Lunch bunch: I took a lot of grief for my critique of the Laughing Dog Deli, at 1925 Blake Street, last year (Mouthing Off, March 14, 1996) because my negative review was based solely on problems I had had with delivery orders.
Well, I've now eaten in the Dog five times, and my original assessment still stands.
This is a place fraught with snags. First of all, the setup is an invitation to chaos, since the line of people waiting to pay for their food extends into the line of people ordering their food. And the drink station is located across the room, so that people going for their beverages constantly criss-cross through the jumble of people standing around for their food. There's just no good flow.
This might be forgivable if the food were so good that it made the rest of the Dog's mess palatable--but it's not. To the deli's credit, the salad bar is very good; everything seems to be fresh, and at $3.99 a pound, the salad is a fair deal. And I did find two sandwiches I liked: the Ellis Island ($5.50), featuring prosciutto, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, basil pesto and parmesan with a balsamic vinaigrette, and the Suburban ($5.25), with turkey, guacamole, Jack cheese and cumin mayo in a tortilla.
But the food in the Dog's deli cases tastes as unappetizing as it looks. Honestly, every time I dropped in, I found myself staring at salads that had a dark skin across them. Obviously, no one had been stirring the things and no one had been buying them, because they were always full to the brim and dried out on top. Yuck. I did take a chance on the chicken salad (sandwich, $4.95) and, as I'd suspected, it was very dry and chewy; all the liquid had evaporated. The specials--there are several daily entrees posted on a memo board, as well as non-salad items in the deli case that actually seem to get rotated--were awful, too: watery Chinese dumplings, too-salty quiche, a fajitas sandwich that tasted like bad pepper steak made with chicken.
I'm sure I'm about to get bombarded by letters from fanatics, but I think I've given this place enough chances. If you don't like what I say about the Dog, bite me.
Of course, a place doesn't have to be well-organized and spiffy to serve good food. One of my favorite low-cost, filling meals is the Wednesday special at the Mexico City Lounge, 2115 Larimer, where $5.75 buys three deep-fried steak tacos and a soda. This order is not for the faint of heart, because the tacos' fat and cholesterol counts make fettuccine Alfredo look like health food. But for sheer unbelievable flavor and great greasy atmosphere, these eats can't be beat--and few meals stick with you as long as this one does, if you know what I mean. Go early to get a table, because the place fills up quick, and don't be afraid to get aggressive about ordering. But do go, and go soon, because once again, a "for sale" sign has sprouted on the outside of Mexico City, as it did two years ago when its founder passed on. The place didn't sell that time, and with any luck, it will stay in the family's hands this round as well; after the loss of Johnnie's Market, at 2030 Larimer Street, earlier this month (see Patricia Calhoun's "Street Dreams," in the October 16 issue), it would be a shame for the neighborhood to lose this institution, too.
When we visited Mexico City last week, the crowd featured the usual regulars; we competed for the waitress's attention with two cops who were ordering food for their co-workers via walkie-talkie--was that four tacos, or four three-taco orders? We just kept the greasy tacos coming to our table, where PR dude and Mexico City fan Lew Cady (he led the effort to prevent the owners from changing the "Lounge" label to "Cafe") was trying to grease the wheels for some PR on the "Beerdrinker of the Year" contest sponsored by the Wynkoop Brewing Co. It was a shameless publicity ploy, but then, several at the table noted that the Wynkoop has pulled more flagrant stunts, such as last Saturday's "Running of the Pigs" (which turned into a walk to placate pig-loving activists) and naming a beer after just about every personality to hit town, most recently Kurt Vonnegut, celebrated with "Kurt's Mile-High Malt." (That brew, based on Vonnegut's grandfather's recipe, earned the Wynkoop a writeup in the October 13 issue of New York magazine.) And then, of course, there are the Wynkoop's more noble ventures, including taking an old warehouse and turning it into Denver's first brewpub a decade ago--an effort that won the Wynkoop a prestigious 1997 National Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, presented last week at a ceremony in Santa Fe. The requirements for the "Beerdrinker of the Year" award are not nearly so highfalutin--they simply ask that beer drinkers state their beer-drinking histories and personal beer philosophies. If you drink a lot of beer and would like to win your weight in Railyard Ale, send your resume to the Wynkoop, 1634 18th Street, by November 1.
