Cafe Society

Cream Puffs

"You are gonna looooove these," the waitress sang to a customer seated behind us. Along with everyone else in the dining room, we turned to see exactly what these were--and feasted our eyes on what appeared to be a platter piled with whipped cream. An amazing pile of whipped cream, a half-foot high, with all the undulations and lines that Mary Jane's back bowl sports after 2,000 or so skiers have been at it. Finally, one diner broke the awestruck silence. "What is that?" he asked. The waitress took a deep breath before making the announcement. "These," she announced, "are our peach pancakes." And sure enough, when we looked closely, we discerned peach-colored slips of fruit peeking out around the base of the mountain.

The proud recipient of this dish--his physique suggested he had more than a passing familiarity with whipped-cream-covered delicacies--sat there for a few minutes beaming at everyone, quite pleased with himself and his order. But by the time he lifted his fork to dig in, he'd lost his audience. We'd all buried ourselves in the menu: If the pancakes were this pretty, there was no telling what wonderful item the Breakfast Inn Dinner Too might whip up on our behalf.

We found all sorts of contenders, some quite surprising, on a menu that reads like a history of pop-culture cuisine. When Fred Anzman opened his diner-style eatery in 1985, the Breakfast Inn served three meals a day--but all before the place closed at three in the afternoon. Two years ago Anzman added evening hours, a few more entrees, and the words "Dinner Too" to his restaurant's title; the kitchen now serves until nine o'clock most days. But diners can order anything from the menu at any time, which means this is the place to satisfy that early-morning craving for chicken Italiano. If you're unsure of what food you're in the mood for, though, the menu presents a hundred-item dilemma. It's got your burger, your pork chop, your spaghetti and meatballs. How about a BLT, London broil, chef's salad or gyro? Then there's the well-rounded Mexican roster, and don't even think about spending under ten minutes reviewing the all-inclusive ode to more traditional breakfasts.

All this is served in a dining room that has the same decor as your high school buddy's family room, which was filled with faux paneling and bad prints of ships and was where you used to sneak cigarettes and sips of Old Granddad (no alcohol here, though). The Breakfast Inn even boasts a bookcase filled with such bestsellers as The Responsibilities of World Power, which didn't happen to be the reading material of choice for the guy who walked into the men's room with a newspaper tucked under his arm after he'd finished his meal. All the comforts of home.

"Blue cheese!" the waitress hollered about two inches from my ear, and I raised my hand to claim the salad. "Thousand Island!" she yelled at my companion. The dressings--and there was plenty of both--adorned standard dinner salads that came with our entrees. Like the blue cheese, the country chicken-fried steak ($5.95) was a cardiologist's worst nightmare: a slab of batter-dipped, deep-fried pounded sirloin steak smeared with a cream gravy the color and consistency of papier-mache paste (although it had a much better flavor). A butter-drenched baked potato and a small bowl of water-logged vegetables rounded out the order. Our arteries got no reprieve with the hot open-faced roast-beef sandwich ($5.50), which piled slices of meat on juice-sogged white bread, tucked the stack next to a mound of mashed potatoes, then covered the whole steamy mess with a gravy that didn't just look dark brown, it tasted dark brown.

While my kid also went the dinner route, working her way through a grilled cheese sandwich accompanied by more mashed potatoes and a drink (kids under twelve eat free after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and for $2.25 all other times), another tablemate opted for breakfast. The huevos rancheros ($4.75) came his way (scrambled), with refried beans and a heap of hashbrowns that, like everything else on the plate, had been smothered in the Breakfast Inn's two-alarm green chile. Tortillas, toast or pancakes were his starch options, and he chose the from-scratch pancakes out of sheer greed. They were so sweet they hardly needed syrup, let alone whipped cream.

Pancakes are also a hot item at Newbarry's, another diner with a sizable menu that's served throughout the day. Newbarry's has been around a bit longer than the Breakfast Inn--since 1971, when Spero Armatas and his partner, George Bouzarelos, decided to put the Armatas family recipe for red chile to further good use. Sam, Spero's father and the creator of the red chile, had owned Denver's five Coney Island eateries (the first opened in 1927; the best-known was Sam's No. 3, at 15th and Curtis streets). Although the last Coney Island closed the year Newbarry's opened, Sam lived another ten years, which was long enough to see his son's venture become a popular destination for folks of all ages. "We're paying for this one, Ma," said the Denver policeman seated at the table next to us. "It's your birthday meal."

Ma went with a stack of hotcakes ($2.35), so we did, too. It was a good choice: The cakes were fluffy and moist, made from a recipe Spero came up with. "If it can be made from scratch," he says, "we'll do it." He also invented the old-fashioned vanilla-based batter Newbarry's uses for its waffles, which are available in a variety of versions. We picked the butter pecan waffle ($3.25), whose presentation was far more literal than we'd anticipated. The plain waffle arrived topped with a handful of pecans and two sealed bubbles of margarine. Butter (sort of). Pecan. Waffle. Good waffle, though.

The formulas for the red and green chiles (with an entree, $1.15 each for samplers) were much more complicated--and the results even more delicious. (The chiles are so popular that the kitchen makes 250 gallons of the red and 150 of the green each week, Spero says.) The red chile, rife with ground beef (along with a few stray bits of carrot), owed more to Texas than Mexico. The green chile, which Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole once described as "Greek chile," looked like the result of a kitchen collision between a guy carrying a container of country gravy and a guy carrying the green chile. Chunks of pork, pieces of fresh tomato and jalape–os were the only positive identifications we could make, but there seemed to be about a thousand other ingredients, all of which combined to make for a comfortably hot and comfortingly stew-like chile.

Comfort food is usually the hallmark of such places, and we decided to put the kitchen to the test with old-fashioned meatloaf ($5.85). Like all the dinners, an order of the meatloaf carried an impressive selection of sides (tomato juice among them); a menu note explaining that the soups were homemade swayed us from a salad to a cup of the ham-and-bean. The soup was homey and hammy, boasting a stock that spoke of many ham hocks. The meatloaf also evidenced much loving preparation (Spero says the kitchen grinds its own beef); a hefty portion came with a side of plain yellow squash and big, puffy French fries that quickly soaked up the meatloaf's highly concentrated beef gravy.

The entrees also included a dessert dish of rich, homemade rice pudding, the creamiest I've tasted. But something about Newbarry's ambience screamed "banana split" ($2.95), so we ordered one of those, too. "This ain't Dairy Queen, honey," the waitress said as she set the monstrosity before us. Rivaling the Breakfast Inn's peach pancakes for both volume and view, the banana split featured an avalanche of whipped cream over three huge scoops of ice cream--when was the last time you ate that pink strawberry stuff?--as well as pineapple, strawberry and chocolate sauces and ripe bananas. It was a lot of yummy food for little money--and since Newbarry's doesn't watch the clock much, either, we could have ordered it at 6 a.m. if we'd had the inclination.

You've gotta looooove it.

Breakfast Inn Dinner Too,
6135 East Evans Avenue,
5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 5:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday-Monday.

2995 West Jewell Avenue,
6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Sunday.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner