My first attempt at Edna Lewis’s biscuit recipe.
Biscuits and Gravy
The premise of this review is that I regard biscuits and gravy as an indicator dish for the overall quality of a good American breakfast joint, much like the role chiles rellenos plays on a Mexican menu, or Quiche Lorraine in a French place or risotto con funghi porcini or Cantonese fried rice in their respective settings. If the chef and her team cannot pull off these basics, skip the rest. They should open a dry cleaners or a check-cashing service or a Blockbuster.
I chose top breakfast spots in Boulder according to Trip Advisor, Yelp, my personal biases and then added a few places locals seem to think are great, despite contradictory evidence. I eliminated places that appear to feel biscuits and gravy are beneath them, like Jill’s (who apparently needed space on their menu for something they call “oatmeal brûlée”). I love Walnut café and Snooze, but without B&G on their menu, they don’t make the cut.
Miss Edna Lewis
Edna Lewis was a Grande Dame of Les Grandes Dames d’Escoffier International (awarded her in 1999) and the pure source, the veritable Kwisatz Haderach of southern cuisine. Her biscuit recipe contains both buttermilk and lard. And then we add pig fat gravy. (See Appendix for recipe.) Jenny Craig don’t come ‘round here no more.
In his great cookbook, Appetites, Tony Bourdain teased his dear friend, Eric Ripert (chef de cuisine and owner of Le Bernardin in New York City, the Michelin three-starred number one restaurant in America) about biscuits and sausage gravy, thus:
“If you ever get the chance, introduce a Frenchman, preferably one with no cultural understanding of Southern foodways, to sausage gravy with biscuits. Comedy will ensue. Ever feed a grape to a dog? The look of confusion on its face as it rolls the grape around in its mouth, unsure whether to bite the thing or spit it out? That was the look on Eric Ripert’s face when he first tried sausage gravy and biscuits.” (Tony’s sausage gravy recipe is also in the Appendix.)
All I can say is “Vive des États-Unis”!
If I pitch forward into my breakfast from a cardiac widowmaker,
I want there to be a little gravy on my chin.
One suggestion for you diners who want to test this yourselves: You needn’t take a full order of biscuits and gravy. Get a half. As we used to say long, long ago, “You can get off on a half”. Get the half order and ask for the gravy on the side. This way you can appreciate (or not) the biscuit itself, naked and proud. Put some real butter on that thing. Put some real preserves on too. And we do NOT mean that Vaseline-like substance that comes in the little foil containers. We don’t know what that stuff is. A good joint will have a kitchen-grade squirt bottle, or a serving dish with a spoon, containing real preserves—not jam, not jelly—preserves, with seeds in it, ideally raspberry or strawberry-rhubarb. If the biscuit tastes like rancid oil or has the texture of a children’s stuffed animal or an Ak-Mak cracker, you can bail out and just spoon the gravy.
Finally, this research came at no small sacrifice for you, dear readers. Easily $200.00 investment plus a ten-point rise in this tester’s serum cholesterol level. However, I offer my findings joyfully and with a suggestion of gobbling a couple Zantac before trying this yourselves.
Foolish Craig’s Cafe
1611 Pearl Street
Overall: On probation
$5.00 for two biscuits and a scoop of something gooey on top.
Foolish Craig’s is well located on Pearl Street, just east of the walking mall. Prime real estate. Frasca, one of the best white-table-cloth dinner restaurants in the country is a block away. So they have clientele, location and a twenty-year history. And Craig. Not sure about his reputation for foolishness because we’ve not met. Guy Fieri apparently filmed here and presumably met Foolish. Craig must be proud Guy visited, as his faux-punk mug is all over their website.
This plate of biscuits and gravy was nearly inedible, and when hungry, I’ll eat damned near anything. I left half the plate, not due to being in a hurry: My haircut wasn’t for another 45 minutes. The servers admitted the biscuits were previously frozen. Worse, they were more like an English muffin or a pita someone sat on with an ice pack in between butt and biscuit.
They claim to make their own gravy. Sadly, that seemed likely. It’s dense and thick like drywall mud and tasted like someone felt they needed to improve on tradition with incoherently selected herbs from unlabeled jars, willy-nilly. Worse, they’re chintzy with this glop.
If southern friends were in town and were inclined to eat breakfast here, I would feign a heart attack or have someone call with a hair emergency.
So the food was an epic fail.
But to make matters worse, the service was utterly inept. It was not busy. The place was half-occupied. There were five, maybe six servers and hosts, and I was easy: I sat at the bar and was chatty. This should have been a quick 20%. I’m a good tipper. The staff was uniformly young, cute, and quite smitten with themselves, like parakeets. Something was more engaging than serving food to customers, but it wasn’t clear what. Perhaps it was a pre- or post-coital utility-room glow.
My food sat in the pass under heat lamps ten minutes and even then my biscuits and sausage were still delivered separately. I needed to kill time so I gulped my water and semi-theatrically made a thing about draining the last water drops, stopping short of the “aaaaah…”. I finally had to ask for a refill, which I don’t believe in doing as a culinary reviewer.
If they’ll let you run out of water, god forbid I order mayo on the side. I am definitely not drinking at this bar. I like a barkeep who really, really understands suggestive sales:
“Can I get you another one?”
The final coffin nail was the check. I can ask for it in several languages and movie scripts:
Mandarin: “Mai dan, xie xie!”
Spanish: “La cuenta, por favor!”
French: “L’addition, s’il vous plait.”
Danny Aiello in Moonstruck: “Bobo! The check!”
How many bimbos could it possibly take to bring my check? Apparently six.
Overall, I gave Craig’s an “on probation”. They do claim to use local and healthy ingredients and some other items on the menu appear interesting. I’ll try again but will avoid their faux biscuits and gravy.
$9.00 with two eggs. $12.00 with fried chicken
This review breaks my heart. The Lucky’s company is owned by a couple of local chefs who have successfully created a chain of about thirty better-quality organic and natural neighborhood grocery stores in eleven states that support local suppliers and serve their communities. Their success flies in the face of the Whole Foods/Amazon juggernaut. We are loyalists. Mike and Terance at the meat counter see Sandy coming and know she is a connoisseur of cuts. “Those are the two I woulda picked too. You know your meat, ma’am.”
Their original market is less than fifteen minutes downhill from home, and like two octogenarian eastern European grandmothers, we’re in there nearly every day. Their chicken and single ground chuck are better than most. We shop for a day, maybe two. “Look here, Signe. The pears look fresh. Plus, dear, they have potato latkes”
They added a stand-alone bakery in the same little business center and that bakery is the bomb. Bakers get up earlier than Zen monks so I really dig them. These gals know how to bake.
So the damned café has got to be good, right. But sadly, it no longer is, if it ever was. I don’t know why.
I gave their biscuit a solid F. It was cold, stiff and had a faint whiff of rancid oil. It had clearly been baked, sometime, most likely this month.
Serving me day olds is disqualifying. A week old is a culinary felony.
The gravy I gave a C-. There are odd flavors we’re not sure the source of and pretty much don’t care to know.
But, the service here is good, however. We know the folks front of house and we like them. Perhaps you can order water and just appreciate the servers and regulars.
Overall, we’ll temper our disappointment in the food and give them a C-.
But don’t visit Lucky’s Café for their biscuits and gravy.
The Parkway Cafe
4700 Pearl St (Hidden off of 47th north of Pearl Parkway).
The dish: $6.00
This place is a gem. Especially their Mexican dishes. They know their way around green chile.
After so many lousy reviews here, I happily award the Parkway an A for their biscuit and an A– for the gravy.
Biscuits and Gravy is proudly listed as the first item on the menu in the “Breakfast Favorites” category. That’s a terrific sign. Two signs really. One good sign is they make them daily and they’re good at it. The second is they’re not embarrassed to say so.
$6.00 for two biscuits and what they unashamedly title “sausage gravy” is a great deal. Belly on up.
This biscuit is obviously scratch made: Big, fluffy, irregularly shaped (a good sign). We refer to these as “high-risers”, a style we cotton to.
The Parkway’s gravy is near perfect. Traditional but made every morning, with nice bits of crispy and tasty porky sausage back-stroking across the flour, milk and salt and pepper pond.
Beyond their chow (and do try their green chile dishes…worthy of Taos) is the clientele. This is not your usual Boulder contingent of techies, metros, vegans, Buddhists, dopers, hipsters or 5% body fat athletes. Lots of older patrons who make up a hefty part of our population eat here, folks who lived here LBG (Long Before Google). Seniors toting medical equipment. Goths and punks who’ve been up all night. But my favorite of all is the cops. The County Cop Shop is close by and if one is lucky, you can spot our ever-so-competent Sheriff, Joe Pelle, chowing down. I realize spotting Sheriff Joe does not earn the star-sighting points a Jessica Biel or Alex Bogusky might garner. But I like our Sheriff. He’s a rock star to me.
Doug’s Day Diner
Biscuits and gravy: C-
$6.25 with two eggs
I have to admit, after I ordered this dish at Doug’s, I asked myself, “You committed to doing how many of these? This is killing me. What’s wrong with you?”
The place was less than half occupied, but nonetheless I had to wait five minutes for the one server to seat me. They clearly were not planning for success on a rainy Thursday morning at 8:00. But she was friendly and found me a table.
I asked if the biscuits and gravy were both scratch-made. She assured me yes and I regarded that favorably.
While the appearance of the dish was promising, the floor fell out beneath me on the first bite. Don’t get me wrong: There were no objectionable flavors. That would be unfair and incorrect to say. In fact, there were no flavors whatsoever to object to. No amount of salt and pepper could seem to breathe any life into the taste of this concoction. I marveled at how they accomplished this, but did not care to ask. I couldn’t formulate the question, “So how, exactly, do you manage to make your biscuit from scratch and have it taste like, well, nothing, and then make your gravy such that any pan drippings with those salty, yummy pork bits left in that the rest of us use to make gravy somehow have no flavor at all? How in the world do you do that? Perhaps this, to paraphrase Joe Pesci’s Vinny Gambini is ‘magic gravy?’ ” It being Boulder, maybe some militant snuck me vegan gravy?
Hell, I don’t know. And I’m losing interest.
Village Coffee Shop.
$5.95, $2.95 for 1/2 order
The scene of the crime at the Village Coffee Shop
The Village is a local favorite, especially among old-timers and past University of Colorado attendees who still think of themselves as “Buffs”, thirty years after graduating or dropping out.
Friends wax wistful when referring to the Village, no doubt recalling epic breakfasts following Jägermeister- and Coors Light-fueled all-nighters after beating CSU, or being beaten by CSU, imbibing that left palates numb and unable to discriminate. We sympathize and indeed have experienced such hangovers where a cold can of Dinty Moore or one of those small packages of Hostess “Donettes” sound good-anything to sop up the booze. But we grew up.
I took the half-order of biscuits and gravy then asked, too late, if they made these from scratch. Somewhat proudly, my server said, “Nope. Biscuits are frozen and the gravy is a mix.” Hence our disqualification rating. This is not cooking. This is more properly called “heating”. I ordered a side of link sausage. Both came in 30 seconds. Another bad sign.
Take a look at the flat top in the image above. Those are hash browns frying en masse onto which, periodically, the chef de cuisine squirts some type of oil with questionable viscosity like he was spraying his lawn with Roundup or rinsing the dog after a bath.
