Opinion: An abundance of Grand Valley food to love
WHY WE LIVE HERE
Free Press Opinion Columnist
I’m a foodie. I was born into a family of great cooks, but didn’t realize my predilection until I stumbled upon an Italian joint called Dominick’s, located in the Bronx’s Little Italy, while attending Fordham University.
Dominick’s didn’t have menus. Or prices. Sometimes they would sit you at a table with people that you didn’t know. A waiter would simply tell you what they were serving that night, which was pretty hard to understand since it was all in Italian. You didn’t have choices (this was long before concepts such as “gluten-free” or “vegan”).
The meal began with a big platter of antipasta loaded with meats and cheeses, pickled vegetables, and all kinds of sweet and hot peppers. There was no lettuce in the antipasta, which served as a warmup. This was followed by more platters — eggplant parmesan, Italian sausages, pork chops, peppers, and veal. We were never rushed and the food never ran out. There was always a lot of wine.
At the end of the meal, someone would come over to the table, survey the damage and simply announce a price, such as “$60.” There was no bill and they only took cash. Dominick’s is still there on Arthur Avenue and I wonder what they do when someone asks for gluten-free.
Following graduation, I was stationed at Ft. Polk, La., where I discovered Cajun and Creole cooking. I ate crawfish and boudin and learned to make a roux. Three of my top six meals of all time took place in New Orleans. I met and married my husband in Louisiana, and we served alligator at our wedding. We ate our way across the Southwest for our honeymoon. Our No. 1 meal of all time took place in a tiny restaurant in Bisbee, Ariz. I’ll never forget the wine. Following Louisiana, we spent four years in Oregon just as Portland was becoming a food town. We discovered the concept of “farm to table” restaurants. I realized I loved beets. And kale. Even in a smoothie.
I didn’t know what to expect coming to the Grand Valley, but was pleasantly surprised from the start. The first meal I had in Grand Junction was at Dream Cafe, which won me over the moment I saw the George Nelson Bubble lamps. The Banh Mi sandwich (which, unfortunately, is no longer on the menu) confirmed my first impression.
Having lived in New York City, I was spoiled early on and dutifully spent the next 15 years avoiding pizza all over the country. Imagine my surprise when I discovered not only one fantastic pizza joint, but two — right here in the valley! I have to declare a draw between Pablo’s Pizza and the Hot Tomato Cafe, although I should give honorary mention to the Mandarin Goat Salad at Pablo’s.
Over the years, I’ve built a list of favorite meals across the valley. The New Yorker at Main Street Bagel, the Greek Salad Wrap at Blue Moon Bar & Grille, the White Star roll at Suehiro’s … and did I mention the lunch buffet at Nepal Restaurant? Then there’s Fish Taco Fridays at Taqueria Guadalajara, and the best kept secret at Naggy McGee’s is the hot dog (which isn’t even on the menu). My love of local food does extend outside of downtown — the smoked chicken wings at Palisade Brewing Company and the veal piccata at Enzo’s Pizzeria & Italian Cafe, the mole at Tequila’s, and the stuffed avocado boat at No Coast Sushi.
I’m no food snob. I’m just as happy ordering from a food truck, whether it’s the Crave Food Truck out at Peach Street Distillery or Rubi’s Taco truck next to Sprouts Market.
Bin 707 Foodbar deserves its own column entirely, but if I had to order just one meal, it would definitely be the lamb. No, the duck. Oh, go ahead and order the Bin Burger. Whatever you order, definitely finish it off with the beet ice cream.
And there’s new great food popping up all the time — the Super Dave Sandwich at Baron’s or the Blue Fig Salad at Cafe Sol. The Rockslide revamped their menu and I’m anxious to work my way through it. Even Sabrosa’s is joining in, soon to be serving Costa Rican fare, which I look forward to.
And while the Grand Valley isn’t currently on anyone’s list of major food cities, it isn’t out of the realm to imagine that we could be. We are a fertile oasis in the desert producing world-famous peaches and corn along with plenty of other tasty fruits and vegetables. There are a growing number of incredible chefs working with our local farmers to bring that produce straight from the fields to your plate. Menus across the valley reflect the changing seasons, from early spring to late fall. Simply check out one of the 12 farmers that attend the downtown Farmers Market to know what will be on menus across the valley that evening.
Want to force yourself to be a better cook? Buy into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) such as Field to Fork and you’ll find yourself with an abundance of something wonderful that you never even thought to prepare. Pop-up dinners — the goal of which is to promote the Grand Valley and all of the incredible food, wine, beer, and spirits that we produce here — are no new concept either. Check out West Slope Supper Club for a list of upcoming events or Lee Mathis’ En Fuego dinners to celebrate our burgeoning food scene. After all, it’s why we live here.
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