Friday, May 7, 2010

Restaurant Review: Two Dog Diner

This article first appeared in the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my Vicinity And Beyond series.

Woof! Woof!

At the corner of Tenacity and Ionosphere sits Two Dog Diner…

The sentence above could be equally at home in a sci-fi novel or in an article about a dining establishment in Prospect. Since this is a newspaper and not a pulp novel, I’ll put away the fiction-writer’s hat and tell you about the food.

If you think a diner is synonymous with a “greasy spoon” restaurant with a neon sign that simply says, “EAT,” think again. This is Prospect, where everything is exactly the way you expect it to be – in that alternate universe you keep hearing about.

Two Dog Diner has the expected long countertop and strong coffee, along with some retro-looking sugar dispensers and baked goods on display under glass.

You’ll find Formica and stainless steel and all the noisy bustling sounds you’d expect. The waitstaff is in jeans and black shirts, a uniform of sorts, but in a casual way. The menu features comfort foods.

It all seems so familiar at first, but then the alternate universe steps in and switches a few details. Yes, the sugar dispensers are old-fashioned but the sugar isn’t white. I’d guess it’s raw cane sugar.

Salt and pepper shakers are interesting and quirky, like you’d might find in some off-the-beaten-path restaurant. More interesting, the shaker sets on neighboring tables were all different. One table had shakers shaped like cowboy boots, another had little glass bears and ours had a white angel for salt and a red devil for pepper.

Like pepper? There was a small device on our table with a spring-loaded top for grinding your own pepper, fresh. Greasy spoons never bothered with fresh spices. And just before food arrived, the waitress brought ketchup and Cholula hot sauce to our table, while a nearby table had Tabasco delivered.

On a breakfast visit, my companion and I both ordered potato pancakes with eggs. Eggs are eggs, and these were over easy, just as ordered. When I asked my companion if he like the potato pancakes, he asked, “What are the green things?” referring to specks of green in the pancakes. Peppers or some fresh herbs were my guesses.

The green specks, whatever they were, added some extra zip. I’m used to them being very potato-y with little extra. These were different enough to remind me that this wasn’t your average diner.

The two pancakes came with a dab of sour cream and a dab of a chunky, cinnamon-y applesauce. A slice of melon and a slice of kiwi added some color. We also got our choice of toast and chose English muffins and sourdough over the more usual white or wheat.

Specials of the day were posted in the window, but from our corner we couldn’t see them and the waitress didn’t mention them to us, so I promptly forgot about them. If you like specials, make sure you look for them.

On the way out, I noticed that one of the specials for the day was a Kobe beef hamburger. Ah, yes, diners usually serve burgers, but Kobe beef? Maybe we’re looking at diner of the future. Cue Twilight Zone music, please. I can hear the voice… “On a street corner in an unmapped area known as Vicinity…”

But fantasy aside, a good diner has to serve a good lunch, so I made a second visit, and this time made myself comfortable at the counter where I could watch the food being cooked.

After looking at the flat-top grill in action, I had no choice but order a cheeseburger and fries. I noticed that some of the cookware showed signs of much use; a good sign in a diner, but odd since this place is fairly new.

As before, the service was good, and the staff was friendly without being annoying. The burger arrived cooked to perfection, with tomato, pickles, lettuce and raw red onion on the side. Ketchup and two bottles of mustard (yellow and Dijon) arrived on time. The fries looked suspiciously fresh.

One bite, and I was hooked. This is what a burger in a diner is all about. Paul Roberts, the owner, commented about my camera as I was taking some photos. When I said that I was writing an article, he offered to answer questions. I took him up on that after I finished stuffing my face.

Roberts said that he used to own a restaurant in California, and when he had landlord problems, he moved all of the equipment to Colorado for Two Dog Diner. So that’s not fake patina on the cooking equipment.

He also said everything in the restaurant is cooked fresh, including the fries. In fact, the only freezer is the one used to store for ice cream. Roberts buys bread from a Boulder bakery, but the cinnamon buns, cakes, pies and muffins are baked in-house.

As for the spiffy salt and pepper shakers and the spring-loaded pepper grinder that I was so enamored with, Roberts said that he got all of them at House, a nearby store that his wife owns.

Two Dog Diner is located at 645 Tenacity Drive in Prospect. For information, call 303-772-2dog (303-772-2364).