Round two with Drew Hardin, exec chef of Lola
Part one of my interview with Drew Hardin, exec chef of Lola, ran on Wednesday; this is part two of our chat.
Favorite Denver/Boulder restaurant(s) other than your own: I'm probably biased when it comes to answering this, but I love Vesta, because I worked there for nearly six years, and Matt Selby is a mentor of mine. Chefs Brandon Foster and Kenny Turk still hold down the fort like champs -- and continue to improve the food. Brandon Biederman has done his research and made me some amazing meals at Ace. Sheila Lucero and Amos Watts at Jax never fail, and I eat at their place often because they know their seafood. I'm also amazed at what Daniel Asher is doing with his raw-food movement at Root Down. I don't really enjoy a lot of raw food, but he somehow makes it taste great.
Favorite food city in America: Aside from Denver? There isn't one. That said, a few years back, my brother got married in Oakland, and I had the pleasure of taking the ferry across the bay to San Francisco and had two full days to explore that city. I ate at every restaurant I could walk to, and I was just amazed by the quality of produce and seafood. Chinatown was really fun, as well. There were ducks hanging everywhere, and it was a sensory overload. I also have to admit that the food scene in Philadelphia is amazing. I spent some time there with a bunch of Denver chefs this year doing a Meals on Wheels benefit. We went to Reading Market -- that was crazy. It had meat, cheese, fish, pickles, bread and everything else that you can think of. It just makes me wonder why we don't have anything like that here.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver: Bud's Bar, no question. All they have are hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double hamburgers and double cheeseburgers -- and they're the best burgers you've ever had. They don't have fries (don't even ask), and it's cash only, but that doesn't stop me from going. My wife and I will walk out of there for under $20, beers included. I've been going there since I was a kid, and nothing -- thankfully -- has changed.
If you could change one thing about the Denver dining scene, what would it be? It would be awesome to have a giant market so we could select our own produce and seafood. Aside from that, I feel like we're moving in a pretty positive direction.
Favorite dish on your menu: At the moment, I love the Chimayo-seared mahi with poblano shrimp and grits, bacon, okra, tomato estufada and aji amarillo. It's a little bit of the South, mixed in with some Mexican ingredients.
Biggest menu bomb: Huaraches, the national lunch of Mexico City. They weren't so much of a bomb as that I just don't think people understood them. We've tried to sell them in all different styles, and people just don't get it.
What was the last cookbook you bought, and what recipes are you cooking from it? It's not a cookbook, per se, but Jamey Fader, our culinary director, made us read Taco USA, by Gustavo Arellano [of ¡Ask a Mexican! fame]. At first I was thinking that I didn't have time to read it, but once I started flipping through the pages, I couldn't stop. It was so amazing to learn about how Mexican food took over America; the history of it is unbelievable. It made me think about the way we cook food every day in a very inspirational way. After we read it, we all had to cook two dishes that pertained to the book. It was a great activity, and I encourage everyone to read it if you have any dishes on your menu that are at all inspired by Mexican cuisine.