I can, however, speak positively to the ambiance and personality of this place, the kind of joint I love: locals, regulars, derelicts, hung-over students and a lot of old guys, all packed in, snout to tail, into a too small space they describe as “890 square feet of reality surrounded by Boulder”. Cute. I sat next to Tad, roughly my age and we readily dropped into local stories and comparing notes on Rocky Flats, the Klan, Stapleton’s grand-daddy, my Grand Dad and the weather, which we both apparently like. Tad loves the food, so I kept quiet about that.
If you are knuckle-draggin’ drunk or you’ve got a sweater on your tongue from too many car bombs last night or you really could care less about the quality of your food, go on ahead in. But skip the biscuits and gravy.
$12.75 for the dish
Alec Schuler’s Tangerine is one of our favorite nicer spots for breakfast in town. They set a higher bar and always leap over it. They are aware of the preponderance of food issues and preferences among their clientele, and they cater to that, while, at the same time taking care of those who love to gobble down anything that is prepared with wisdom and love, no matter how meaty or full of gluten, dairy or spices it may be. Like me.
For instance, you can order steak and eggs, gluten free of course, or The Vegan, a scramble with tempeh, lots of veggies, avocado and walnut pesto, or chicken and waffles. Something for everyone. There’s a caprese omelette with fresh mozz, tomato confit, basil pesto and arugula.
But most notable on this chef’s menu are their Benedicts.
Get this: there are seven: A Veggie, a Salmon Caper, a Trout and Apple, the Classic with Black Forest ham and spinach, a Green Eggs and Ham, a BLT and finally, a Braised Short Rib Benedict with pulled beef, collards, caramelized onions, salsa and red Anaheim peppers. Damn.
As my dear old tripping buddy, Rich Compton, was inspired to say at moments of great surprise and revelation, “Wake up, Martha! We’re in a crater”
We gave their biscuit a B. It was competent and tasty, but the lower height was a markdown. We’re partial to the high-risers. I had time, so the biscuits taking twenty minutes did not put me off. I counted this a plus. They were baking them. A good sign. I think at the Village Coffee Shop they just set the dough in a heating vent.
The gravy was excellent but not traditional. It had a real nice heat due to the spicy sausage chunks they included. We settled on an A- for the gravy.
As an aside, it’s nearly impossible to blow scrambled eggs, but some places like Lucky’s manage to do so. Tangerine’s are perfect. Creamy, hot, rich and herbed. Order them.
$12.75 for the biscuits and gravy is steeper than anywhere else in town, but they come with an arugula salad.
I asked about their biscuit recipe and my server actually knew. They use real buttermilk and butter, not lard in their biscuit. Also heavy cream.
“It’ll be a few minutes. They’re just now going into the oven.”
- Tangerine is spotlessly clean.
- They have a full liquor license, in case you want to get hammered at oh-eight-hundred.
- Leveraging their name, they employ an orange color scheme in their decor. It wakes you up.
- My food took 20 minutes, but they checked in with me regularly and apologized. They comped me a juice. Another good sign. Had I been having Bloodies, I would have limped out.
2716 28th St.
One on the Hill.
One in Nederland.
Tagline: Where the folks get their yolks.”
Biscuit- A, One for $2.50
Gravy A-, $3.50
Dot’s is a contender among local places serving biscuits and gravy. We awarded their biscuit a solid A and their gravy an A-, without hesitation.
Their biscuit is outstanding, perhaps the best in town. It’s fluffy, light, moist and has a superbly browned and crispy exterior. You can get just one for $2.50, which I did, ordering a small dish of pork gravy on the side, for another $2.50. Miss Edna would approve of this delightful combo.
If you go this way, save some of the biscuit to eat buttered with a tiny pinch of salt, and another bit you can squirt some of their raspberry preserves onto. Three separate ways to savor the baker’s craft.
Dot’s pork gravy is also top notch and the Nepali guys working the back end assured me they make it right here, every day. This concoction is pretty traditional: smooth, porky, creamy and passes the spoon test. If you eat a spoonful on its own, how does that taste? Yum. They add red flakes that are likely either paprika or red chiles .
