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Thursday, August 16,2012

A classic diner standby still delivers

By Clay Fong

One does not live by New American locavore farm-to-table fare alone. Sometimes all one needs is a simple diner experience more suited to an unpretentious ’70s movie protagonist like Jack Nicholson’s character in Five Easy Pieces or Dirty Harry than some lightweight celebrity chef. Dot’s Diner on the Hill is just the ticket when simplicity beckons. This spot features a welcoming but narrow counter space steeped in a Boulderesque ambience exuding a funky, vaguely counterculture vibe.

The energetic cooks and servers here are a friendly yet efficient lot, and the menu holds few surprises for a breakfast and lunch joint. Offerings include a full complement of egg dishes ranging from single egg, bacon and toast kids specials for $4 to $8 jumbo-sized helpings of huevos rancheros.

The usual suspects of grilled cheese and BLTs with avocado share space on the lunch bill of fare alongside meatless specialties like Gardenburgers and a tempeh Reuben. A few Mexican items, namely quesadillas, enchiladas and burritos, are featured alongside tofu or tempeh-anchored stir-fries.

After taking sips of our not-too-sweet and pleasingly tart $3 lemonades, we went decidedly old school with our main dishes. First up was Cara’s $6.50 small Huevos Rancheros, offered with a choice of tortillas — my friend went for whole wheat instead of white. This small portion should be more than adequate for most people.

Dot’s version was somewhat unique in that the whole mix of tortilla, egg, cheddar and chile was run together under a broiler, making for a compellingly gooey concoction. While purists may balk at this melted-together preparation method, the dish stood up well on its own merits, with each ingredient offering distinct flavor. Cara ordered the chile “Christmas” style, a combination of red and green. Each variety was potent and unique, the red carrying an earthy and smoky savor with moderate heat, while the green was hot with full-bodied fruity tones.

When I ordered my unquestionably retro Monte Cristo sandwich, a touch pricey at $9, our server indicated that it would come on thick Texas toast. No fancy pants brioche or artisan ham here, and that suited me just fine. Texas met Paris as the bread stuck to the original’s time-tested blueprint, arriving at the table as a not-too-eggy French toast.

The fillings were piping hot, and slightly melted cream cheese standing in for traditional Gruyere or Emmentaler came sweetened by a generous dollop of raspberry jam. Creamy and sweet qualities of these adornments nicely played off the salty smokiness of the ham. Contrary to more traditional preparations, a small pitcher of syrup stood in for the dusting of powdered sugar. I was ambivalent about this change — on one hand I wasn’t getting sugar all over my clothes, on the other, drizzles of syrup made for uneven distribution of sweet.

Dot’s On the Hill won’t break any new ground or alter anyone’s expectations about what’s for breakfast or lunch. It is reliable in its successful interpretations of menu standbys, and the presence of regulars enjoying a meal and perusing the paper attests to this winning trait. Dot’s other main strength is doing the basics up right in a friendly setting free of pretense, and worthy of anyone seeking an honest yet satisfying meal.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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