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Monday, February 13, 2017

Roadside Attraction----Denver's Linger Eatuary: Let Them Eat Crickets (and Other Delights)

My old friend Mike Jackson, who was for nearly three decades the State Architect for Illinois, visited Denver for a conference recently.  As Mike likes old things made new through the application of foresight (he was a champion of preserving historic buildings years before "adaptive reuse" became a catchphrase) and wit (he drove a Bulletnose Studebaker for awhile), I suggested we try dinner at Linger, a restaurant housed in a clever adaptation of the old Olinger Mortuary in Denver's Lower Highlands neighborhood…or LoHi in hipspeak.  Linger's satirical approach to mortality begins before you get inside.  On the roof, the old "Olinger Mortuaries" sign glows in white and blue neon…but the "O" has been turned off, and "mortuaries" has been finessed into "eatuaries."  Linger bills itself as "Denver's finest eatuary."  

Inside, the humor continues.  Water is served in carafes that look suspiciously like formaldehyde bottles cadged from a morgue.  The menu mixes cultures (Latin American, East Asian, Caribbean) and attitudes (vegan to carnivore with a few stops at vegetarian) with cheerful and heedless abandon, and there's the expected range of artsy microbrews as well as a long wine list.  When Mike told me he'd skipped lunch in training for this experience, I decided to drop any concerns about my new boring diet (not even worth describing) and Just Say Yes. We ordered a Bao Bun full of Mongolian BBQ Duck and another called "Dragon" (no reptiles involved, but unagi sauce, tempura avocado, wasabi etc.), a crispy Vietnamese Crepe which shared space in a bowl with lotus root chips, baked bean curd and butternut squash, and a plate of Thai Fried Rice (poached egg over charred pole beans, thai basil, five spice cashews, coconut).  Here's a Dragon Bun:

It was a feast of subtle and memorable flavors, but some flavors were more memorable than others.  Mike's favorite was the Dragon Bun, and I placed it close to the top for sneaky flavor entrapment, like a tune you can't identify but which won't leave you alone.  Maybe the mystery ingredient is the unagi sauce (that's eel); another mystery is what happened to the eel itself, as there was plenty of tasty vegetable crunch but no meat in evidence.  Then there was the Thai Fried Rice, which had plenty of crunch defining the edges of a soft, subtle flavor territory which got even more mellow when you mixed in the poached egg...

There was an order of bacon-wrapped figs which made me glad I'd ditched my diet  Just This Once, and the Vietnamese Crepe which had a secretive, circular character that provided the last bite with a kind of built-in nostalgia for the first.  It turned out to be my favorite.  But Mike stared at the menu; he was still hungry.

"Wow, you really didn't eat lunch, did you?" 

"Here, look at this; you missed the Cricket and Cassava Empanada.  Gotta try it."

Mike took some pictures of the menu and texted them back to his family.  Apparently crickets are not a common menu item in Springfield, Illinois.  I was beginning to regret my Just Say Yes policy…but we ordered anyway.  The menu listed "micro ranch crickets" as a central ingredient in the empanada.  I wondered if the "micro" part referred to the size of the ranch or the size of the crickets.  Maybe they'd be too small to notice, I hoped…

But the v. nice Gen. Mgr. Shannon Jones came over to chat with us, and maybe to buck me up just a bit ("they're a lot like roasted sunflower seeds", she said) and I thought fondly of sunflower seeds (and peanuts and really, anything but crickets) as I took a couple of hopeful swigs of dry cider. Then the informative, ever-helpful waiter showed up with a complimentary plate of toasted crickets to tide us over while we awaited the main event…

That's not a very big picture, but then again they weren't very big crickets.  Big enough to notice, though, so I tried a few.  Yes, they are kind of nut-like and crunchy, but the flavor is not as perky as your average sunflower seed.  Maybe that's because they're not as salty.  We were just getting our minds around these when the empanadas arrived...

These turned out to be less dramatic, with the crickets hidden inside and also in the cricket flour used in the dough.  There's an argument to be made for crickets as a more sustainable source of protein than, say, cattle or pigs, but I think the empanada would be a more effective case in point for that argument if they hadn't also used fried pork belly inside it.  Overall, the taste was mellow and subtle, not unlike a veggie burger, with extra flavor provided by cilantro-lime creme and some welcome crunch from some unidentified toasted seeds (pomegranate?) in the foreground.  When the bill arrived, it was on a mock-up of a toe tag from the old mortuary.  We decided on dessert at Little Man Ice Cream* right next door, and maybe as evidence that the evening of wild experimentation was over, selected a vanilla and a chocolate...

*Footnote:  For notes on Little Man Ice Cream, see "Little Man and Big Dog in Denver" in these posts for May 14, 2016.

