It was the worst of lunches, it was the best of lunches. No clich better captures my recent meal at Otho's Gourmet 80906 Caf.
When I put Otho's in the review queue months ago, it had recently expanded and added a substantial in-house lunch menu. I had every reason to be intrigued. Otho Spencer's cookies and brownies have wowed locals, mail-order junkies and celebrities for nearly 20 years, and his catering operation draws consistent praise.
Indeed, my to-go orders quarts of sausage and corn chowder and black bean chili ($9.50 each) and a corn-cheddar souffl ($14.50) seemed pricey but reheated beautifully, fed four handily and tasted great. Entre choices (mid-$20s), including lasagna, brisket and chile rellenos, offered equally hearty sustenance.
However, my passage between knowing Otho's by reputation and fully knowing Otho's by experience required braving some stormy midday seas. And unfortunately, by the time I visited for lunch, a shrinking menu and a more straightforward editorial policy had ground my awaiting pen a lethal edge.
The worst of lunches
Unsuspectingly, my friend and I parked ourselves on stools at Otho's counter-height tables, the freezer case of foods to-go on one side and a cart full of baked treats on the other. The menu arrived. I read it. I read it again. I laughed.
"Sandwiches?" my friend asked, referring to the use of the plural for one sandwich chicken salad offered three different ways.
"Salads," I snickered, pointing to the alternative: chicken salad as the star in three different salads.
To summarize, Otho's offers seven items for lunch: three chicken-salad sandwiches, three chicken-salad salads and a daily soup. Any guesses? Yep chicken dumpling. The cost? $9.75. Stiff, even for, say, a pre-Revolution French socialite.
Things spiraled downward quickly, evolving into fodder for that most bourgeois of sitcoms, Curb Your Enthusiasm. My friend's $10 sandwich arrived sporting two scoops of admittedly delicious chicken salad on equally scrumptious corn toastums and some potato chips. The kitchen botched my salad/soup combo order. The cook blamed the server. The server blamed the cook. No one offered to fix the problem.
Cackling, my friend and I furiously knit sarcastic and condescending headlines: "Otho's brings edible IKEA to Springs with modular chicken salad"; "Thin waist and thick wallet? Otho's has the lunch for you!" Nothing, it seemed, could keep the safety catch on the guillotine.
The best of lunches
In our mean-spirited cynicism, we almost overlooked the included cookie or brownie. Was our waitress nothing more than a latter-day Marie Antoinette, mocking our hunger by suggesting we eat cake?
Absolutely not. With one bite, everything changed.
Moist and gooey, my first foray into the peanut-butter brownie made my face tingle. Finishing it off took a solid 20 minutes, and it left me buzzed for nearly two hours. My friend's chocolate brownie had equivalent ecstatic powers. We both bought six-packs to go. Options abound: chocolate toffee, black nugget, raspberry cream cheese, and more. At $9.50, six Otho's brownies might be the best $10 lunch in town. They're the best brownies ever. Sorry, Mom.
Like its Dickensian analog, this story has an ambiguous ending. Lunch remains only partially redeemed. Yet, to buy Otho's prepared items is a far, far better thing to do; and its brownies bring far, far better happiness than I have ever known.
Otho's Gourmet 80906 Caf
6530 S. Academy Blvd., Suite 109, 576-1798, othos.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.