Mouthing Off

You say tomato, I say to-mah-to: Sure, everyone snickered when Ronald Reagan's administration tried to declare school-kitchen ketchup a vegetable back in 1981. But now the Agriculture Department has decreed that salsa has nutritional value, and no one's laughing.

Maybe that's because they realize salsa is the country's leading condiment. Or, more likely, it's because they've sampled salsas as chunky, nutrient-rich, tasty and kid-friendly as some of Denver's best offerings. Exhibit A: El Azteca's salsa and pico de gallo (reviewed above). Exhibit B: The complimentary salsa at Rosa Linda Mexican Cafe, 2005 West 33rd Avenue, a smooth, dense melding of tomatoes, peppers and onions. Exhibit C: The sense-singeing salsa at La Fiesta, 2349 Champa Street, which could wilt the most stubborn wallpaper off any wall. And then there's the "salsa especial" ($1.15)"--that's salsa cruda to the rest of us--that's been an extra on the menu at Las Delicias since that Mexican standby had just one outlet, at 439 East 19th Avenue, back in the late Seventies. (Since then, it's added four more--including, most recently, the old home of The Riviera, at 4301 East Kentucky in Glendale.) Who knew that crudely chopped vegetables--tomatoes, onions, jalapeno and cilantro--could combine into such an addictive mix that the salsa not only perks up every Las D dish, but is worthy of eating by the unadorned spoonful. (Now if the 19th and Penn Las Delicias could just figure out how to open its liquor cabinet for those who need a shot to get them moving on Saturdays--as certain parties we know did July 4--they'd be all be set.)

Everyone has his favorite restaurant salsa--thin, thick, smoked, smoothed, gussied up and stripped down. But over the past decade, there's also been an explosion of fresh salsas available in local grocery stores (after a bite of these, Pace might as well be made in New York City), not to mention homemade salsas cooked up in the privacy of your own home, likely from vegetables out of your own salsa garden.

Here, for example, is Dolores Vaccaro's recipe for peach jalapeno salsa, which just won the Pueblo resident $1,000 from Farmland Foods: Combine two large peaches, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped; 1 to 2 tablespoons of finely chopped, seeded jalapeno peppers; 1 tablespoon lime juice; and 2 teaspoons sugar. Vaccaro's winning combo places the salsa on top of pork chops (Farmland brand, natch), but it's just fine on its own.

Ketchup will never catch up.
Unless, of course, it's in the hands of eight-year-old Justin Mitchell, author of Cooking With Justin, who just created the "Denver Mile High Taco Burger" in the Heinz Consumer Test Kitchen. No salsa here, just one package of taco seasoning mixed into a pound of lean ground beef that's formed into patties, grilled, blanketed with Monterey Jack with hot peppers, tucked into a bun and covered with tortilla chips--and ketchup.

Ronald Reagan would be proud.
Best or bust: The Best Dinner Specials in town just got better. The Tuesday-night all-you-can-eat spaghetti-and-meatballs special at the Stockyard Inn & Saloon, 4701 National Western Drive, will set you back only $4.99--the owner swears on a stack of even cheaper Monday-night burgers. Several very confused people answering the phone at that restaurant had confused our Best of Denver fact-checker into upping the ante to $7--still the correct price, by the way, of the Stockyard's Wednesday-night ten-ounce cowboy steak special. Yee-haw.

Mark your datebooks: By the time you read this, it will be too late to hit the opening of Mattie's, 1942 Market Street, the latest eatery brought to you by the LoDo Restaurant Group (proprietors of Croc's Mexican Grill and LoDo's Bar & Grill) in the old home of infamous madam Mattie Silks. You've also missed the opening of Dante Bichette's place at 700 East 17th Avenue, in the old home of infamous restaurateur Cliff Young; what remains of his namesake restaurant (Young himself left long ago) moves into the old Amethyst Room next door.

There's still time, though, to sign up for the July 14 Brewmaster's Dinner at Assignments Restaurant, 675 South Broadway, featuring four courses prepared by chef Doug Zimmerman and five English ales discussed by Richard Fuller, a fifth-generation brewer at Fuller's Brewery, London's oldest. The evening runs $29 per person; call 778-6625 for details. The Fourth Story Restaurant & Bar (2955 East First Avenue) continues its 1998 Winemaker Dinner series with a visit July 21 from Duckhorn Vineyards owner and winemaker Dan Duckhorn; he'll be bringing five wines to match five courses of food prepared by Fourth Story chef David Steinman. Sampling beings at 6:30 p.m.; call 322-1824 for price and menu information. You also have a few days to confirm that you want to be part of Alliance Française's annual Waiters' Race July 19 at Four Mile Historic Park, 615 South Forest Street. Last year the three-waiter relay teams fielded by The Fort and Strings fought to the finish. No fee, but restaurants wanting to confirm their participation must check in by July 14 at 831-0304. That race is the culmination of the "Taste of Brittany" celebration that runs July 13 through July 20 and marks the fiftieth-anniversary sister-city pairing of Denver and Brest, France. French restaurants across the metro area are offering specials in conjunction with the event; call your favorite for details.

But ditch the French accent in time for the Colorado Leadership Conference that runs July 27-29 at the Lodge at Vail. The Rocky Mountain hospitality industry is serious business for most restaurateurs--serious enough that members of the Colorado Restaurant Association will be shelling out $525 for the conference (it's $575 for non-members). For information, call 830-2972.


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