Photo credits:

Top:  The author
2nd & 3rd from top:  Linger Eatuary
4th from top:  yelp.com
5th:  Mike Jackson
Bottom:  Mike Jackson

Friday, February 3, 2017

Frazer Nash, Part 2: When a Replica Is Not a Replica

In the late 1970s I lived near the train tracks in Evanston, Illinois in an apartment building which also housed a shop where an affable mechanic named Dave specialized in classic, sports and other odd cars.  The location was especially convenient as I often took the train to work, and when my used but loved Jaguar got the hiccups I just moved it from the garage across the street to the back one, where Dave world have a look.  He drew the line at working on my old Renault, as I recall (here's where I remember how much I rode my bike). There were always interesting cars lurking around Dave's shop, including a Zagato-bodied OSCA coupe* and once, a Lotus Elan which had been trampled by a panicked (or jealous) horse.  Possibly the rarest one I encountered was nearly identical to the car pictured below. As nearly identical as something made by hand and subject to special customer requests can be, and thus the name: Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. By "replica", AFN Ltd., the maker of all things Frazer Nash, was signaling that the nearly 3 dozen customer versions they built from 1949 to '54 were replicas of the car they'd raced at Le Mans in 1949. This was a replica that wasn't a replica, you see... 

It was as if, in order to assure you that your Beetle was genuine, Volkswagen had labeled each of the 21 million copies they churned out as a Type 1 VW Prototype Replica...  No matter; the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica was light enough and sturdy enough to do well in endurance racing, taking 3rd at the 1949 Le Mans 24-hour race, and winning the 1951 Targa Florio and the 1952 Sebring 12 Hours.  The car I saw in Dave's shop belonged to Chicago collector Ben Rose, and like all Le Mans Reps, featured a 2 liter six derived from the prewar BMW 328.  It was a tight little torpedo of a car, with low-cut doors, cycle fenders and a little plate identifying the engine builder as the Bristol Aeroplane Company. During the vintage racing boom of the 1970s, after Frazer Nash had abandoned manufacturing cars to concentrate on selling Porsches, the UK restoration shop Crosthwaite & Gardiner built six new replicas of this model using the original chassis and body design along with the Bristol engine.  These cars are known as Le Mans Replica Replicas.  They truly are replicas...

The Le Mans Rep was the most famous and numerous of the postwar cars built by AFN, but there were others worth noting.  The Fast Roadster introduced in 1949 quickly morphed into the Fast Tourer and then into this Mille Miglia, named after that race victory.  If you're into English cars of the 50s you'll notice the similarity to the MGA which came 6 years later, especially in the fender shapes front and rear and the way the bonnet and surrounding valence curves down to the wide, flattened version of the traditional grille.  Later versions of the Mille Miglia, like the one below, reverted to the vertical grille and a smaller bonnet opening.   But the Aldington brothers, who ran AFN, were such good sports they apparently never took up the issue of the cribbed design with the British Motor Company.  In any case, the latter company's MGA outsold the much more expensive Mille Miglia (11 examples made) by almost 9,000 to 1.

By the mid-1950s AFN was becoming aware that the 20 plus-year old Bristol engine design had reached the limit of its development, so they looked at other alternatives, checking out the more modern 3.4 liter Armstrong Siddeley six, which they judged to be too heavy.  A prototype aimed at larger-scale production and a lower price was built with a 2.6 litre Austin four for the 1952 Motor Show, but it was immediately upstaged by Donald Healey's spectacular Healey Hundred with the same engine, and that car became the Austin-Healey 100-4. The Targa Florio model which had formed the basis of the Austin experiment was modernized into the Mark II, with sleeker nose and tail and the old standby Bristol six, and one of these was brought to California and successfully raced by Marion Lowe.  

So AFN continued to offer the Bristol engine while searching for more power.  They offered a Le Mans coupe (9 built) on the Le Mans Rep chassis with alloy bodywork, and a delectable competition roadster, the Sebring (3 built) on the Le Mans Mark II parallel tube chassis with De Dion rear axle.  And if one of the major manufacturers complained that they had licensed that name, AFN could reply that they had, after all, won the race*…The Sebring may have been aimed at American racers, but in the two-liter class their attention had been captured by the AC Ace Bristol (see our post for 12-24-16), which cost around half as much.  

There was a last-ditch effort to outfit the Le Mans chassis with a 3.2 liter BMW V-8, and two were built, based upon the Porsche 356 body shell (as the English concessionaire, AFN had easy access to those) but with a long bonnet and trad grille.  This car was too expensive to be competitive, even against Aston Martin, and looked like the compromise that it was.  Those of us who remember the Frazer Nash will instead remember those sharply-focused racing torpedoes, and the iconoclastic chain-drive cars that came before them.

*Footnotes:  For the OSCA Zagato 1600 GT, see "Almost Famous", our post for April 20, 2016. AFN's customers must have taken the naming business seriously; of the 9 Le Mans coupes produced, 6 competed in their namesake race.  Marque expert David Thirlby (Frazer Nash, Haynes Publishing, UK, 1977) estimated a total postwar production figure of 85 to 87 cars.

Photo credits:
Top:  the author
2nd:  flickriver.com
3rd:  wikimedia
4th:  bringatrailer.com
Bottom:  frazernasharchives.co.uk  ('54 Sebring on left; '55 Le Mans coupe on right)