The Big Easy
Whenever I eat at Lucile's (see review, page 48), I always order more than I can possibly eat. Order more than two of me could eat, in fact, loading the table to the breaking point and then stuffing myself until I can't see straight.
It's a matter of logistics, really, of uncontrolled exponential growth. Lucile's has the kind of menu that can't be sampled lightly, since each plate dovetails too perfectly with something a little farther down the list. And that holds true both at the original Lucile's in Boulder and at its latest outpost, which opened just this month at 275 South Logan Street in Denver, in the former home of Jeff Cleary's Intrigue. Sitting in the spanking-new spot two weekends ago, I tried to chart the many strange ways in which my Cajun breakfasts grow so quickly out of control.
For starters, there are the beignets, those fried Louisiana doughnuts that come capped with a mountain of pure white confectioner's sugar. I have a long, sordid history with beignets -- ordering them wherever I find them, eating them indiscriminately, often driving long distances (like from New York to Baton Rouge) just to get my hands on them. A big part of my obsession is the word "beignets," which conjures up images of sunlit terraces in the Garden District, silver pots of chicory, a steaming plate of pastries, a hip flask full of straight bourbon whiskey -- a much more dignified way to greet your coming day than with a McMuffin wolfed down while driving. When I go to Lucile's, I want a beignet, but they only come in plates of four. And because I know that it could be a long time before another beignet crosses my path, I will eat all four fast -- with jam, with apple butter, plain -- and wash them down with two cups of chicory coffee.
And that -- for any normal, right-thinking man concerned with his waistline and cholesterol and whatnot -- ought to be enough for an entire breakfast. But noI've barely shaken the sugar off my lap before I'm working my way down the rest of the menu. I must have eggs Sardou, and the version being done by the new Lucile's is, if anything, even better than that at the original. But along with the eggs Sardou, I need a ham steak, because they taste so good together. With the ham, I want potatoes. With the potatoes, cheese. And with my eggs and ham and potatoes and cheese, I also want something sweet, so I go with a bowl of fruit and cream.
You can order a pan-fried trout at Lucile's. As a side. For breakfast.
I don't, but I do always order a biscuit. If God made biscuits, then those at Lucile's would be like the biscuits that Larry, God's brother-in-law, brought to all the family gatherings -- Larry's way of showing up God, Larry's answer to all of his wife's nagging about how much better God is at everything than Larry. With the biscuit, I have to have a side of sausage gravy, more jam, more apple butter. And when the sausage gravy arrives, it gets me thinking that maybe I want a nice sausage, too -- an authentic andouille or a plain Louisiana hot.
This is the way things spiral out of control at Lucile's. This is why I should not be allowed to get within five blocks of the place more than once a month. When the closest Lucile's was in Boulder, that was easy. I'm a lazy man, and the drive (though not nearly as long as the drive to Baton Rouge) was enough to keep me away for months at a time.
But now, with a Lucile's open in the heart of Denver, I am in trouble. The new space is beautiful -- just rough enough around the edges with its exposed brick and antique hardware to have the feel of authenticity -- and, though not located in an actual house, it has a decidedly homey vibe. There's a lounge off to the side of the dining room where you can sip a Bloody Mary while you wait for a table (and you will wait -- a half-hour minimum during prime time, maybe longer) and a lovely long porch and patio that, though not built for Lucile's, make the place look like it was lifted right up from some southern latitude and dropped whole on a busy street in Denver, Colorado.
Salt lick: The Great Bagel Debate continues to rage hotter than a beignet fresh from the fryer. Although I never intended a brief mention (okay, two brief mentions) of this city's lack of salt bagels to ignite such a heated controversy, it has, and my (highly unofficial) poll of respondents puts Moe's Broadway Bagel firmly in the lead. But, folks, I have to tell you that while Moe's (which is most notable for the half-pound of cream cheese it slathers on anything that crosses its counter, including receipts) might be okay for those of you who see no other options in this town and is definitely better than the Einstein/Bruegger's axis of evil, there are other options.
Like the Bagel Store, at 942 South Monaco Parkway, for example. This place sits in a quiet strip mall in the heart of Leetsdale's Little Russia, tucked away in the back tier next to a baby-supply store and almost entirely shielded from view by the Monaco Inn (a decent place for Greek food, by the way). It's open limited hours (6 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the dot), doesn't take plastic and is staffed by a bunch of young guys who look like the Beastie Boys circa 1986, when License to Ill was first flying off the shelves -- and the last time I was there, I had to walk out past some glaze-eyed old man in a trenchcoat and velcro sneakers standing in front of the Russian bookstore with his wang in his hand.
But if you go early, you get to look right through the doors into the huge bakery in the back, where you can see vats of bagels steaming in their water and guys with big arms and flour in their hair working the dough. You can smell the place doing things right. And you can pick up not only a passable version of an East Coast egg bagel (glossy and yellow on the outside, with a thick-chewy skin and pillowy dough inside, though it's a little dry for my taste), but a half-dozen fantastic salt bagels for less than four bucks. They're damp and spongy to the touch, lightly crusted with rough kosher-salt crystals, soft and just faintly, faintly sour. It's a great place, as honest as they come, and I'd trade a hundred Einstein Bros. shops for just one Bagel Store.
Leftovers: Breakfast lovers have one more reason to celebrate, now that Jack-n-Grill (2524 Federal Boulevard) is open at 6 a.m. Jack Martinez extended the hours of his authentic New Mexican joint back in August, which means you can pick up everything from two-dollar breakfast burritos all day, breakfast tacos, and more standard Belen and 'Burque breakfasts of pancakes, waffles, sausage and so on before you hit the office or the slopes. And those great huevos rancheros remain available at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The Martinez clan had tried to make a go of a second location on Old Wadsworth Boulevard in Arvada earlier this year. That plan didn't go as well as they (and everyone else on that side of Denver) had hoped it would, and the second spot closed after just a couple of months in business. But Martinez hasn't given up: There's another huge Jack-n-Grill under construction at 40th and Chambers in Aurora, with a target opening date of next April -- the first in a planned onslaught of Jack-n-Grill franchises.
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