A study released last week by the big brains at the Brookhaven National Laboratory has finally proven something I've known all along: Bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches are addictive.
Like cigarettes, heroin and reruns of the original Star Trek, certain foods -- cinnamon buns, for example, fried chicken, ribs and cheeseburgers -- are not just yummy, they're also habit-forming. According to the BNL study: "Brain circuits involved in drug addiction are also activated by the desire for food. The mere display of food -- smelling and tasting favorite foods without actually eating them -- causes increases in metabolism in the right orbito-frontal cortex, a brain region that controls drive and pleasure."
In layman's terms, what happens is that all those fried chicken and cheeseburger molecules get to swimming around in your bloodstream and tickle the noggin's pleasure centers, causing a physical craving not unlike the response triggered by narcotics and bad '70s TV series. Brain scans showed the test subjects lighting up like Christmas trees every time they got within ten yards of a fresh cinnamon bun, and when the human guinea pigs discovered they weren't going to get to eat the food they were being shown (test conditions demanded that only a taste of each food item be allowed, by way of a cotton swab to the tongue), several attempted to eat the scientists instead.
At the very top of the BNL's list of addictive foods is the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. At first I considered that a little strange (I would have expected chocolate, potato chips or the "special" brownies my buddy Sean used to cook up while still a pâtissière to lead the pack), but then I started thinking about my own eating habits and how many bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, in their various incarnations, I consume. A lot, in case you're wondering. That's what I eat on Sunday mornings when I go to Johnny's Diner for a late breakfast. Like a pure suburban savage, I also make them at home out of pasty, white grocery-store bread, microwaved bacon and individually wrapped cheese slices (what, you think I eat foie gras and truffles seven days a week?). And I've sucked down dozens of bacon, egg and cheese burritos at Pete's Kitchen (see review, page 67), a sandwich variation that comes drowning in green chile -- itself long since proven to be uniquely addictive to those culinary thrill-seekers looking for a cheap endorphin rush.
So now when my doctor tells me that my heart is pumping pure lard and I have enough cholesterol in my system to regrout the tile in my bathroom, I know who to sue. Jimmy Dean? I'm coming for you, pal. You've had a free ride pushing pork crack in my neighborhood grocery store for too long. And there's no warning label on your stuff, no age restrictions. Who's going to protect innocent children from all that porkerific deliciousness?
These are the people in your neighborhood: While heading to Johnny's to celebrate my return to official junkie-hood with a couple of bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, I noticed some fresh changes in the ever-changing restaurant landscape of Aurora's Little Asia quarter. Pho 79 was doing a surprising amount of business for early on a Saturday; apparently, there's nothing like the smell of tripe and tendon in the morning. Farther down the line, there's a new restaurant at 800 South Havana named Yoon n'u, which occupies what was either once an Arby's or a Jiffy Lube, by the look of it. I have very little notion of what's going on inside this place, because the windows are covered with black shades and most of the advertising is in Korean (I think), but judging from what little English is on display, it's a combination doughnut, coffee and chicken-soup joint.
Down at 1050 South Havana, Kathy and Bill's Diner has left the building; Kathy and Bill Frangiskakis sold their little Greek-American diner and three weeks ago opened a new spot, Kathy and Bill's Restaurant and Bar, at 14197 East Exposition Avenue. Their old joint is now home to Grace's Home Cooking, a different restaurant entirely.
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Grace's place looks like a naked version of Kathy and Bill's. The core menu is the same, as is the layout. And little has been done to the interior beyond stripping years of accumulated snapshots, posters, Rockies jerseys and assorted detritus off the walls -- all the stuff that made the original joint feel so homey and familiar. The effect is similar to walking into the house of a dearly departed relative recently stripped bare by estate sales and probate lawyers: You know it's the same place, but it feels cold and barren. The new owner has made a few attempts at redecorating: paper flags tacked up on the bare walls, a couple of flower arrangements, some truly random thrift-store crap scattered around. The shelf behind the cash register, for instance, now holds a small statue of Jesus on the cross, another of the Virgin Mary, a third of the Statue of Liberty, two beanie babies, an American flag and a Coke advertisement. That's poetry in action, baby. That's a goddamn haiku.
In addition to the killer breakfast and lunch specials that made Kathy and Bill's such a hit in the neighborhood, Grace's has added a few specials of its own. On a recent Wednesday morning, these were a bulgogi burger, a pork sandwich and something that I swear the dry-erase board by the front door listed as "Panda Fish Sandwich." Instead, I had a (you guessed it) bacon, egg and cheese pita that was awful: dried-out eggs, burned bacon and a miserly sprinkling of feta. On a return visit a couple of days later, I tried a chicken-fried steak and eggs that were okay. Still, that panda fish sandwich is sounding better and better.
Be an angel: This Thursday, April 29, is Dining Out for Life -- the day when over 250 Denver and Boulder restaurants will donate 25 percent of every food dollar spent at breakfast, lunch or dinner to Project Angel Heart, the non-profit organization that delivers hot meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and a whole bunch of other really nasty diseases. Not like readers of this column need to be told to eat out more, but run, don't walk, to your nearest participating restaurant. A complete list is available at www.projectangelheart.org.
And talk about heart: For the past twelve years, Noel Cunningham of Strings has hosted a Mother's Day brunch for elderly women in the Meals on Wheels program. The diners are brought in by members of Volunteers of America for a great meal offered by Cunningham absolutely gratis. Not only does Strings make nothing off this event, but Cunningham and crew burn precious morning hours on the busiest day of the restaurant calendar to make Mom's Day special for some ladies who might otherwise be forgotten. So way to go, Noel, and best of luck to you this coming Mother's Day.