Saturday, January 19, 2008

Muy Caliente!

Cafe Caliente
3701 West 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

It's a glorious weekend here in Denver. Mostly because I have the privilege of spending it with Rachael. Thanks to the good Dr. King, we were able to make it a four day weekend of togetherness in Denver. It wouldn't be a proper weekend without a Saturday morning meal out, so Rachael and I ventured out for a two-person breakfast club.

Since I am new to the Denver scene, I have do my homework before departure. It isn't practical (is it ever?) to do the "let's drive around aimlessly until we find a place". Maybe after I've lived here for a while. Last night I did my internet research (no citysearch this time dagnabit!) and found a place that had incredible potential. We were destined for DJ's Berkeley Cafe. I was very excited, the food looks fantastic and it was in a totally new to me part of Denver. Two very hungry club member's pulled up in front of DJ's at 9:30. Closed. How could a breakfast place be closed on a Saturday morning at 9:30 am? Well, a very nice sign on the door informed us that on January 13th, a small kitchen fire broke out. Luckily there were no injuries and DJ's is fully insured. They are working feverishly to repair the damage and hope to be open in the near future. While this was encouraging to hear and I am looking forward to returning to DJ's after the repairs are complete, I was not exactly pleased to be walking back to the car, sans breakfast. Now I was hungry, a little grumpy, in a completely unknown part of town, and the clock was ticking towards melt-down time. The day was further complicated by a previously planned obligation of moving assistance at 12. The clock was ticking literally and figuratively.

My love, Rachael, has many quirks. Many that I love and many that I love but also drive me crazy. One of the "love but drive me crazy" quirks, is her affinity for the wild goose chase. On more than one occasion, she will decide that she wants to go to a place. She'll tell me that she doesn't know EXACTLY where it is, but is pretty sure of it's general location. Once this decision is made, we will spend the next 30, 45, 60, 90 minutes driving around somewhat aimlessly with Rachael saying things like:

"Hmmm, this doesn't look right, I think it is to the right"
"This looks familiar, I think if we go left for a while we will see it"
"Do you remember that one time we went to that clothing store? I think it was by that place"
"No, this is wrong, I think we were supposed to turn a few blocks ago"

The success rate of the Rachael wild goose chase hovers around 50%. My patience of the Rachael wild goose chase ranges from 0% to 100%, depending on my mood and hunger level. So as we got back into the car and Rachael said to me, "I remember one of Selena's friends lived in Denver in this area, I bet we can find another good place if we just drive around for a while", I was decidedly sceptical. However, without any other better ideas or any energy to fight, I acquiesced.

In a delightfully surprising turn of events, she quickly directed me to the Highland town square and we agreed to park, walk around and eat at the first open, somewhat appealing looking restaurant that we found. We were immediately drawn to a place that was located inside a house and advertised coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and paninis. The place was Cafe Caliente and it was wonderful.

The setting is fantastic, I am a sucker for establishments that are located in houses. Especially coffee shops. I love the warm, inviting feel. It is nice to feel like you can settle down and spend as much time there are you desire. No one is going to rush you through your meal and try to turn the table over for new customers. Very refreshing,

Cafe Caliente is more coffee shop than restaurant, but manages to serve a quality selection of breakfast options. They have a variety of bagel sandwiches and just bagels (obviously), a nice selection of quiches, and paninis. The coffee is completely self serve, you even get to choose your own mug and to say that they have an eclectic assortment is an understatement.

The service was wonderful. The woman who took our order was very cheerful with a charming, slightly crazy tinge. After I ordered my breakfast sandwich, Rachael inquired about the quiche and was informed about the ones on the menu AND a "secret" quiche, not on the menu. When I returned later for my coffee refill, I overheard our server lamenting the fact that her sister thought she was crazy because she liked to talk to her lattes.

I had the breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese,and ham on an everything bagel. It was fabulous. Usually when you get a bagel breakfast sandwich, the bagel is tough and has been toasted all to hell. This results in the contents of you sandwich exploding out of the back end when you take your first bite (Einstein and Panera, I'm looking at you). This was not the case at Cafe Caliente. The sandwich held together nicely and was delicious.

Rachael had the "secret" quiche (with sausage and potato) and enjoyed it tremendously. The quiche crust was made of layers of filo dough, which meant that it was not gigantic and heavy. It was the perfect size.

Cafe Caliente's only problem is their success. There was only one table available for us and it was kind of jammed in a doorway. This would never work with a group bigger than 3 or 4. If that is the only negative though, they've succeeded.

The grades:
Beau-Bagel sandwich-A-
Rachael-"Secret" quiche-B+

Cafe Caliente is a darling little coffee shop with a surprisingly nice assortment of breakfast food and on this day they might just have saved a marriage.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Minneapolis...

