Wake-Up Call

Even as I was checking a few last details for my review of Snooze , owner Jon Schlegel was making changes to his menu. "It's an evolving process," he said when I got him on the phone last week. "You know, I've seen these breakfast places with like forty, fifty items on their menu, and the kitchens just get overwhelmed. I figured if we could have just ten things on the menu and do them really well, that would be a better way to start."

Which would be fine, as long as the ten things aren't as bland as the stuff I tried at Snooze and the "evolving process" moves fast enough that fans of the place don't get bored before the next change comes through. And, c'mon, a breakfast joint without eggs Benny? That's ridiculous.

Schlegel and I talked about that, and about his new pancake and omelette offerings, and about what he's going to do to make the lunch menu less dull. For starters, he's instituting a seasonal bump to his board, with the first one set to take effect mid-July and other changes coming with shifts in the weather. "The thing is, those menus are all written," he said. "They're all waiting. And now that my kitchen and my crew have gotten comfortable with the business, they're like, 'Come on. We're ready for the challenge.'"

According to Schlegel, he and chef/partner Brenda Buenviaje traveled and tested extensively before rolling out Snooze's original menu. But I think they could have learned plenty without ever leaving Denver. Between places like Davies Chuck Wagon Diner ("Nothing Could Be Finer," June 8), Pete's Kitchen, Mama's Cafe, the Breakfast King, Zaidy's (see Second Helping) and now Lucile's, Denver has a fine and upstanding tradition of great breakfast joints. We have good real diners and good retro diners, early-morning ethnic spots and nouvelle hipsterias full of facial piercings and arugula. And if Schlegel and Buenviaje were really looking for a little culinary inspiration, they didn't need to go any farther than 12 East Eleventh Avenue, where Metro Kitchen + Bar opened last year in the former home of Fat Daddy and today serves a bill of fare perfectly balanced in all the ways that Snooze's isn't (yet).

Now, I don't much like Metro. During the day, it's often desolate and looks like a temporary cafeteria thrown up inside a building that really wants to be a small, exclusive nightclub, and on the weekends, it's all hat boys and skank as far as the eye can see. But I do like the menu -- a balanced, thoughtful, creative and generally well-executed list of breakfast and lunch dishes that's smart enough to deserve a better location and traditional enough to be comforting despite the room in which it's served. With Mexi-Greek-American influences, it's a diverse lineup that goes easy on the complicated stuff (there's no sauce more intricate than the plain green chile on the breakfast burrito, no ingredient that isn't instantly recognizable to anyone who's eaten out in Denver over the last ten years, as long as at least one of those meals has involved avgolemono soup). The more solid entrees are accented by such lighthearted items as triple-decker PB&J sandwiches (which Snooze should start serving immediately) and chili cheese dogs.

Metro's kitchen is capable of doing pancakes and French toast at the same time without suffering any sort of existential crisis, and it also makes decent French fries (even if the mustard potato salad tastes exactly like the kind you find in the King Soopers deli case). And finally, the signature Metro cheeseburger is one of my favorite burgers in town, mounting a good, mid-rare patty on a sesame bun, then topping that with sliced gyros meat, a fried egg, cheddar cheese and tzatziki sauce. It's basically a big burger with an entire Greek breakfast plate dumped on top of it, and it's amazing.

I hope Schlegel's next menu is good. I really do. And if it isn't? Well, I know exactly where he should go to start planning for next season.

Leftovers: Speaking of new menus, Udi's Bread Bistro in Stapleton (Second Helping, March 9) has a fresh summer board as well, which I wouldn't mention at all except that it looks so freakin' good. Chickpea ravioli with summer tomato sauce and asparagus? Pork chops with creamed corn, collard greens and romesco? Or how about made-to-order hummus, served warm with housemade pickles, fresh bread, olives and tomatoes? This place just continues to surprise me -- pleasantly.

Kevin Taylor's Boulder rendition of Prima opens July 10 at One Boulder Plaza (at the corner of 13th and Walnut streets), and the summer dinner menu (which has been introduced at the Prima in downtown Denver, too) looks interesting and very, very Italian, with a lineup of crudo (most notably a raw diver scallop with preserved lemon and tomato water), antipasti, primi and secondi items, as well as four gourmet pizzas for snackers. Like Luca d'Italia, Prima features app-sized pastas -- such traditional plates as beef-cheek ravioli with prosciutto, gnocchi with sage and walnuts, and squid-ink linguini -- in hopes of getting folks to eat their way through four full courses, including a main of such dishes as striped sea bass with mussel ragout or veal Milanese with porcini risotto and lemon brown butter. The coolest thing about the new menu? It tops out around twenty bucks, and fully half of the plates go for ten dollars or less.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan