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Posted: January 01, 2011

Small biz: Amid portion concern, here’s to restaurants that still think big

Mike Taylor

A friend and I have a ritual we call our "traditional breakfast" in which we meet at Pete's Kitchen on East Colfax every Sunday morning.

There's much to recommend: immediate seating if you arrive before 9, coffee cups kept constantly full, plus walls covered with photos of owner Pete Contos posing with Carmelo Anthony of the Nuggets, ex-Broncos quarterbacks John Elway and Jay Cutler, and actress Drew Barrymore, to name a few.

But most importantly, the food at Pete's is not only good, the portions are huge. Whether it's the smothered breakfast burrito with green chili or the three-egg Kitchen Omelet, the meals at Pete's cover the whole plate.

Volume is no small consideration to me - we're in a recession, after all - which is why my other favorite dining spots include Chipotle featuring burritos the size of a youth football, and Crown Burger on South Colorado Boulevard boasting the massive pastrami-topped Royal Burger.

And yet, online diet columns like Men's Health's "Eat This, Don't Eat That" rip Chipotle despite its mostly natural ingredients because of its oversized burritos, and the column dismisses other restaurants on similar grounds.

I couldn't agree less. A few weeks ago I stopped at the grocery store and picked up three microwavable, "Eating Right"-brand TV dinners: chicken tamale with green chile verde sauce; five-grain chicken with plum sauce; and turkey lasagna. They sounded great, tasted OK. I ate all three of them, 970 calories total. They barely hit the spot. I don't see anything laudable about comically tiny meals even if they are healthy as advertised.

I bring this up in a small-business column as an appreciation of restaurants that haven't given in to what seems to be a nationwide crusade for portion reduction.

And yet I also realize that discussing dietary and portion beliefs can get messy, as I found out last summer on a road trip with a woman friend to Southwest Colorado. We were famished after a hike in the San Juans, so we made our way to a bar and grill in downtown Durango. Though my friend is a workout fanatic who normally eschews carbs and counts calories, on this occasion she ordered a one-third-pound cheeseburger with fries and wolfed the burger down in short order.

I was impressed, and told her so.

"I'm glad you're not one of those women who eats like a little bird," I said as she started in on her french fries. She did not take that as a compliment.

"I hate it when guys say that," she fumed, waving a clenched french fry at me. "Because if I ate like this all the time, I'd gain a bunch of weight and you wouldn't want anything to do with me!"
Apparently you have to be careful what you say about a person's dietary habits, just like you do when bringing up politics and religion. In fact, the great novelist Larry McMurtry observed that food, after a couple generations of decline, has become a form of theology:

First and foremost, fat - or Satan - had to be
driven out. (Visit a supermarket in Brentwood, Santa Monica, or Beverly Hills and you will soon see how successful this crusade has been: You can walk until you drop without seeing any food that will admit to having fat in it.)

Food that was just plain good gave way to food that was good for you. The suggestion that fat-free food will save you from death - perhaps not forever but certainly for a long time - is everywhere present in supermarkets, most of which are kept spotless, with uniformed security guards in the parking lots to turn away the homeless; that is, the conspicuously unsaved. The supermarkets themselves are more and more like churches; a few even have holistic therapies available for those whose spiritual life needs immediate attention.

Buying a pound of bacon in one of these stores will
usually draw frowns: You will reveal yourself to be an apostate. One has to try hard to take the long view at such times, to remember that health food orthodoxies don't really do as much harm as religious orthodoxies. Perhaps, in the end, they are only curiosities, like the tulip mania that seized the Dutch people in the seventeenth century."

Amen. Now pass me the hot sauce.
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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

I have been all over this state traveling for a living and have tried breakfast almost everywhere. I got to say that Pete's is a great place but, the King Chef Diner in Colorado Springs tops even them. You want to talk about an owner who has come through this recession in great form, try looking outside of denver. The King Chef Diner has been named tastiest breakfast in Colorado by Food Network Magazine in 2010. This is only one example of what I know them to be famous for. The King Chef is known for its Huge portions and amazing food quality. You should try and get out of Denver more often By FOOD SNOB on 2011 01 07

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