Ronald Brooks slices smoked brisket in the kitchen at Brooks Smoke House in Aurora, Co. (Photo by Kim Long)
(This story originally appeared in Edible Front Range Magazine)
By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Oct.27, 2014 Lafayette CO) – Never underestimate the power of getting lost in pursuit of a decent meal.
Through chance, serendipity and a truly bad sense of direction, I’ve recently stumbled upon hidden gems – Front Range restaurants and bakeries that should be famous.
I got to taste the Sudan Café’s marvelous koshary because I turned around in its parking lot after making a wrong turn in Aurora.
I love easy parking, wide chairs, climate control, wine with dinner, and attentive, but unobtrusive, service. I also find it boring, safe and predictable. My off-the-beaten-track favorites can be, charitably, a little lacking in the ambience and location departments. Many dwell in faceless strip malls; Brooks Smoke House BBQ is literally in Ronald Brooks’ backyard.
Whatever they lack in comfy ambience, the cool places exude in flavor, authenticity, longevity, and the connection that comes from having hands’-on owners and families running the place.
If you’re searching for the next undiscovered Front Range attraction, I recommend hitting the road and making a U-turn.
Sudan Café and Bakery
Middle Eastern and African influences converge on the menu at one of the few Sudanese restaurants on the Front Range. The Sudan Café’s wonderful foul (pronounced “fool“) sandwich middles slices of house-baked whole grain bread with pureed, spiced beans. Their version of koshary, an Egyptian dish, is a comfort food jumble of short macaroni, brown rice and lentils crowned with fried crisp onions and a thick tomato sauce with a chile accent. Vegan dishes abound on the menu and the truly sunny Sudanese owners stress using organic ingredients. Finish up with a tart, sweet red hibiscus drink and a sugar-dusted cookie. The bakery also makes and serves tart, spongey Ethiopian flatbread.
10375 E. Iliff Ave., Aurora; 303-337-7409
Nearby taste attraction: Sunburst Grill, 2295 S. Chambers Road, the metro area’s only Filipino eatery.
Halo halo at the Sunburst Grill in Aurora CO. (Photo by Kim Long)
Brooks Smokehouse BBQ
Before I first saw the well-worn trailer with a smoking chimney parked next to a house in a modest Aurora neighborhood, I caught a whiff of this sweet, woody, meaty, intoxicating aroma. In this unexpected venue, Ronald and Louella Brooks serve righteous barbecue on weekends in season at their house and catering kitchen. Fall apart brisket and pork, bone-in chicken and ribs emerge from Ronald’s smoker. A lot of folks get meals to go but you also sit in the yard and enjoy Cajun-style smoked gator, crawfish etouffee and sweet coleslaw with pineapple. And Louella’s cakes and pies are a must.
800 Oakland St., Aurora; 303-367-0336
Note: Open weekends only spring through fall. Always call ahead.
Walking into Babette’s my first thought was: “Why are all the baked goods burned?“ The loaves are dark, not black but are a very deep brown. Even the irregularly shaped croissants are singed a bit. Once I tasted Babette’s loaves and pastries I understood and fell for the deep, caramelized flavor and nuanced chew that baker Steve Scott coaxes out of these serious artisan goods. They’re expensive and well worth it. Give me a Babette’s baguette and a chunk of unsalted French butter and I’m a happy guy.
Nearby taste attractions:
The Source, locavore heaven in a converted warehouse, also features one of Denver’s best new restaurants (Acorn
), a top Mexican cantina (Comida
), a notable brewery (Crooked Stave
) and a first class coffee shop (Boxcar
Beer-friendly fare shines at Euclid Hall in Denver Co. (Photo by Kim Long)
Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen
Farm-to-table, head-to-hoof, locavore fare doesn’t get any more direct than bones roasted until the marrow inside melts into butter that you scoop out with toast. This primal treat – sold by the bone – is on Euclid’s menu along with pad Thai pig ears, poutine with foie gras, and house made sausages and mustards. Set in a warm, renovated building, Euclid Hall boasts a craft brew and artisan spirits menu as serious as the food.
Nearby taste attraction: Euclid Hall owners Jennifer Jazinski and Beth Gruitch just opened Stoic & Genuine, a seafood and oyster bar, in Denver’s renovated Union Station.
Westerkamp’s Steak House and Meat Market
Blink and you’ll miss this classic restaurant located in an otherwise industrial and commercial area in north Denver. It looked like a dubious choice to me until I saw people streaming out with white takeout containers and large, paper-wrapped hunks of meat. The meat market and very casual eatery are both in one room in this historic building so the freshly ground beef for their fine burgers and the well-marbled porterhouse steaks don’t have far to go to get cooked properly. Don’t miss the traditional green chile and pork and the grilled hot pastrami sandwiches.
Nearby taste attraction: Happy Leaf Kombucha tasting room, 3519 Brighton Blvd, Denver.
East Coast Pizza and Bakery
As a half-Sicilian-American native New Englander, my standards for anything advertised as “East Coast Italian” are pretty fierce. East Coast Pizza passes the eggplant Parmesan grinder test with flying colors. The garlic knots are quite addictive and the baked goods are the real deal from the soft macaroons and crunchy biscotti to tri-color cake and ricotta pie.
I was just looking for some dinner when I walked into tiny Udon Kaisha tucked away in a strip mall in Lafayette, the city where I had just moved. After a few bites of warm okonomiyaki (savory pancake) and unfiltered cold sake, I started feeling right at home. It’s worth finding this spot just for the slick chewy curry udon noodles with pork, tofu, bean sprouts and green onions. I’ve also developed a hankering for takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and the grilled yellowtail collar.
191 W. South Boulder Road, Lafayette; 303-665-1712; udonkaishaco.com
Nearby attraction: Gluten-free fried chicken, craft brew and pie at The Post, 105 W. Emma St., Lafayette.
Tifffins India Café
It’s hard for any eatery in Boulder to remain undiscovered but Tiffins has managed to remain invisible. Even serious foodies say “Huh?” when I tell them this storefront dishes some sigh-worthy Indian fare. I love the big masala dosa crepes filled with spiced potatoes and the chicken vindaloo which manages to be full of spice without being hellishly hot. I’m always happy to have the lentil soup with vada (a savory doughnut) or idli, the steamed rice cakes. I’d make a meal of the hot garlic naan laced with fresh garlic and cilantro and various chutneys ranging from cool and sweet to puckery tart and fierce. The menu is full of first class, exotic dishes that just happen to be vegan and gluten-free.
2416 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder; 303-442-2500; tiffinsrestaurant.com
Nearby taste attraction: Empanadas with chimichurri sauce at Rincon Argentino, 2525 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder.