But Denver has apparently needed a happy medium, too, because Sullivan's, the steakhouse that opened just last week in a renovated furniture warehouse at 1745 Wazee Street, is packing them in. Owned by the folks who brought us the Lone Star steakhouses, Sullivan's is designed to be a cut below--in cost, if not in quality. But you can't tell it from the restaurant's sumptuous surroundings, including a bar that's already filled with some of the town's truly high-ends enjoying a martini and live jazz as they chew the fat...and the lean.
Taking stock: It's the time of year for steaks, all right, but it's also chicken-soup season. Since my family members are all sporting runny noses, I'm trying to pump them full of as much Jewish penicillin as possible. Commercial versions are okay in a pinch, but for flavor and goodness, nothing beats homemade soup, especially if it's homemade from the base on up.
I used to follow a recipe to make chicken stock, but I've found that throwing in whatever I have on hand turns out every time. The essentials: some kind of chicken, be it necks and backs, a package of wings or thighs, a whole bird, or just the carcass of an already cooked chicken or turkey. Grab a container of chicken livers at the grocery store for extra nutrients, toss it all in the largest stockpot you've got, and fill the pot with cold water to within a few inches of the top.
Then add as much of the following as will fit: celery cut into big chunks (the leaves are good, too), carrots that have been washed and cut into big chunks (if you peel them, you lose some of the sweetness and the vitamins), quartered onions (cut the root off, but the skins will add color to the stock), black peppercorns, two or three bay leaves and a teaspoon of dried thyme. I freeze the stems of fresh parsley and the green tops of leeks left over from other cooking projects so I can add those whenever I make stock, too.
Bring the water to a boil, and for the first hour of cooking, skim off any scum and fat that rise to the surface. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and cook, uncovered, for at least another two hours and up to three more. Strain and divide liquid into Ziploc bags or plastic containers (it's a good idea to measure it out in one-cup increments), and then you'll have stock for two or three soups, depending on how large your stockpot is. The stock will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator, but it freezes beautifully for up to six months.
With that on hand, you can make chicken soup any time by simply thawing as much stock as you need and following this recipe from Sally Rock and Dale Goin, who run the Philadelphia Filly soup cart on the 16th Street Mall at Broadway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Their wonderful curried chicken soup--which benefits from a "double stock," since fresh chicken is added to the already chicken-pumped broth--is just the thing for a blustery day.
The curry and cayenne heat in the Filly's soup also has a way of clearing out your sinuses, and because it's creamed, it's easier on your throat. Rock gave me the basic ingredients--she's another one of those chefs who cook using their senses rather than a recipe--and what I came up with comes pretty darn close to her version. You can use white or dark meat (I actually prefer the dark meat, because it makes for a richer soup). And if you don't like making a roux of flour and butter, you can use Wondra flour, like Rock does; the superfine flour doesn't gum up or get lumpy like regular flours do, so it can be whisked right into the soup to thicken it.
The Philadelphia Filly's Curried Chicken Soup
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 pound chicken parts
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup cream
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Combine stock and water in a large saucepan and add chicken; bring to a boil over high heat. Add the vegetables, and when the stock returns to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer one hour. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool. In a small pan, melt butter over low heat and whisk in flour; cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste, but don't let it brown. Slowly whisk in the cream, then whisk in a cup of stock from the soup. Stir the whole mixture back into the soup and keep heat at low; add curry powder and cayenne. Tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup. Stir to combine and cook just until meat reheats (don't let it boil). Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2-4.
To market, to market: The new King Soopers in Parker (12959 South Parker Road) features a vastly expanded gourmet-foods section--this is the store that serves people from the Pinery and Stroh Ranch, second only to Highlands Ranch in Douglas County wealth--but I also found a few blunders. The store offers raw wheat germ in the bulk-foods aisle, for instance. Wheat germ is the heart of the wheat kernel, and it's very high in oil, which makes it extremely perishable. In its raw form, it should always be kept in the refrigerator, and even when it's been toasted and vacuum-packed in a jar, it needs to be refrigerated or frozen in order to keep for two to three months. Because wheat germ is one of the few plant-based proteins that's nearly complete (soybean is another), it's a very good way to balance a vegetarian diet. But not if it's stale.
In the produce aisle, the eggplant was among the vegetables getting a regular sprinkler shower. Eggplant is hard enough to keep at its firm, smooth best under optimum conditions, but when the air's soggy, the skin shrivels faster, which is what had happened to these poor aubergines. A few vegetables away, I got a chuckle out of the professionally printed sign for "mesculun," apparently a less feminine version of mesclun, which is mixed greens, mostly baby ones.
I was not amused in the meat department, however. While looking over a pile of obviously frozen whole chickens that had been cut up, I noticed the large sign above them that said "Fresh chicken." I asked the nearest meat man why the sign said the birds were fresh when they clearly weren't. "Oh, they're not really frozen," he replied. "They come in with a crust of ice on them to keep the bacteria down." Crust, my arse. In grocery-store lingo, there are chickens that are "fresh," meaning that they're kept under ordinary refrigeration, and then there are those that are called "deep chilled," which means that the water crystals in the chicken are frozen at 28 degrees but the meat is technically not frozen.
And then there's frozen, which is what this chicken was. I took a package of the poultry pieces home and couldn't pull them apart; they were frozen all the way through. And that's just plain dangerous, because if the chicken had thawed all the way and I'd later refrozen it (thinking the bird had started out fresh), we could be talking about some serious bacterial growth. If the shipper makes a mistake and the chicken comes in frozen, the meat department should label it as such.
There were a couple of things to commend, however, including chicken necks and backs, which I've never been able to get my local Safeway to carry; those cuts are ideal for making chicken stock, because they're cheaper than the rest of the chicken but offer as much, if not more, flavor. Finally, this new King Soopers' selection of organic produce, while not as good as that at Wild Oats, was still fine for this part of town, and--wheat germ aside--the bulk selection is well-stocked.
I have to confess, though, that I've always liked Safeway better, mainly because the prices are lower. In fact, this trip cost me $243, and my bill has never been more than $209 for the same stuff. Looking back over last year's grocery receipts, I discovered that while I routinely wind up with around 36 items reduced by my Safeway card for savings averaging $42, only 21 items out of the 109 I bought were reduced by my King Soopers card, for a savings of just $15.91. Ouch.
Just desserts: A fast followup to my December 10 "Train in Vain" review of Great Northern Tavern at 8101 East Belleview Avenue. First I received a phone call from Mary Ludwig, whose pastries at Rialto Cafe (934 16th Street) won a Best of Denver 1998 award; she then moved on to Great Northern but says she left long before the review came out and so did not make the desserts I enjoyed during my visits. My server told me differently, but Ludwig's information was seconded by Elena Zitto, who wrote to say that she's the one who made the chocolate cylinder I liked so much. Zitto works for Pasquini's Baking Company, at 1710 South Broadway, where that dessert and others can be bought retail or wholesale.