MOUTHING OFF

Brunch hunch: A co-worker recently asked me to recommend a good place to take his mother, who was celebrating a birthday, for Sunday brunch. The group would include children, so it was important that the place be kid-friendly and reasonably priced. After recalling (and not fondly, either) many of the Sunday brunches I've encountered--most of them of the let-the-food-languish-in-chafing-pans variety--I mentioned my favorite Denver brunch place, Le Central, at 112 East Eighth Avenue. This family-style bistro serves an a la carte brunch that is one of the great bargains in this town. Alas, the co-worker's mother loves buffets, which ruled out Le Central. (The group ultimately went to Simms Landing and were sorry they did.)

A few days after this conversation, some visiting, food-loving relatives from Chicago said they would treat me, my husband and daughter to brunch anywhere in town. Naturally, I immediately chose Le Central, and I came away remembering how much I love the place. The only exception to our all-around wonderful experience was the potatoes au gratin, which were undercooked, nearly impenetrable with forks, and adorning every plate. But the entree portions were generous and came with enough other sides (carrots, red cabbage and broccoli) that we just picked the melted Gruyere off the tubers and contented ourselves with the rest of the meal. The excellent eggs Benedict ($5.50) came smothered in real hollandaise, beneath which sat two perfectly poached eggs, grilled Canadian bacon and a split, high-quality English muffin. My husband ordered my other favorite Le Central egg item, oeufs sardou ($5.50), a variation of the dish made famous by Brennan's in New Orleans that includes baby artichokes, fresh sauteed spinach and a not-too-tart bearnaise. The bavette a la moutarde ($6.50) was a little mild on the mustard seed, but the juicy flank steak was tender and cooked just right. The crepes a la suedoise ($5.50) could almost have come from the dessert section of the menu, with a surprisingly airy Swedish sourdough pancake wrapped around stewed apples and strawberries and covered with a heavenly cream-cheese caramel sauce. I can only assume the crepes aux fruits de la mer ($6.50)--thin crepes filled with whitefish, salmon, scallops and mushrooms in a fish veloute--were equally good, because my cousin ate them before I could get a taste. None of us ate again for the rest of the day.

I had thought another good choice for brunch would have been Mel's Bar and Grill, at 235 Fillmore Street--but the restaurant dropped the meal not too long ago to give its staff a much-needed break. I recently reported that Mel's was honored as one of "America's Top 25 New Restaurants" in Esquire, which is true, and also that Mel's was the first Denver restaurant to receive that award, which is false. Jack Leone set the record straight when he called to say that Cafe Giovanni--in the Market Street space now occupied by a European Cafe--won the same award around 1980. Sorry about that, Jack. When I called Esquire, a guy I ended up with after seven transfers and fifteen minutes of holding said, "That sounds familiar, but I don't have time to check on it now." I guess we should just be grateful that Denver gets any attention at all.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner