Cafe Society

Fry Me to the Moon

Not many people know how to make a demi-glace, or coulibiac, or osso buco, or banh trang. This is a good thing: It keeps down the number of folks who delude themselves into thinking they should open their own restaurants.

But any idiot with a skillet can scramble an egg (or at least assumes he can), which is why this country is overrun with lousy breakfast places.

There's a world of difference between throwing a couple of huevos into a butter-slicked pan on your stove, stirring them around until they look done and then throwing them onto a plate with a few pieces of toast--and actually mass-producing egg dishes with all the sides for dozens of diners. I know. It was in 1993 that I first foolishly attempted to cook breakfast professionally, during a busy Sunday brunch. There was just me, a creepy line cook and a stack of a hundred or so eggs, and I couldn't stop an over-easy from breaking to save my life. I sent out beautiful eggs Benedicts with perfectly poached eggs smothered in just-made, real hollandaise. I cooked up flawless pancakes and waffles, crisp bacon, fluffy muffins and textbook omelettes--but it took me eight or nine eggs to get two intact fried ones. Thank heavens the restaurant decided soon after to stop serving breakfast.

Since then, I've always been impressed by eateries that do eggs well. Most of the restaurants around town lay an egg--but not the Iris Cafe.

This delightful spot is tucked away in an old house on a side street in picturesque downtown Littleton. The owners, Brad and Tracie Winters, bought the 87-year-old building four years ago, after several years of catering and operating the Mega Bites food cart on the 16th Street Mall. "That was tiring," Brad says. "It was just like having a restaurant, only after you're done for the day, you have to pack up the whole business and move it."

Brad learned how to cook from a chef in Guadalajara, where he went to school decades ago. "This guy had just come back from the Cordon Bleu," he explains. "But he was looking to learn more about traditional American cooking, like roast turkey and pot roast. I wanted to learn classic Spanish cooking, but his thing was really French, so I picked that up, too."

Brad's mom was also "tremendous inspiration," he says, and such homey touches continue in the Iris Cafe's interior, which Tracie decorated with teacups and dried flowers. The restaurant is truly a family affair: Both Brad and Tracie cook, and their son, Josh, is the server. He was also the only server each time I visited, which occasionally made for longer waits, but nothing too serious. And Josh's boyish charm certainly adds to the eating-in-someone's-home atmosphere.

But you won't find food like this on most Denver tables. Where west of an ethnic neighborhood in Chicago could you get goette ($5.95), for example? Winters says the dish is Bavarian and pronounced "gutta"; a former Pittsburgher, I remember it as the Pennsylvania Dutch "ghetta." Either way, it's a kind of scrapple, made with the standard pork but substituting oats for cornmeal. The Winterses added onions and spices to their loaf, then paired the goette with impeccable over-easy eggs and thick-sliced toast made from their homemade bread. The meal also came with a side of homemade raspberry jam and a tiny cup of cinnamon-enhanced applesauce that was not homemade, despite the menu's claims. "These things just keep getting away from us," Brad admits. No matter who made the sauce, though, it would have been better warm.

A German accent flavored the potato pancakes ($6.50), which were bolstered by onions and black pepper. And their texture was ideal: soft and creamy inside, crunchy and golden outside. Rich German sausage, two more perfect eggs, toast and applesauce rounded out the plate. Still more eggs did duty as filling in the excellent French country crepe ($5.95), whose thin, parsley-flecked crepe wrapped around a farmer cheese-gooey scramble. Although the vegetable omelette ($5.95) was another faultless egg preparation--with cooked-through zucchini, mushrooms and onions encased in a smooth shell topped with diced tomatoes--the side of potatoes à la lyonnaise was the real star of that combo. These tubers were exactly what Charles Grodin craved in Midnight Run: almost caramelized onions mixed with plush slips of potato.

While breakfast at the cafe was a real eye-opener, lunch wasn't as impressive. There was too much salt in both the salmon terrine and the pasta primavera. Otherwise, though, they were respectable, and the price was right: $8.95 bought not just the entree but grilled and buttered French bread, an adorable small salad with an excellent tart vinaigrette, and a dessert that wasn't the promised strudel but a strange combination of poppyseed cake and chocolate-flavored whipping cream.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner