Cafe Society

Shine On

"Lucky Star."

"Shining Star!"

"The Star Chamber."

"Enough," I said.

"Star Quality!"

I held up a hand. "That just sucks. Okay, who's got that key lime thing?"

The decimated remains of a key lime tart were passed my way, and I pressed my thumb into the crumbs, then licked off the buttery pastry shards, tasting the faint memory of key lime filling. Our waitress had told us that the patissière hadn't shown up for work and that the house was a little short on desserts, which meant the kitchen would be pulling yesterday's back stock out of the coolers, limping by on leftovers. But even this day-old tart was superb, the only version of key lime pie I've had since the Cream Puffery closed over a year ago that actually tasted like key lime pie -- not green pudding in crushed Saltines, not a lime popsicle, not radioactive Jell-O. It was a clean, three-ingredient wonder -- key lime juice, condensed milk and eggs -- and so pure, I felt a little high.

"Starry Night!"

I glared down the table. "You're ruining this for me, you know."

There were three of us for dinner, me and two idiot friends. We'd had a fantastic meal, probably drunk a little too much off Cafe Star's surprising wine list (chiming flutes of Prosecco bubbly, glasses of cheap Spanish red, Portugese white like iron dipped in cold melon liquor). And now they were proffering titles for my future review of Cafe Star.

"What about 'Girl Cook'?" said idiot #1, leaning back in his chair and jerking his head back toward the open pass rail of the pocket galley where chef Rebecca Weitzman stood, sweat in her hair, flanked by her boys, starting to break down the kitchen for the night. Although Star closes officially at 10 p.m., it was 10:30 and we were far from the last table left in the house. Other customers were lingering, unwilling to put aside their napkins, get up, step outside and break the spell. At a four-top, a toddler who'd been doted on all night by the staff finally laid her head down on a folded napkin and slept that way until Tom Sumner appeared from somewhere with a little embroidered pillow. It was about the most considerate act I'd ever seen from an owner, and even if everything about Cafe Star hadn't already been wonderful -- even if Sumner hadn't already stopped by a dozen other tables to do a dozen thoughtful little things, and even if Weitzman and her crew hadn't already banged their way through a three-turn, full-book Saturday night with effortless grace -- this single move would have bought him a lot in my book. The last time I demanded a pillow from an owner at the end of a long night and fell asleep at my table, he threatened to call the cops -- and I was a paying customer.

"How about 'Everything I've Ever Said About Female Chefs Is Wrong and I'm Very Very Sorry'?" suggested idiot #2, idiot #1's wife.

That was low. I've never said that women can't cook professionally; I've just said that for the most part, they don't. Because women are smarter than men. They've wisely avoided kitchen work, because -- at least until recently -- the only things such a career promised were bad knees, worse hours, and ready access to cheap drugs and waitresses of questionable moral character. So while guys like me were hunkering down in thousands of murderous hotlines and festering prep kitchens across the land, women were...what? Probably becoming senators and running companies and joining the military and doing whatever it is that normal people do to avoid getting stuck on the graveyard shift at Denny's, working blind drunk next to a guy missing two fingers who only speaks Hindi and has to take a break every thirty minutes to change the gauze on the seeping head wound he got last night so he doesn't bleed on everyone's Moons Over My Hammy.

But things are different today (or so people keep telling me), and I'm glad that Rebecca Weitzman kicked her way into the club. I'm thanking Jesus and all the food gods that she made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up here. And believe it or not, I'm thanking Bobby-motherfucking-pretty-boy-Flay, for whom I've never had anything but a vague disgust, because it was Bobby-self-appointed-prophet-of-barbecue-Flay who gave Weitzman her first serious job, at his Manhattan joint Bolo, after she dropped out of college and graduated from culinary school. I'm thanking the folks at Bloom for bringing her out to Colorado from New York, and thanking Frank Bonanno for stealing her away from Bloom and obviously influencing her cooking style, because her menu at Cafe Star is heavily reminiscent of Bonanno at his best. And I'm thanking owners Tom and Marna Sumner for giving Weitzman her shot at a place of her own last year. She deserved it. Without even seeming to try, she's embarrassing a lot of other cooks scrambling (and failing) to fill an eclectic/New American/comfort-food niche by just doing it -- not talking about it, not getting all cutesy about it, not being a smartass or a scientist. Weitzman simply cooks, and when you've got the chops, that's enough. Enough to make her food a benchmark for excellence in Denver. For anywhere.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan