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|September 4-10, 2008
• Home economics
Back to the meal-making grind as school starts again
by Kathy Martin
• Vilified vittles reconsidered
Some foods with a bad rap not as bad as we thought
by Janet Helm
The heart of Dixie lives at Leenie’s
by Clay Fong
Depending on who you talk to, the term “Southern cuisine” can mean different things. For example, there’s the piquant Creole and Cajun dishes such as gumbo and po’ boy sandwiches as well as the collard greens and chitlins of the soul food kitchen. One also can’t forget the prodigious breakfasts and lunches washed down with sweet iced tea that are a hallmark of Southern hospitality. I’d been hearing Leenie’s Southern Café in Longmont covered many of these bases, and decided to investigate further with my friend Juanito.
The sparse sign simply reading “Café” and Leenie’s location in a strip mall behind a Village Inn were encouraging signs — the owners had hopefully invested in the food instead of on a high-profile location or fancy exterior. Inside, it was simple and cozy in the fashion of a textbook roadside café. A perusal of the menu offered further reassurance — while there weren’t any soul food offerings, there were such Southern standbys as biscuits and gravy and Mississippi-fried catfish with hushpuppies. Louisiana was amply represented by gumbos, po’ boys, pain perdu and other selections such as beignets, New Orleans’ cousin to the donut.
After ordering, our cheerful server brought a sizable hunk of cornbread and an equally large fresh-baked biscuit to the table. Juanito’s cornbread was prepared just the way I like it, with a more-grainy-than-cake-like texture and a pleasant flavor that wasn’t too sweet. The biscuit was perfection with an airy yet crumbly texture; it was the perfect foil to jam or butter.
Juanito choose a lunch of $6.25 gumbo plus a slight upcharge for adding oysters. A meal in itself, the soup’s dark earth-tone appearance and hearty flavor was a spot-on recreation of the versions found in venerable Louisiana Junior League cookbooks. The oysters appeared to be West Coast specimens from a jar, but this didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the dish. “That’s good gumbo,” I said. Juanito’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Are you kidding? Brother, this is the best you’ll get in Colorado.”
A $2.25 side of red beans and rice, Louis Armstrong’s favorite dish, didn’t live up to the standard set by the gumbo. This dish was oversalted, and it didn’t have the smoky flavor of ham hocks, which I consider an absolutely vital ingredient for this speciality.
On the other hand, an $8.25 breakfast entrée of chicken-fried chicken with grits and two eggs sunny-side up was a revelation. The buttery grits were as good as you’ll get this side of the Mason-Dixon line and the eggs were prepared with a runny yolk, my personal preference. Both the yolk and cream gravy were perfect for dipping the biscuit. Simply put, the lightly breaded and delicately fried chicken breast was everything fried chicken ought to be. Unlike most fast-food versions, the batter was crisp without being overbearing, and the meat itself was tender and moist without even a hint of stringiness or dryness.
Neither Juanito and I are Southerners by any stretch of the imagination, but we both know what we like. Leenie’s left a favorable impression on both of us with such generously portioned dishes like the revelatory chicken-fried chicken. While Longmont might be far from the heart of Dixie, Leenie’s serves up reasonably priced meals expressing the best spirit of Southern cooking and hospitality.
Leenie’s Southern Café
625 Ken Pratt Blvd., Longmont, 303-776-4195
Clay’s obscurity corner
The term “chicken-fried chicken” conjures up a small existential crisis. After all, isn’t all fried chicken “chicken-fried chicken”? Apparently not. Chicken-fried chicken (CFC) is a cousin of chicken-fried steak (CFS), which likely appeared on the tables of German immigrants in Texas, paying homage to wienerschnitzel. Basically, CFS is a piece of sirloin prepared in the style of fried chicken. Given CFS’s dubious reputation as a “heart attack on a plate,” those more inclined towards health substituted chicken for beef. Hence, things came full circle and CFC was born, distinguished from those chicken pieces prepared as plain old fried chicken.
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