Band Box Diner
729 SE 10th Street

Our crew got a bit of a late start for the Minneapolis version of Breakfast Club today, so we probably ate at exactly the same time as Beau's Denver crew. Judy and I were still out walking the dog at 9:45 when we made the official call to Jimmy to begin the process of getting out the door and meeting for a meal. Judy displayed unusual decisiveness in picking a restaurant, while at the same time describing her choice with such Judy-like obfuscation that it was nearly impossible to tell at which restaurant she so decisively wanted to eat. "You know that place? It's sort of downtown? And it has the small tables? I think it's red. Or maybe the tables are red." Red turned out to be the essential clue. She meant the Band Box. We've eaten at the Band Box several times in the past. In fact, we had a brief love affair with it, because it's such an authentic little diner. I believe there was even a period in our history when we ate at the Band Box twice in the same calendar month, which is a rare compliment indeed.

There's really only one table big enough for us at the Band Box (and it is, in fact, red, as Judy announced with triumph shortly after our arrival). It's not only the largest table there, but the best one, because it's tucked into its own little nook in the restaurant and it has windows on two sides. There was a family sitting there before we arrived, so we stood forlornly next to the second-biggest table, until they offered to switch, which meant moving their two small children, but they did so with such friendly cheerfulness that we didn't even feel too awkward about it. They even offered to take our picture with Rachael's cell phone so she could send it to Denver. They did not accept my invitation to join us for breakfast, but they were still the friendliest next-door table we've ever had.

The waitress was not the friendliest waitress we've ever had. She thoroughly intimidated Perley who was nice enough to ask for water for the table. "Yeah. We're out of glasses," she said tersely. Out of glasses? What? This is way worse than not having milk. When she came back later with two waters, Perley scolded us for not taking them both. Personally, I was just trying to save the precious supply of water glasses.

The wait for food was interminable. In fact, for a period of time, we noticed that not only were we not eating, but everybody else in the place was also waiting for food, and we couldn't even really smell food. We wondered if the cook had had to run to the store while we waited. And waited. This may have been the cause of the waitress's bad mood. All of the other employees must have ditched her and gone to the store, leaving her to placate the masses with just a single pot of coffee (which she slowly rationed out to the tables) and no food or water.

Or maybe she was just having a bad day, because our food did eventually arrive, and it actually had some very bright spots. Rachael declared that Judy's onion rings were the best she's ever had. (Yes, Judy ordered onion rings. Yes, her stomach hurt afterwards. No, we can't blame the Band Box for that, since everyone knows that Judy's stomach can't handle onion rings.) The potatoes were fried with onions so they had good flavor, and they had some crispy bits. I ate my entire plate full of eggs, potatoes, and toast and it was satisfying in a traditional breakfast kind of way. Rachael clearly also enjoyed her breakfast sandwich because she fell into a deep silence which lasted until every last bite was consumed.

When it came time for the secret grading (which Perley now insists must be done by text message, even as we sit together at the same table), here's how it shook down:
Rachael ~ Breakfast Sandwich and one of Judy's onion rings ~ A
Judy ~ BLT and Onion Rings ~ B+
Alex ~ Two eggs over-easy, potatoes, and toast ~ B+
Jimmy ~ Two eggs over-easy, potatoes, toast, and sausage patty (just like his little boy in Denver) ~ B
Perles ~ Two eggs over-easy, potatoes, toast, and bacon ~ C
Fern ~ Big Baby (burger) and fries ~ C (because the burger was so-so and the bun was bad, but the fries were good.)

Sevice was slow. The food-happiness was definitely uneven, but when it comes to a traditional breakfast, the Band Box is a good solid choice. And the tables are undeniably red.

Tomorrow IS only a day away

Annie's Cafe

4012 E. 8th Ave.
Denver, CO

Last semester I was adjusting to being back in school and being away from my beloved. I'm using that as my excuse as to why there is only one review of Denver breakfast places in the last four months. Working your butt off during school takes time, as does pining away for your love. I've pledged that this semester will be different and more positive. And what is more positive and uplifting than two eggs over easy, sausage, potatoes, and toast? Not much.

I decided to invite all of my classmates to become part of the Denver Breakfast Club, as they are my Denver "family". Yesterday morning. Before class. This required that I do research, find a place, figure out where it is, and email my classmates in the 8 minutes I had before class. This required massive internet shortcuts, e.g. Citysearch. I have mixed feelings about Citysearch. It can be a really useful site, but I somehow feel dirty using it. It feels like the kind of website that suburbanites go to find out what is good. I'm afraid that someone will discover that I use Citysearch and demand that I return my "cool kid" ID card (did I ever even have a "cool kid" ID card? Debatable). Nevertheless there is something to be said for the convenience factor, and I didn't have a lot of time.

I quickly settled on Annie's Cafe, I'm a sucker for Retro Diners. Three of my classmates accepted my invtitation, and with the addition of Mel's fiance Andrew, five of us assembeld at Annie's this morning. Five people is a good number (not too big, not too small...juuuuuust right) and it actually felt like a breakfast club meeting. And a very amiable group we were. It was strange to have everyone go around and order something off the menu. There were no special requests or anything.

The first thing that strikes you about Annie's is the cool factor. They are a retro 50's diner in the good sort of way. Not in the trashy Johnny Rocket's sort of way. They've got cool movie posters on the wall, old(e) time advertisements, random toys and antiques, and best of all, a bizarre garland-like string of old-school metal lunch boxes around the restaurant. That is serious awesomeness.

