Denver’s Lucile’s: Food From the Bayou

It’s mid-morning on a Tuesday when I find myself succumbing to another Lucile’s lure. A buttermilk biscuit, to be precise, coupled with an oversized mug of foamy house made Chai. I’ve been a fixture at the Creole joint for three days running, plunking myself down at the bar and making myself fat on butter, beignets, grits, cornbread and buttermilk biscuits.

Fletcher Richards — svelte, handsome and attired in a pressed suit that belies Lucile’s casual ambiance — saunters in and snags the stool next to me. Richards, it happens, owns Lucile’s — or, rather, four Lucile’s, including his flagship restaurant in Boulder, which has been dishing out southern lagniappe to ravenous crowds for nearly 25 years.

He tells me that business is swell, a claim that’s echoed by a gaggle of giddy girlfriends who sheepishly admit to brunching here two days in a row. Who can blame them? Who can blame me?

This is what happens when you plant a humble neighborhood restaurant serving terrific food from the Bayou in a high-traffic neighborhood hungry for smoky collard greens, fried oysters and robust crawfish etouffee. On weekends, it’s one of the most crowded and exuberant restaurants in the city.

The southern-styled restaurant features Mardi Gras prints, ragtime music and unforgettable buttermilk biscuits.

Salivating diners spill into the waiting area and onto the patio. To call Lucile’s a phenomenon is not a stretch. And those immortal buttermilk biscuits? Consider them a rite of passage.

Lucile’s is a jovial place, with a lively staff that’s long on charm. They’re smart with details, like warming your mug with hot water before filling it up with the terrific chicory coffee. Walk through the door and mingled aromas of piquant peppers, aggressive spices and fresh-baked cornbread waft from the kitchen.

And the subtly southern space, cooked up with jazzy elements — instruments mounted to the butter-hued walls, Mardi Gras prints and ragtime piano music filtering through the speakers — is filled with people happy to let the good times roll. I could quite possibly eat here every day.

My hunch is that some people do. They, like me, can’t get enough of the marvelous eggs Sardou plated with plump shrimp, cream-kissed mounds of spinach and irreproachably poached, yolky eggs draped with a buttery, lemon-tinged scratch-made hollandaise.

Connoisseurs of eggs Benedict will find star-quality beauty in the griddled, salt-caressed ham straddling a butter-toasted and slightly charred English muffin, and the fried oysters — crisp-crusted, light and set aloft soft scrambled eggs and steamed spinach — would make Rockefeller proud.
Altogether decadent is the pain perdu, glorious French toast glossed with pure maple syrup, and sided with a bulging link of spicy Louisiana sausage. And though I fully realize my arteries are being pushed to their limits, I also love the buttermilk biscuits blanketed with an indelible pepper-pelted gravy flecked with sausage bits.

A detail-oriented staff and a mouthwatering brunch menu keep diners returning to this neighborhood spot.

I have tried the gumbo three times. It’s a refined, urbane version, laden with ham, Andouille sausage and the “holy trinity” of vegetables, and served with a dollop of rice. But only once has it arrived hot, and as the soup cools, the flavors dwindle.

But I’m enamored with the shrimp and saffron grits, and I’m a sucker for the crawfish etouffee riddled with succulent tails submerged in a deep-hued sauce singed with just a hint of heat.

There are po’boys and sandwiches like the muffaletta, a seam-busting tower of ham, salami, provolone and mozzarella smeared with a chunky olive salad. It’s a fine rendition, but the ciabatta on which it’s served was so stale and hard, I wanted to shoot it with a voodoo pin.

In my mind, the buttermilk biscuits slathered with fresh fruit jam and butter mimic dessert, but to rightly honor the pleasures of the Big Easy, you’d better offer beignets, which Lucile’s does by virtue of magnificent oven-hot swelled pillows doused with powdered sugar. They will make your eyes glaze over, your heart race and your waist pop. And then, tomorrow, you can do it all over again.

If You Go

Lucile’s
For a list of locations with addresses and hours, visit the restaurant website. www.luciles.com

Lori Midson, Colorado AvidGolfer’s restaurant critic (www.coloradoavidgolfer.com), makes a career out of wining and dining her away around Denver, where she lives, a city ripe with culinary surprises. She is a frequent contributor to Sunset and CITY, the local editor of numerous Zagat Surveys, and the Denver dining writer for AOL CityGuide. Midson, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism, has also written for other publications including 5280 magazine, Executive Travel and EnCompass.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.

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