The Friday night before had been as high as this particular Saturday morning was low, hungover and headache-y. Under mirrored sunglasses my eyes wished the Boulder skies were not so freakin’ sunny and bluebird bright. Standing in line with a typically odd assortment of hippies at Dot’s Diner, I was desperately seeking caffeine and gravy.
(I know that this breakfast happened between 1976, when I arrived in Boulder, and 1978 — the years when the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic took over the town.)
Me, Red Zinger and Susan St. James
Finally at the front of the waitlist at the original Dot’s location on east Pearl Street, I took the only seat available, a single at the cramped counter. The afterglow of excess hung in the air like the cigarette smoke then allowed inside Boulder eateries.
Begging the waitress for coffee before I plopped on the stool, deliverance arrived in a rapidly refilled white china mug. Only then did I turn my head to my right and notice that the lovely young woman next to me was Susan St. James.
St. James was a famous actor at the time, starring with Rock Hudson in the TV series McMillan & Wife. She was here because she starred in national TV ads for Celestial Seasonings, Boulder’s homegrown tea company and sponsor of the bike race.
Gazing into her bloodshot eyes, I realized that she’d also had a very short night and was trying to recover before the public race festivities. Through the blur, we exchanged smiles and nods.
I left her in peace.
Where the folks still get their yolks
Thousands of breakfasts later, I recently found myself with a gravy craving and headed to the eatery’s 28th Street location. I hadn’t dined there in a long time, but it didn’t matter. Time is frozen in a comfortable, unpretentious Boulder past at Dot’s.
Near the front door hangs an off-kilter sign voicing a kind request:
“Please limit rebirthing experience to two hours at the counter on weekends so that others may enjoy the experience.”
I grabbed a roomy booth facing a wall painting depicting the original Dot’s in that converted gas station. The place retains the same diner décor: bumper stickers, artifacts, awards, and classic rock on the sound system.
I love the fact that each table has a black pepper grinder, ketchup, Cholula and a squeeze bottle of the same seedy raspberry jam that has always been served at Dot’s.
I ordered what I always order: a large Southern Breakfast with griddled ham slices, a side of simple, thin, scratch-made white gravy, over-easy eggs, grits, and a big, warm, square buttermilk biscuit I immediately middled with pats of butter. There’s enough gravy that you can dip biscuits or ham, or just eat spoonsful as you ignore the meal’s dietary impact.
The rest of Dot’s breakfast menu features familiar favorites from the huevos rancheros and Swiss Sizzler to the German pancake that takes 25 minutes to bake.
Grilled Cheese and Spinach Saag
Instead of coffee, I washed down breakfast with a big mug of Dot’s spicy, milky house chai, one of a number of tasty tweaks to Dot’s lunch offerings in recent years.
Besides the classic lunch entrées, including an open-face roast beef sandwich, Dot’s boasts a menu of authentic Nepali curries ranging from boneless chicken curry to baingan bharta (roasted eggplant), each served with rice, dal soup, chutney and flatbread. I took home a plate of bright green saag with tofu that was perfectly spiced and creamy.
Feeding the next generation
It’s worth noting that when Dot’s originally opened, Nepali fare (not to mention espresso drinks) were virtually unknown on Boulder restaurant menus.
Over the years, Dot’s moved, expanded to other locations and then contracted. Through wars, recessions, pandemics and rising egg prices, the restaurant has persisted while hundreds of Boulder eateries have come and faded.
We need a few unchanging spots like Dot’s Diner, as well as Lucile’s, the Buff and the Village Coffee Shop, to keep us anchored in time.
As I finished the last of the biscuit with raspberry jam, I surveyed the other tables filled with a mix of millennials and baby boomers and their children.
I wanted to pass along a message to this current generation of 20- and 30-somethings seeking consciousness, caffeine and calories at Dot’s:
You know your sweet, white-haired, cane-using Boulder gramps and grandma? I knew them when they partied, rocked and ruled Boulder. Your time as an elder will come, too. I hope Dot’s will always be there as a place where you can bring your children and tell them about your wild times back in the 2020s.
Local Food News: A night with Ruth
- Boulder Food Rescue is looking for volunteers for weekly two-hour shifts to pick up donated food via bike or car: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Coming soon: Hapa Sushi moves to 1068 Pearl St.; A second Boxcar Coffee Roasters & Café will open in the former Caffè Sole space at the Table Mesa Shopping Center.
- Plan ahead: Bowl of ’Zole, the inaugural pozole and agave spirit tasting event, takes place March 30 in Denver.
- Dining Out for Life is April 27. Hundreds of restaurants in Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs will donate 25% of your check to Project Angel Heart to provide medically tailored meals to Coloradans living with HIV/AIDS: projectangelheart.org
- Acclaimed food writer and editor Ruth Reichl will be in Boulder June 14 for “Food and Country: A Film Screening and Q+A” at Chautauqua Auditorium. Tickets: chautauqua.com
Nibbles Index: Voting local
Does “local” really matter?According to a 2022 Colorado Department of Agriculture survey, when we know that produce, meat and other ingredients are grown or raised in Colorado, we buy them. More than 83% of Coloradans say it strongly influences their choices when shopping or dining out. (Note: The percentage may be pumped up by the mere thought of Olathe corn, Palisade peaches, Pueblo chilies and Rocky Ford melons.)
Middle of the night dining?
At various points in recent decades, Boulder County has been home to diners, bars and other chain and independent food establishments that served food in the middle of the night. Now, except for microwaved burritos at gas stations, the post-pandemic choices seem very limited for night owls. Where can you sit down to eat a meal after 11 p.m. in Boulder County? Let us know at: email@example.com
Words to Chew On: Food fight
“No question looms larger on a daily basis for many of us than ‘What’s for lunch?’ There have been mutterings that the whole food thing has gone too far in America, but I think not. Good food is a benign weapon against the sodden way we live.” — Jim Harrison, poet/novelist/essayist
John Lehndorff and chef Dan Asher co-host Kitchen Table Talk — a monthly food talk show with guests and caller questions — 8:30-9:30 a.m. March 2 on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at kgnu.org).