Annie's has everything one would expect from a Diner-style breakfast menu. And then some. How many places do you know of that offer three different types of breakfast burrito? Annie's does, which impressed me greatly. It impressed me so much that I didn't even order the breakfast burrito (intimidated?). Maybe I'm saving it for when Fern comes to visit.

I ordered two eggs over easy, sausage (patties yes!), potatoes, and wheat toast. It was a solid breakfast. The eggs were cooked perfectly, the sausage patties tremendous, and in a positive twist, they did not butter the toast for you. This meant I didn't have toast that felt like it was submerged in molten butter right before being served. Unfortunately the potatoes were terrible. They were the kind of potatoes where they can't decide if they want to make American fries or hash browns, and instead end up somewhere in the middle. There are some intact pieces of potato, some crispy hash brown parts, and then a lot of amorphous potato-like narf. Annie's does get major plus points for putting a jar of Jiff peanut butter on the table. This excited me so much that I altered my approach to ensure that I had one slice of toast left over so I could end my meal with half of a toasted PB&J. You can't beat that.

Before I get to the grades, I must discuss the variety of people's breakfast eating approaches. I am continually amazed at the level of diversity there is to the way one eat eggs, meat, potatoes, and toast. You probably aren't surprised, but I myself have two approaches to eating the standard American breakfast. I have one approach in restaurants and a separate technique for when I am in the privacy of my own home (don't ask). My restaurant approach is to start by creating a hole in my egg yolks. I then use the corner of my toast to dip and eat my yolks. Once I've exhausted the yolk, I eat the remainder of my egg with my meat, and then finish with the potatoes. I know that Perley likes to mash up his eggs and hashbrowns into one big, gloppy mess. Today, I discovered yet another approach. Mel and Andrew used the same technique: they recieved their food and promptly began to mix up their eggs, potatoes, meat, AND toast into one cohesive mass. I had never seen that before and was impressed. Good thing I celebrate diversity.

On to the grades:
Beau-standard breakfast-B- (bad potatoes, surprisingly good coffee though)
Janine-scrambled eggs, cheese, potatoes,toast-B-
Cathy-tamales and eggs-A- (prone to hyperbole, Cathy declared Tamales and Eggs to be the greatest breakfast invention in the history of mankind)
Mel-Annie's Eggs-A
Andrew-standard breakfast-A- (half grade deduction for the lack of water refills)

I'd definitely go back to Annie's and believe that my fellow club member would agree. No place is perfect, but Annie's is darn good. If nothing else, today proved that a Colts fan (Andrew) and a Pats fan (Cathy) could sit down and be nice to each over the course of a meal. At least on a day that they did not face each other. I may be telling a different story next week.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Breakfast Lunch

Note: Don't try to go there. This restaurant is no more.

Cliquot Club Cafe
2929 East 25th Street

We ate breakfast at the Cliquot Club about a year ago. It's a coffee-shop/cafe, and after that first meal we decided that they weren't really ready to be reviewed. I think we may have even called them a "stove-less wonder," because we saw no evidence on the menu or on our breakfast plates that they had a stove top hidden somewhere behind their espresso machine. Given our traditional-breakfast loving crowd, we were rightly skeptical about a breakfast menu that doesn't include fried eggs or potatoes.

Well, it's time to admit that they exist, because since our first visit, the Cliquot Club has become one of my new favorite sandwich spots in Minneapolis. I had a Derby Dunker there two days ago and thoughts of the delicious tomato dipping-sauce have danced in my head ever since. It was garlicky and fresh and flavorful. The sandwiches you should order at the Cliquot Club are the grilled panini sandwiches, and they have about a dozen delicious sounding options, most of which I can't wait to sample. I'm pretty sure there's a sandwich press involved in their creation, because I saw one, and I still didn't see a stove-top even though I (not very subtly) stuck my head all the way around the counter to find it. However, now that I've tasted these sandwiches, I think of the lack-of-stove more as an obstacle the Cliquot Club has valiantly overcome than a ridiculous cooking oversight. The sandwich bread has just the right amount of crunch from the grilling process without being too tough to easily bite through. The cheese is perfectly melted, and the various toppings play well together.

It turns out Minneapolis residents didn't need me to tell them that the Cliquot Club sandwiches are brilliant, because the place gets crowded, which makes me glad, because even during that first substandard breakfast I loved the atmosphere of this small, unassuming place. The service is welcoming and warm without being obsequious, and the lighting and furniture and paint colors all add to the calm, clean, and up-to-date feel of the place. Of course, the "atmosphere" is best on days when you don't get hit by a truck while you're eating, but the Cliquot Club can't really be held responsible for the crazy shit that happened that one day.

I'm still not quite sure about a breakfast place with only baked egg options, but sometimes we get a late start here at Twin Cities Breakfast Club, and we are forced to meet for what we call breakfast-lunch club (or on rare, very late days: breakfast-dinner club). On such a day, the Cliquot Club would be a good choice for us, but be warned that if they have the Derby Dunker special going on again that day, I call dibs on ordering it.