In need of a warm up

Ella Fine Diner is a double-sweatered sword on a cold day

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Boulder’s sunshine is legendary. Which makes its cloudy days hit that much harder. And when they do, Boulder’s wide variety of salads and smoothies just won’t cut it. Grey skies and plunging barometers demand comfort food.

That urge was what lead this reporter into Ella Fine Diner just off Broadway in North-ish Boulder for a warm-up lunch on a recent cloudy day.

However, on that visit, Ella was only marginally less chilly than the great outdoors. Perhaps my dining companion and I were just seated in a drafty corner, or the heat was just down. Heck, maybe they figured they live in sunny Boulder and disconnected the thermostat altogether, preferring to live free and unencumbered, but whatever the case, it can’t be denied that it was every bit as much sweater weather inside as it was on the patio.

The large picture windows at the restaurant’s storefront also created an odd ambiance, as they let in loads of lovely natural light, or loads of natural gray if that’s what the sun has to offer. The decor was a pairing of modern industrial with a lot of greenery in the windows, and felt comfortable and zen, especially thanks to a series of soundtraps mounted to the wall to absorb ambient sonic clutter, but the overcast day ensured everything inside was lit for an intimate dinner rather than a high noon lunch. That said: it is thoroughly lovely on a brighter day.

But what physical comfort was lacking that chilly day at Ella was available on the menu. Breakfasts covered American standards like omelettes, benedicts and chicken fried steak using ingredients largely sourced from local and sustainable vendors. The lunch and dinner menu went the comfort food route, with hot sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and American meat and potatoes style plates.

My dining companion and I decided to split a bowl of Matzoh Ball soup, which was dressed up with chunks of carrot and chicken in a rich broth. Only one thing: Lance Armstrong-like, there was only one ball. While I can appreciate the aesthetics of the single ball, when it’s gone, suddenly it’s not matzoh ball soup anymore, and that is a sad, sad moment. 

For the main course, I went for the wild lasagna, ($9.75 lunch, $10.75 dinner), made with ground buffalo, beef, wild boar and spinach layered with tomato sauce and lasagna noodles, and served with a side of sauteed kale. The square of heaven that came back was just the thing for a cold day, with chunks of tomato big enough that it could have easily been mistaken for ratatouille.

My dining companion ordered a slab of Fun Guy Meatloaf ($9.50 lunch, $10.50 dinner), which came with a side of incredibly buttery mashed potatoes and chicken gravy, and the same side of sauteed kale. T’was just right, featuring beef loaded up with portobello and crimini mushrooms for a rich flavor that was surprisingly light for meatloaf. With a dollop of potatoes on top, one could almost forget the Never Ending Story-like dreariness that lurked outside.

Ella’s food definitely delivered the warm-up I needed to survive the cloudpocalypse, and it did so without much of the heavy feeling that often comes with American cuisine. But about that thermostat…

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