is set up like a proper restaurant galley — half exposed to the outside world at the back of the shop, stocked as if for a siege. The cooks in this kitchen have to be culinary contortionists — capable of creating everything from excellent sandwiches to rugelach, from croissants to delicious cheddar-bacon-jalapeño scones, from house-brand tomatillo salsa to handmade, peppery gravlax, from takeout entrees of balsamic-glazed roasted half chickens to lamb and prune tagine, Spanish paella and an Italian timpano, for sale in individual slices. On return visits, I've watched the crew swing from the prep tables to the line and back again with an automaton's conservation of motion, moving from the Hobart to the salamander, from stirring the pots to slicing the cold cuts. It's a huge job, requiring a dozen specialties across the staff, a deep understanding of countless methodologies and prep strategies. They have to bake all those desserts, corn the beef, hang the bresaola and still find time to make a pear-and-onion jam for the Spanish ham and cheese sandwich to which I am now shamelessly addicted — made of stacked, thin-cut Serrano ham, thin-sliced chorizo (which tastes a lot like capicola when used cold on a sandwich), flaked Manchego and jam on rosemary focaccia. (Get it on a baguette or Dakota roll if you think baked rosemary tastes like nibbling on an old Christmas tree.)
Like that butcher back in the Thousand Islands who made a few dollars on the side dressing bucks and cutting venison steaks, Fisher Clark caters to its regulars — foodies and neighborhood gourmands, people (like me) suffering from the sort of culinary attention-deficit disorder that can make an order of a tuna melt, an Italian porchetta (with roasted pork and balsamic-spiked cipollini onions), some sauerkraut, a to-go of new potato salad with fresh dill, three cans of packed tomatoes, a jar of truffle oil, two snickerdoodles and some gravlax seem like a reasonable day's shopping.
But then, Bonnie Brae is a long way from upstate New York, and I'm a much different person now than I was in 1979. These days, a Monday-special Cuban sandwich with a side of French lentils sounds a lot better than warm bologna on Sandwich, a stolen swallow of my dad's beer and a hunk of farmer's cheese.
Well, maybe not better, but certainly different. Now, if only Fisher Clark started stocking dynamite...
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