(While their breakfast is one of the best in town, the place could use a thorough steam cleaning. We recommend latex gloves while you dine, if not a Hazmat suit. Don’t touch the table. It’s like the floor of a Greyhound station.)
Dot’s staff are generally very friendly. Our old pal, Julie, past proprietor of what was, years ago, our favorite hangover joint in North Boulder, works there now. Her place had some name or another, but due to an incomplete sign, we just called it “Restaurant”. Say “Hello” when you visit.
Dot’s has a traditionally eclectic greasy-spoon menu, for both breakfast and lunch, while catering to the quirks of the Boulder clientele. So we have gluten-free and vegetarian dishes, organic coffee, but also meat loaf, fried chicken, and competent Mexican comida.
Unknown to many, their largely Nepali staff offers a separate menu featuring Aloo Mutter, Chana Masala, Saag tofu and other Nepali specialties. Who knew?
But their “Southern Style” breakfast special is our favorite, with grits, ham, gravy and a buttermilk biscuit. As a concession to Fitness City, they offer a “small” version. Put on Marshall Tucker and bring me the big one.
The Buff Restaurant
$7.00 or $12.00 with two eggs
You know, I must admit I just blew this place off. Their biscuits and gravy might be good, may even be award winning. But, without any specific animus toward CU, I just could not stomach another college football-themed joint. Let us know if you love the Buff.
Theirs may well be biscuits de resistance.
But I just couldn’t do it. I apologize.
Lucile’s Creole Cafe
2124 14th in Boulder and five other locations in Longmont, Fort Collins and Denver.
Biscuit A+, $2.50 for one
Gravy A+ $3.50
I saved what I suspected to be the best for last. Lucile’s is the iconic Boulder Creole-styled breakfast place, serving up grits, Eggs Ponchartrain, Eggs Sardou, beignets, red beans, shrimp and grits, chicory coffee and more. And, we’ll just go ahead and say it right now: the best biscuits and gravy in town. The winner for best traditional biscuits and gravy, with a late entry caveat below.
I dropped over six hundred bucks on studded snow tires this morning and felt like I should tighten the budget. Then my food devil spoke up and said, “Let’s go to Lucille’s and finish this silly project.” So I did.
I began with a sturdy Shrimp Bloody Mary, ordered a sausage patty, a biscuit and their house made gravy. None of these disappointed.
I give the biscuit a solid A+. Flaky, cake-like inside with a large crumb and nicely browned on top and bottom. I chatted them up and they admitted they use a secret ingredient but did confirm they use buttermilk and frozen butter instead of lard. Utterly sublime. $2.50 à la carte.
The gravy also earned an A+ with a perfect texture, chunks of pork that likely were Andouille sausage and a very pleasant, low Scoville heat score that lingered after. $3.50 à la carte.
So, for six bucks, you’re in and out and nap-ready. Here it is:
Perfection at Lucile’s
I left humming my own lyrics, “Laissez les bons aliments rouler!”, stepping out into the crisp, cool, intense, low-angled winter sunshine, oh so happy this project is finished, but for the writing. I pulled away with the Tibetan Shambhala center on my right, turned onto Spruce, noticed Dweezil Zappa’s motor coach parked on the street and that the Boulder Theater had misspelled his first name on the marquee. Perfect alignment.
I burped a little and settled into my drive home, satisfied more to just be finished, not knowing if the job was well done.
In closing this review, I do hope you will find some guidance and potentially some humor in these notes. For my part, this was a painful exercise, nearly hospitalizing this tester. But Boulder has some great spots for breakfast as well as others to avoid unless you are off-gassing gin and tonics first thing in the morning.
Suffice to say, if I do another culinary “tour de ville” I will pick salads. Or water. Or apples.
And congratulations to Lucile’s.
A late breaking entry…
1265 Alpine Ave.
Biscuit A+, $5.00 for one, but it is very worth it
Gravy A+ $2.00 for a dishful sufficient for one biscuit. A steal.
Another top winner, this one for best non-traditional recipes (outside of Northern New Mexico).
