All Keegan, All the Time

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The first time I saw Keegan Gerhard in person was at the James Beard Awards in early June. He was cooking the final course for the awards dinner -- a dessert, natch, of smoked cherries and chocolate that involved super-call scotch as a main ingredient -- and because my table was all the way in the back, I stepped outside for a smoke, knowing that it would likely be twenty minutes or more before the servers worked their way to the nobody seats on the mezzanine. The chefs were coordinating plating and service from behind hospital-style scrims in the lobby of the Hudson Theatre at the Millennium Broadway. I, of course, poked my nose in to get a look, and there was Gerhard, looking like Rommel in the dessert -- completely in command of his brigade, bound up in his whites, beaded with sweat, arms thrown wide and barking directions at a small army of assistants hunched over the stainless as they decorated, detailed, set trays for runners.

And the first time I saw Gerhard up close? On 17th Avenue, outside D Bar Desserts, the restaurant he and his wife, pastry chef Lisa Bailey, opened this spring right here in little old Denver. He had his whites on, his monogrammed jacket, and he was smiling, headed for the 7-Eleven on the corner just ahead of the first serious dessert rush of the night. Laura and I killed ourselves laughing, thinking about what he could’ve been picking up, imagining the worst, giggling behind our hands...

Pack of smokes and two bottles of cough syrup to get him through the night.

Inspiration for the night’s special chef-tasting menu: all beef jerky and Hostess fruit pies!

Forty packages of those pink coconut snowballs—his secret weakness, what he eats by the double handful, hunkered down in the storeroom or backstage whenever the Food Network cameras aren’t on him.

Some things that didn’t make this week’s Cafe section:

--The letter of apology I thought about offering Gerhard, making amends for all the mean things I’d said in the past about him and his career as a Food Network host, along with a promise to never again make fun of someone whose food I’d never tasted. Except for Bobby Flay, of course (whose restaurants I have visited, actually). And the chefs at the Olive Garden.

--A comment on the service and how, I hope, someone can make some kind of phoenetic glossary for the waitresses so that I’ll no longer have to hear then explaining to tables how to use the “crossini” on the antipasto plate (she meant grissini), what the “keen-say” is on the platter of condiments (she meant quince paste) or how meringue is made of shaved ice. No one on the floor seemed to know how to describe a pavlova (a meringue cake topped with cream and fresh fruit) or a financier (a kind of tea cake). And while the servers are friendly as anything, excited about the food and truly eager to do well by their tables, I was still somewhat concerned by some of the bad information being passed on the floor. So was Gerhard. I saw him stop right in the middle of cooking once just to correct one of his staff.

--The long and rapturous ode to the half a brownie I brought home from my first visit to D Bar. It’d come from the pastry case—one of a half-dozen little objets d’art I’d picked up while standing before it, waiting to pay my tab. There’d been cookies and cupcakes, beautiful bits of chocolate embossed with the D Bar logo, but this brownie? Jesus… I swear, it was the best brownie I’ve ever had—a double-deck chocolate monstrosity with a texture halfway between fudge and a ganache, topped with shattered slivers of toffee stuck in a swimming pool of molten caramel. It was one of those things where I’d eat only tiny little bites of it ten times a day, trying desperately to make it last as long as I could, or at least until I could get to D Bar again.

--A poke in the eye to the people who’ve already begun to complain about the joint online, saying how they’d had to wait 45 minutes for their dessert and then pay eight bucks for some milk and cookies. You know what, knuckleheads? Don’t go back, then. Handmade desserts take time. Three people to handle all those orders on a busy night? That takes time, too. And as for the eight bucks? Think about how much you’re gonna drop on Bud longnecks next time you hit the sports bar and then tell me that this place is too expensive. If you stay away, that’s just more chance for the rest of us to get a seat.

Still, even with all the above stuff left out, there’s plenty of D Bar to go around in this week's paper. First and foremost, there’s the Cafe review. Then there’s a long interview with Gerhard in Bite Me, with details about how he and Lisa Bailey (shown above) ended up in Denver, and their plans for the future.

Forgive me for the overkill, but seriously? D Bar is making some of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted, and in this town (which is certainly not suffering from any lack of talented patissiers) that’s really saying something. -- Jason Sheehan

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