I have developed a condition called City O’ City radar. Whenever The Mister and I are even mildly close to Capitol Hill in Denver, he doesn’t even have to ask me where I want to eat. Think upscale but casual vegetarian bar food, everything made from scratch with honest, good ingredients. I have ordered most things on the menu, from the addictive greek salad with a vinaigrette I’d love to re-create at home, to the freshly baked whole wheat sourdough bread, and the Urban Cowgirl pizza, with its addictive chipotle marinara sauce. Even though half of the menu is devoted to small-batch spirits, locally made beers, and carefully selected wines, make no mistake–City O’ City is not your typical bar scene.
There is almost always a wait to be seated, but plenty of entertainment to be had while waiting. One could: gawk at the frosting-crowned cupcakes and latticed blueberry tarts, check out the concert posters taped to the wall, or, people watch. The clientele wears the most fascinating assortment of hats. You’ll see hair covering the full gammet of the color palette, with bangs trimmed in every which way. Don’t worry, though. You need not fit any specific image to be treated well here. Earth mommas, artists, young, old, and in-between; cool people that think they’re nerdy, and nerdy people who think they’re cool, and people who just don’t care what other people think of them… All are welcome here.
The service is always friendly, and again, and while you’re waiting for your food, there is plenty more amusement to be had. You could: read the daily quote on the framed chalkboard above the bar, or, check out the rotating local art displayed on the wall. So far the most recent and memorable have been the quilted pictures of brightly colored lizards riding bicycles, and just last time, the interestingly-lit curio cabinets with strange objects inside–like something you might find in the movie Coraline. Look back into the kitchen and you’ll see about ten people doing a sort of bohemian ballet, the guy with the dreadlocks and the bandana arcing a pizza peel into the oven, another sliding an Urban Cowgirl out of the oven. The waitstaff weaves in and out, plates balanced on either hand.
While the atmosphere at City O’ City contributes to the magnetic force that pulls me into the restaurant, the food is really what keeps me coming back. The other day, I had a serious craving for “La Petite Amie”; a grilled cheese sandwich like you’ve never experienced before. I knew that City O’ City was not in the cards for the day, so I decided to re-create the sandwich to quell my hunger until next time.
My version turned out to be a close approximation of the original; bread slices with a sheet of golden crunch on the outside, giving way to melted brie swirled with caramelized onion jam and maple dijon, topped with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples and tempeh bacon. After the whole mess was perfectly crispy and melty, I added baby arugula, as they do with the original, to add a fresh peppery note. A couple girl friends and I devoured our fancy grilled cheese with a mixed greens salad tossed in Meyer Lemon vinaigrette, and a mindless dose of The Bachelor; the perfect way to quell my craving…until my radar beeps again.
Grilled Brie and Apple Sandwiches with Onion Jam and Maple Dijon
Inspired by “La Petite Amie” at City O’ City
Makes 4-6 sandwiches
- 1 loaf of your favorite crusty bread, sliced
- 1 wedge of brie, a little over a half pound, thinly sliced (the rind is edible and may be left on)
- 2 granny smith apples, washed, cored, and very thinly sliced
- 1 package tempeh bacon, or 8-10 slices real bacon
- 1/3 cup dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 batch caramelized onion jam (see recipe below)
- Olive oil for spraying or brushing
- kosher salt
- 2 handfuls baby arugula, washed and dried
1. Make the onion jam and set aside.
2. Whisk the dijon mustard and maple syrup together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Heat medium or large frying pan over medium high heat. Cook the bacon until crisp. (If using tempeh bacon, heat 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil in the pan first.). Set aside to drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Chop the bacon into 1/2 inch long pieces
4. Wipe out the pan used to cook the bacon with a paper towel, then return to the stove and reduce heat to medium.
5. Assemble the Sandwiches: Spray or lightly brush one side of two pieces of bread with olive oil, and lightly sprinkle with kosher salt. On the sides of the bread not sprayed with olive oil, spread the maple dijon and onion jam, and layer the brie, apples, and tempeh bacon.
6. Close the sandwich, place in the heated pan, and cover. Cook for about two minutes, or until one side is golden and crispy, and the cheese is beginning to melt. Flip, and cook for approximately two more minutes, or until the other side is golden, and cheese is gooey and melted. Remove from the pan, and pull the sandwich open, put a small amount of arugula inside, and close the sandwich up again. Repeat this process for each sandwich, and serve while hot.
Caramelized Onion Jam
Adapted from The Improvisational Cook, by Sally Schneider
A helpful guide for caramelizing onions can be found here.
- 2 pounds yellow onions, halved, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 teaspoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar, divided
- kosher salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1. Heat the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt, and stir. Cover and cook for about 12 minutes, or until the onions have released their liquid.
2. Increase the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the onions turn a slight golden color. Sprinkle with sugar, and continue to cook, stirring frequently until the onions are a deep golden brown, 10-25 minutes more. Add the apple cider vinegar to the hot pan, stir, and scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
3. Transfer the onions to a cutting board or a food processor and finely chop (but don’t puree). Add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, then season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.
P.S: Here is a goofy photo of me with a grapefruit margarita at City O’ City last summer.