Since 2006, chef-owner Brian Benham’s Pearl Street fixture has been catering to Boulderites in the figurative as well as the literal sense of the verb. From the antique pantry at the entrance of Dish Gourmet to the colorful blackboard menu mounted above the deli counter, the wee corner nook has the rustic farm-stand look this town wears so well — and the sandwiches in which it specializes are likewise crammed with the stuff of good, clean living. We’re talking thoughtfully sourced, house-roasted meats; local produce and breads; and plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options — you get the wholesome picture.
And yet of the items I tried, my favorite by far was a fat, sloppy, unquestionably guilty pleasure. To be sure, that may say more about my fat, sloppy, unquestionably guilty tastes than about the execution of said items. But it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Don’t get me wrong; despite a few quibbles, there’s plenty to like across the board. As the name suggests, the everpopular Gobbler is a mouthful — the ciabatta roll piled high with chunks of hormone-free turkey breast, then layered with sliced Muenster, bacon, avocado, tomato, and lettuce, and finally smeared with pesto mayo. It’s a true comfort — the kind you crave when you’re moping around with a head cold, seeking solid sustenance. Then there’s the Aubergine, combining warm, marinated eggplant slices, roasted tomatoes and mixed greens atop focaccia topped with artichoke spread and housemade mozzarella. All those veggies radiate market-day goodness, though I couldn’t help but wonder if smoked rather than fresh cheese might have lent the overall mild flavor profile some oomph. Still, only the Whittier really failed to meet my expectations, which were high based on the menu description: speck, pâté, Brie, red onions and mixed greens with honey mustard and apple chutney on a baguette. It sounded like the sort of thing you’d pick up from some centuryold marketplace on the French-Italian border for a picnic in the countryside. Unfortunately, the speck — that is, lightly smoked South Tyrolese ham — was too tough to bite through easily, a problem exacerbated by the crusty bread (which would otherwise be a bonus). Having visited speck’s birthplace, Alto Adige, and experienced how silken it can be, I found this a chewy disappointment. In addition, the liver spread appeared to be an afterthought; I actually had to open the sandwich up and peel away the greens to find what amounted to little more than a tablespoon.
But the concoction I had the lowest hopes for, the barbecue brisket, was an unqualified delight. My initial skepticism derived from the fact that Dish isn’t, after all, a barbecue joint, and I doubted it could replicate the character a long tradition of low, slow smoking imparts. Boy, was I wrong. Finely shredded though it was, the beef didn’t lack for proper texture, being tender but not soft. The sauce it was doused in mingled with mayo from the sprightly coleslaw to tangy, creamy effect. White cheddar and caramelized onions added salt and earthy sweetness by turns. Though substantial, the ciabatta roll could barely hold it all; of course, the drippy mess each bite produced was just part of the fun.
Also part of the fun: the ever-changing lineup of sides in the display case, which you can choose instead of chips for an extra $1.25. On any given day, there might be pineapple coleslaw, pasta salad with artichokes, sesame snap peas and sherried potato salad with bacon; take-out items, meanwhile, could include quiche, burritos and stuffed chicken breasts as well as breakfast pastries. Speaking of breakfast, an array of egg-based sandwiches awaits the pre-lunch crowd, while entrée salads and soups provide further alternatives.
Clearly, Dish has earned its place on Pearl Street with its equal focus on Boulder’s gourmet, green and on-the-go lifestyles. But it has earned a place in my heart for its down-home brisket — and I’ll be honing in on the menu’s funkier finds from now on. Smoked whitefish and cream cheese on pumpernickel, here I come!
Dish Gourmet is located at 1918 Pearl St., Boulder. Call 720-565-5933.