Cafe Society

You Go, Girl

You can bet that while Wally and the Beav were washing up for supper, June wasn't busy ripping the lids off to-go containers. And no way did Ward stop by the takeout market after a hard day at the office to pick up some ready-made pasta and sauce. Making dinner was women's work -- and work it was.

For concrete proof that times have changed, stop by Diane's Good To Go some night and watch modern-day Cleavers shop for their evening's repast.

At supermarkets these days, the prepackaged sections far outnumber the areas given over to raw goods, and over the past decade, upscale takeout spots have popped up across the country. Diane's takes that concept and does it one better: This is a "market" whose primary product is ready-made gourmet meals in microwaveable containers -- restaurant-quality food that's been cooked almost all the way through, with just a final heating necessary to bring it back to life. The need for that last bit of cooking is what distinguishes Diane's from other to-go places that cook their food all the way through; because Diane's offerings haven't already been brought to their last, driest stages, there's a chance that they will actually still taste fresh after a quick trip to the microwave.

Smart idea. But then, owner Tom Moxcey had decades of restaurant savvy behind him when he opened Diane's Good To Go -- named after his partner and wife of 36 years -- this past November. From his start as a waiter in the Cork and Cleaver chain, Moxcey ultimately became a member of the Concept Restaurants Inc. team headed by Frank Day, who put Moxcey in a variety of management positions that included work with Old Chicago and the Walnut and Rock Bottom breweries. Moxcey was president of Rock Bottom Inc. when the brewpub chain went public in 1994 -- Day has since bought it back -- and he stayed on for four years after that. But two years ago he felt the urge to do something on his own, and it was then that the idea for Diane's sprouted.

"I kept thinking that there is a market for folks who have grown accustomed to restaurant food -- those flavors and quality -- who don't want to make an evening out of getting that kind of food," says Moxcey. "And they don't have the time or the patience or the know-how to cook it, so I wanted to tap into that. And I think that thus far, my theory has been proven correct."

I'll say. There are now two Diane's -- one on Sixth Avenue and one on South University -- and both are always filled with folks milling around the display cases, scoping out the possibilities. Business is so good that Moxcey plans to open another Diane's in Highlands Ranch by the end of May and one in the Happy Canyon area by the end of June; there's also a deal in the works for the Golden Triangle. None of these spots will have kitchens, per se. Everything for Diane's is prepared at a commissary in Broomfield, where Moxcey himself stops every morning, filling his refrigerated truck with the specific items each store will need that day.

Moxcey, a couple of consulting chefs and executive chef Craig Wert worked together to come up with the recipes for those items. And each almost-finished product includes cooking instructions on the label, simple heating steps that are supposed to ensure the perfect result. While the times aren't always right on -- Moxcey says he hopes people will use them as guidelines and tailor the heating process to their own ovens -- they're close enough that anyone with a reasonable sense of time and temperature can finish the job and sit down to dinner within fifteen minutes of walking in the door.

Not all of Diane's offerings require cooking, either. The markets sell everything from tri-color tortilla chips ($2.95 a bag) and a mildly spicy, well-melded tomatillo salsa ($2.50 per eight-ounce container) to soups and salads, a roster of dozens of main courses and side dishes that changes daily, and desserts, including chocolate-chunk "cookies tartar " ($3.75 for a dozen). Made by Diane herself, the little frozen rounds of dough fill your house with the scent of warm goodness within minutes of going into the oven. (I had to leave them there about five minutes longer than the recommended fifteen-minute maximum on the label.)

All of this goodness doesn't come cheap. The Cleavers would have fed their family of four for a total of $8 -- on meat night. On a recent stop at Diane's, enough beef stroganoff ($8.95 per pound), fettuccine ($2.95 per pound), Caesar salad ($8 a large), steamed broccoli ($2.25 per pound) and cheesecake ($3.95 a slice) to feed four people cost close to $60. But our dinner was fabulous: Sweet, creamy stroganoff sauce had soaked into the tender beef chunks; the fettuccine reheated perfectly; the rich, parmesan-chunky Caesar was still crunchy and cold; the broccoli had retained its color and flavor; and the cheesecake was heaven in a wedge. Beyond that, it took only fifteen minutes at the store and twelve minutes at home to make our meal happen, and the only dishes we dirtied were the ones we needed to put the food on the table. What price convenience? (And remember, you're also paying the price for employees who must make more than $2.02 an hour because they don't get tips -- something that you aren't paying.)

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner

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