An Open and Shut Case
[from January 2002 issue]

Advice: Call ahead when you plan to eat at Colorado Kitchen. On second thought, that may not even ensure you'll find that someone's in the kitchen with Dinah. Better yet, just take your chances that you'll find the lights on and the crowds a-bustling inside.

Despite the answering phone message that the kitchen serves lunch on Fridays, the restaurant was definitely closed on a recent Friday noontime, though several of us knocked gingerly on the front door, hoping that it would spring open at our touch. It seems that Fridays are the only days you'll find lunch served here; otherwise, you can count on breakfasts nearly every day, brunch on the weekends, and dinners most nights of the week.

When the cook's in, Colorado Kitchen becomes the working man's answer to downtown eats and plenty of American nostalgia at prices that are welcome in these dark and gloomy recessional days. Besides, you've got to come to terms with the fact that most things are made from scratch here, probably better even than Mom's home cooking.

Let's start with the fresh donuts, tonged from the deep-fryer and served hot with these toppings: chocolate icing, honey with toasted nuts, and a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar. Seldom would eating three donuts at one sitting make much sense, but these hot pastries are heavenly.

So, too, are the sweetish fresh biscuits that come alongside brunch orders or with breakfasts. In fact, a weekend brunch may be just the ticket, and on this menu, you'll find French toast; three eggs with your choice of hash browns, bacon and sausage, or sirloin steak; Eggs Benedict; fried fish with hash browns; and my favorite, three jumbo shrimp with garlic-cheese grits. I am not a particular fan of grits, and this soupy concoction that pools in the plate won't make me a convert. But at least these grits have character and color, and with the boost from the garlic, can stand up to the stir-fry of diced scallions and tomatoes that embellish the very large fried shrimp. This is a winning combination, and while arguably more lunch than breakfast fare, that's OK at a meal that's equally breakfast and lunch. The donuts are an extra order, but should not preclude dessert.

Given the restaurant's homey atmosphere, you wouldn't really expect to find a lavish dessert cart with trendy Key Lime pie or tiramisu. Instead, the cook turns to such Americana favorites as sweet potato pie, apple crisp, New York cheesecake, and a somewhat disappointing pineapple upside-down cake. The last can be a real American classic with its pineapple underside slick with the melted butter and brown sugar that act as a pineapple frosting. Too bad the Colorado Kitchen's version was dry rather than moist, with a too-thin sugar-pineapple coating. Nevertheless, all this food puts you into the naptime mindset, so before you nod off over coffee and the morning paper, it's time to pay up and head out.

If you are considering other meals here, the Washington Post’s restaurant reviewer has reported that the burgers are sumptuous, but served only on special occasions or Friday lunchtime. Otherwise, homey entrées include oven-braised meatloaf with mashed potatoes, seared salmon, fried shrimp and scallops with a winter coleslaw, and pork chops with brandy and brown sugar. The cook also prepares "small plates," such as a ham and gruyere napoleon or homemade noodles with your choice of a chicken or shrimp curry as a topping. Check the menu for those dishes marked as "kid sizeable" meals.

As for the décor, it's in keeping with the Recession Era no-frills way of life. Boasting a small dining counter that fronts into the open kitchen, the restaurant also sports a handful of tables, seating maybe 60 people maximum. Red bandanas serve as napkins and the exposed pipes are painted bright red. And the trimmings? Framed old-fashioned food ads, a statue of Pillsbury's Dough Boy (or whatever it's called), and a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup.

Colorado Kitchen, 5515 Colorado Ave., NW (bet. 14th & Longfellow Sts.); tel., 545-8280. Open: Tue.-Thu., breakfast & dinner; Fri., breakfast, lunch & dinner; Sat. & Sun., brunch & dinner. Entrée prices: $9.50-$17.

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