Now back to lunch. If speed is your primary consideration, I've found few places faster than Cafe Galileo, at 535 16th Street (at the corner of Welton Street in the Masonic Building). Recently I stopped in to order two panini, and both came out in about six minutes. One was stacked high with turkey, brie and honey mustard ($5.99), the other with Jarlsberg, roasted red peppers, nicoise olives and a veggie tapenade ($4.99); each came with a small Caesar (romaine, parmesan, croutons and a mildly garlicky, eggless dressing). If you want to eat in, which you can do, it's a groovy, casual space. But Cafe Galileo also delivers, free, to downtown addresses--as long as you meet the $3 minimum. Yes, that's $3.
There's no minimum at MaxLunch.Com, which operates out of 1801 California Street. The address is irrelevant, though, since you order your food either through www.maxlunch.com or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; either way, lunch arrives in about a half-hour. All sandwiches cost $6.99, which includes a side, chips and a cookie; I can personally vouch for the killer grilled portabello sandwich with garlic goat cheese, avocado and balsamic mayo on focaccia, and the roasted red peppers with mozzarella, yellow tomato and garlic mayo on basil focaccia. The sides are pretty good, too, especially the roasted red-pepper soup and the tricolor bean salad. (Warning: The red potato salad comes covered with dill.) So far, the only MaxLunch loser I've encountered was the lobster club, which sounded promising--fontina, baby lettuce, applewood-smoked bacon, fresh Maine lobster and remoulade on sourdough--but turned out disappointing: The lobster was dry and the remoulade had a strange chemical flavor.
The openings of two decidedly upscale downtown eateries are still a year away, but the PR's already coming in for Kevin Taylor's proposed restaurants at Tramway Tower at 14th and Arapahoe streets. One, serving "country-style Italian," will be called Intermezzo, and the other, a "smaller, more intimate room" that will offer Taylor's contemporary American fare, is to be named Kevin Taylor. The projected opening date for both is fall 1998. Then, if Taylor decides to open another restaurant, the only name left will be Me, Me, Me.
Thuy time: A popular power-lunch spot, Thuy Hoa Bar & Grill, at 1361 Court Place, has closed (tax problems; it says so on the door). But employees at a sibling eatery, Chez Thuy Hoa, at 1500 California Street, say the owners hope to reopen in a month or so. "It's not for sure," adds the hostess. "But we think it will be open. But you can come here in the meantime."
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Thoa time: Chef Thoa Fink, who created the legendary (and long defunct) Chez Thoa in Cherry Creek, will face off against Radek Cerny, chef/owner of Papillon, at his place at 250 Josephine on November 12. This "War of the Chefs"--brought about because both chefs just returned from stints at cooking schools and three-star Michelin eateries in France--costs $60 and includes hors d'oeuvre and dinner.
Fired up: Fans of the Firegrill Steakhouse, the upscale Mr. Steak outpost that recently closed its doors at 7685 East Arapahoe Road in Englewood, will be happy to know that a new eatery with the same name and a similar ceiling (with "six accurate constellations" instead of a rotation of daytime clouds and evening stars) opened three days ago in Highlands Ranch, at 8545 South Quebec Avenue. And Louisville residents, rejoice: A Firegrill is coming to your neighborhood in 1998.
Last, but not least: True Marcella Hazan fans already know that her latest cookbook, Marcella Cucina, is her last. The 73-year-old expert on Italian food--just as Julia Child did with French cooking, Hazan made Italian cuisine accessible for American cooks--will sign the book and speak at a dinner sponsored by the local chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food on October 29 at Bella Ristorante, 1920 Market Street. The cost is $29 for members, $39 for non-members, and includes a four-course meal and four Italian wines. Call 333-2378 for reservations.