There are two things they do real well in New Orleans: drink and eat. New York might be a great town for chefs; San Francisco might be a Garden of Eden for foodies. But New Orleans is a town made for eaters — men and women for whom dinner isn't just the third meal of the day, but a full-contact professional sport. The very notion of a gastropub (such as Argyll, reviewed this week) would be ridiculous in the Big Easy, because there, pretty much every place already is one, is a place with artful cocktails and killer grub, filled with passionate diners and stone-crazy cooks getting weird with the saffron, crayfish and boudin blanc, and with no need of a clever name to distinguish it from its neighbors.
Denver has precious few examples of the peasant-gone-nouveau, French-inflected comfort food that drives the natives so food-crazy down in New Orleans. We've seen 'em come and we've seen 'em go, leaving behind just one historic fallback: Lucile's. The original Lucile's, in Boulder, has been there long enough that some of the old hands in the food scene can remember washing dishes and shelling shrimp there when they were kids; the Denver location has clocked a solid five years. And while it might not quite have the epic, gravitational draw of the little Victorian house in Boulder (which to this day can sometimes sport better than an hour wait on the weekends), I have never seen the Denver outpost anything less than busy.
I recently stepped inside on what by all rights should've been a nice, quiet Wednesday afternoon and found the floor almost full and waitresses running around like they were just waiting for the next rush to descend. The menu hasn't changed significantly since opening day here, and neither have my tastes in Creole breakfast: eggs Sardou; a plate of beignets, hot from the fryer and covered in snowdrifts of powdered sugar; and a big slice of the house "biscuit," which is actually a square about the size of a brick, perfectly browned on top, light, fluffy and so rich with butter that it could stand as a decent main course all on its own.
I've had eggs Sardou maybe a dozen times at this Lucile's. Sometimes they're great, sometimes merely passable. This time through, the poached eggs were perfect, the creamed spinach smooth and almost puffy as a soufflé, the Gulf shrimp like pretty pink commas. It was a good plate, marred only by the fact that the homefries were burnt and offered in a miserly portion, as though the kitchen was running low and trying to stretch its supplies. Still, the beignets and biscuit more than covered me in the starch department.
And, as always, the Lucile's scene was just one big, loud dinner party getting an early start and showing no signs of slowing down.
Let the good times roll.