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Thursday, March 4,2010

An oldie but a goodie

By Clay Fong

For folks that have been in Colorado awhile, Beau Jo’s Pizza is a familiar quantity where nostalgia is as much a part of the experience as its signature pizza. Many fondly recall chowing down on Beau Jo’s “mountain” pies at its Idaho Springs location on the way back from skiing. For me, my first experience with its offerings was during the carefree days of grad school at its old Crossroads Mall spot, which was roughly where Home Depot is now.

Being on a student’s budget in the mid ’90s, the all-youcan-eat lunch buffet of pizza and salad was an occasional splurge. Nowadays, the $8.49 price is a nearly unbeatable bargain. At these prices, you can’t expect too much from the décor, but it’s comfortable enough, with the feel of a sit-down coffee shop. Service isn’t too bad either — colleague Kon and I were promptly shown to our table — and after ordering beverages, we made a beeline for the salad bar.

If you come expecting the salad bar selections to reflect the cutting-edge in hipster food trends, you’ll be sorely disappointed. No artisan vinaigrettes here; instead, you’ll find classic Kraft dressing. While the old-school iceberg lettuce mix looked tired, the spinach and romaine leaves were in better shape. Besides a selection of straight-up vegetables, there were also potato and pasta salads, as well as unexpected garnishes like goldfish crackers. When presented with the bar’s sweet offerings of lemon jello and chocolate pudding, I felt compelled to quote the film Willow by proclaiming “Tempting, but no.”

My usual salad bar mix of romaine, tomato, red onion and baby corn cobs, topped with blue cheese dressing and fat, crispy croutons, was exactly what I expected. This was a comforting mélange of veggies that might have showed up on the family kitchen table circa 1975. I was less enthusiastic about the soup of the day, a split pea with ham that was plagued by excess saltiness and a watery texture. It also didn’t help that it was slow to arrive at the table.

Several pizzas, the star of the buffet show, are on offer. The kitchen’s goal is to appeal to a wide variety of diners, so you won’t find anything too out of the mainstream, just solid mainstays such as pepperoni and mushroom. There’s also meatless pie, and one noteworthy entry featured an endearing combination of cream cheese, jalapeno and green peppers. While I expected the peppers to raise the roof with respect to heat, these were pungent without being too fiery, and they played well with the blend of cheeses. Each pie played to Beau Jo’s trademark strengths, namely a hefty dose of toppings, full flavor and a formidable crust that lends itself so well to a squirt of honey, making for a resource-efficient dessert.

But Beau Jo’s was on the dessert case with an unusual pizza topped with sweet peaches. If this had been poorly executed, it might have been akin to an over-sugared supermarket Danish. While the peaches had likely been recently inside a can rather than hanging off a tree, the end result resembled cobbler, making this a true guilty pleasure.

Perhaps this choice sums up the essence of Beau Jo’s buffet; although it may be a guilty pleasure, it’s also reasonably priced.


Clay's Obscurity Corner: More than just a pit stop

The original Beau Jo’s is located in Idaho Springs, and while many know this town as a gas and food stop on the way up to the mountains, this hamlet has a couple of surprising pop culture ties. First up, this is the hometown of Robert Redford’s slaloming protagonist from the film Downhill Racer. Secondly, there’s a statue of tough-guy comic-strip character Steve Canyon here, the product of a publicity stunt by 1950s civic boosters. Apparently, the intent was to honor cartoon characters that served in World War II, presumably on the Allied side, which would exclude Tintin.

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