American Beauty: Dinner at Venue

Categories: Sheehan (RIP)

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While employed in my last-ever cooking gig before coming here, I got to know grits pretty well, because I worked the night-shift at an Albuquerque Waffle House and one of my many responsibilities (along with tossing the drunks and cooking the hash browns and cleaning the grease traps) was fixing grits for the morning shift. These were plain grits -- yellow corn, very cheap even by grit standards -- and we did nothing to them but cook them. But even that was a process, like making perfect risotto. They needed to be rinsed and rinsed again. They needed to go into a hot pot with water; to boil and then be backed down, to be fed little sips of water here and there as they plumped and drank in the liquid and grew soft; to be buttered in the pot (or occasionally creamed if I was feeling frisky); to be turned over and over again as delicately as a soufflé so that they didn't burn or stick.

I liked cooking grits. I screwed it up constantly, but I never minded starting over. It was something to do in the quiet hours between four and six in the morning -- something to focus on. Sometimes my grits were good. Sometimes they were terrible. And since the day cook was a big Southern man with the classic, pear-shaped Southern sheriff body held up on skinny little legs, he knew good from bad and never hesitated to tell me which was which. Grits were the last real lesson I learned in the kitchens, the last bit of knowledge I took with me when I left.

And at Venue, I learned something new about grits. I learned how truly great they can be, how powerful, how dangerous.

My first taste of grits at Venue was absolutely stunning. So was everything else about Holly Hartnett's new restaurant. I reviewed Venue for Cafe, and then interviewed Hartnett about what it took to get her place open in Bite Me (where I also talked about some of the week's openings -- including Katie Mullen's, which I blogged about earlier today).

Venue occupies the former home of 8 Rivers. So for Second Helping, I ventured down to the new home of Scott Durah's restaurant in LoDo for a little jerk chicken and reggae.

It was a good week, a busy week, occasionally a sad week as favored houses fell victim to the economy. And you can read all about it right here tomorrow.


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