In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on my fourth stop.... It's pretty difficult to get to Andy's Kitchen Asian Express from my house without making a left turn onto Federal Boulevard, or without making a left turn from Federal into Andy's parking lot. The reason this is important is because making left turns onto or off Federal is an art form --a skill that must be observed in all its variations before it can be attempted, much less mastered.
First, you must learn the basics - like making a left turn from Federal into a strip-mall parking lot. Because the median is more or less an additional traffic lane with few designated turn areas, you must scout ahead for cars coming your way, other cars at a full stop waiting to turn one way or another, cars entering Federal from various driveways (sometime in reverse), and jaywalkers stranded in crossing limbo. You must veer into the turn lane and stop suddenly, then accelerate quickly across two lanes of traffic. Finally, you must brake hard to avoid blowing out your suspension on what will surely be an uneven (to say the least) transition from the street to the parking lot, but not so suddenly that you leave the rear of your car jutting out into oncoming traffic. But that's the easy part.
Making a left back onto Federal --after cashing your check, filling your MMJ prescription, or purchasing your sack of tacos --is a maneuver that will mark you as either a suburban amateur or a grizzled veteran. The skill here is in reaching maximum possible velocity straight out of the parking lot, perpendicular to traffic, then making a hard left and coming to a dead stop in the center lane while looking over your right shoulder for a gap in traffic. The reason you do this is because you will never, ever make it across all lanes of traffic in one go, so you might as well scare some unwary driver into thinking your plan is to T-bone their vehicle at full speed. Most experienced pilots of the Fed, however, will not even give you a second look.
Andy's Kitchen may or may not be worth the stress and potential vehicular damage, depending on how hungry you are and whether you live close enough to avail yourself of its free delivery. I prefer the full experience of eating at a restaurant, so my immediate impression is always an important one. And what struck me about Andy's was first, that it was immaculately clean, and second, that the owners had done a convincing job of turning an unsuccessful Dairy Queen across from a high school into a pleasant, if unassuming, Chinese fast-casual joint. Dishes are prepared to order (rather than served by the scoop from steam tables), as evidenced by the oddly timed delivery of my food as well as by the shatteringly crisp fried coating in the otherwise typically sweet sesame chicken. The fried items on the pu pu platter (the last dish to arrive at my table) were also hot out of the fryer, if otherwise bland. While I had a hard time finding the pork buried under an avalanche of cabbage in the twice-cooked pork, the Thai panang curry was a soupy but flavorful surprise. Admittedly, I seldom eat at Chinese-American restaurants. My sweet tooth, when it comes to savory sauces, faded with adulthood, and I've just never been much of a fan of rice. I don't get cravings for General Tao's chicken or Szechuan beef. If I were a student across the street at Lincoln High, though, I'd probably risk the dash across Federal on a regular basis. As it stands, the thrill and adrenaline rush of attempting the Federal left might be enough to draw me back, if I'm not lured there just by the temptation of something a little bizarre and unusual that I overlooked the first time.
No, the kitchen doesn't have a secret menu for its Chinese regulars touting preserved eggs or pork intestine. But how did I ever miss the stir-fried Buffalo chicken on the "Andy's Recommendations" page of the menu? Definitely...next time.
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