Belly up to the bar at Santo
Hosea Rosenberg is among the best chefs in Colorado, if not America. We are graced with his presence at Blackbelly Market here in Boulder, one of the best lunch and dinner spots in the state. Recently, Hosea opened Santo, which I have written about a number of times. Santo is Northern New Mexico fare inspired by Hosea’s experience growing up in Taos. He does brunch on Sundays (in addition to dinners nightly) and offers a most unique menu that includes a “Green Chile-Cheddar Biscuit” which he serves with bacon butter and apricot-mezcal jam. Oh my.
I reached out and asked Hosea for his recipe. He graciously sent me a photo of the ingredients and process listed on a sheet hanging in the kitchen, which is intended to serve a hundred or more biscuits—so it will need to be stepped down. Hosea asked I not share it. After all, this is his prized IP.
So, I stopped in on this last day of testing, at 9:30 on Sunday after Thanksgiving, when their brunch service begins, and posted up at the bar, my preferred dining posture. Madsen was tending and we began to chat right away.
I told him I needed the biscuit and he reminded me I missed the chunky tender-belly chorizo gravy. “Why yes, my good man. Bring me some a that too, indeed.” A couple scrambled eggs rounded out my breakfast.
I took a half hour to eat this little dish. Every bite was like a massage or like listening to Edith Piaf. Madsen shared my delight and explained what was going on with the gravy. I planned to read and write an hour or more, told him I’d be making camp before heading to the gym to purge this indiscretion. That idea went south when we talked about the New Mexican cocoa he was making. I settled on a hybrid, custom beverage with coffee, New Mexican cocoa (which they take two days to make that includes clove, cinnamon and chile powder) coffee liqueur, Reposada and Mescal crème.
Hosea stopped by and we chatted biscuits and gravy. I told him his biscuit and this amazing gravy take the prize for most innovative B&G in my modest little study.
I headed home, happy to have found The Grail.
The best biscuits and gravy you will ever eat are the ones you make yourself. Fear not, as masters of this dish have broken trail for you, and left us gem-like instructions.
Miss Edna Lewis
A half an hour at most.
3 Cups sifted flour (We love Bob’s Red Mill. But find a soft flour.)
1 Teaspoon salt
½ Teaspoon baking soda
4 Teaspoons baking powder
2/3 Cup lard
1 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons buttermilk
Mix flour, salt, soda and baking powder in a big bowl.
Add the lard and mix it in with your fingers until it’s all dispersed and feels like cornmeal.
Add the buttermilk. Stir it in with a wooden spoon, three or more minutes.
Flour a good surface.
Roll the dough onto the floured surface.
Knead it a bit by folding the dough over onto itself.
Dust a rolling pin and roll out the dough into an even thickness.
Dust your cookie cutter. We like a square one-you waste les dough.
Cut out the biscuits, trying to use all the dough.
With leftover, roll into a ball and flatten.
Put the biscuits on a cookie sheet. Miss Edna likes one that has “a bright surface” since the biscuits will “brown more beautifully.” Damn, I love her.
Bake 13 minutes in a pre-heated 450-degree oven.
Remove and take them off the sheet so they don’t keep baking.
Put a clean kitchen towel in a serving bowl and wrap the biscuits in there.
Use real butter on them. Margarine is for car engines.
We cotton to Bonne Maman raspberry Preserves.
Recipe from The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis, Copyright © 1976, Alfred A. Knopf
No more than twenty minutes, which can run parallel to your biscuit timing.
2 pounds breakfast sausage
1 Cup half-and-half
Generous lashings of hot sauce (“lashings” his term). I am a Pico Pica guy.
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a large skillet to medium and crumble the sausage in. Let it render its fat and get brown and crisp as it cooks.
Stir in the half-and-half.
Add salt and pepper and hot sauce to your liking.
Dump this glop all over Miss Edna’s beauties.
Recipe from Appetites, A Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain, Copyright © 2016, Harper Collins