Like, dude, if you want some really good grub you gotta check out this new place. Um ... I think it's called ... oh man, I can't remember what it's called. But it's over there by the record store." The guy pointed toward Independent Records.
I was standing outside the fence which protects the new Uncle Wilber Fountain, unintentionally eavesdropping on two guys who looked like they were about to lead a technical climbing expedition up Pikes Peak. It was a bizarre conversation they were having, mostly debating the visual merits of Uncle Wilber and whether the dog/monkey creature on his head squirts water. And then came that out-of-context sentence; the most useful and informative sentence of their entire conversation and of my entire week.
I had no idea there was a new restaurant in the neighborhood. Saying a silent thank-you to the guys for their hot tip, I went across the street to investigate.
Sure enough, the dude was right. There is a new restaurant on Bijou Street, where the old Indian Palate used to be. It's called the Utopia Caf.
The menu consists of both breakfast and lunch items: a variety of burgers, grilled sandwiches, deli sandwiches and salads, and on the breakfast side, the usuals like eggs, bacon, omelettes, French toast and biscuits and gravy.
But it is the naming of the menu items that is truly inspirational: The See Me Philly Me Sandwich (steak, Swiss, grilled pepper and onions), The California Dreamin' Burger (avocado, sprouts and cheese), The Have an Open Mind Sandwich (open-faced roast beef or turkey served with potatoes and gravy).
The clever names go on, with some of the best ones appearing on the children's menu. If I were a parent, I'd make my kid order either The Mother Nature's Son Breakfast (three minipancakes, one egg and bacon), I Am the Eggman (one egg, hashbrowns, bacon and toast) or The Grilled Cheese Incident. It's all in the name, you know.
The place is decorated very similarly to my Uncle Jay's basement/bedroom back in 1973 (minus black lights). There's a groovy tie-dyed, psychedelic rock/classic-rock motif happening. Tapestries and framed classic-rock posters and photographs adorn the Jerry Garcia on the back wall.
Dark green-and-white tie-dyed tablecloths cover all of the tables and match the staff's T-shirts. Hey, if you are going to have a work uniform, a nice tie-dye is much better than a polo shirt, in my opinion.
As it turns out, that guy at the fountain was right. It's good grub. Very good grub. In fact, I will pause here to give a special mention to the Mexicali Blues Burrito. Stuffed with sausage, fresh veggies, eggs and then smothered in green chili, this breakfast plate is exceptional.
In the minds of many a folk, the name of the place somehow implies some sort of vegetarian haven. On the contrary, though there are definitely vegetarian items on the menu, the emphasis here is not necessarily veggie food (what kind of utopia would that be anyway?) but on fresh, good quality food. The salad dressings, for instance, are homemade, as are the fries, hashbrowns, green chili, gravies and soups. All veggies are fresh and uncanned and the meats are lean.
Impressively, there is also a stellar selection of beverages, including five different types of juices, available by the glass or by the carafe and a nice selection of bottled sodas like root beer, orange creme and sarsaparilla.
The Utopia Caf is not just another new kid on the block. The place adds some much needed urban flair and character to the neighborhood. But above all, the food is good, service is quick, the atmosphere is laid-back and the staff is incredibly friendly. And with Uncle Wilber just across the street watching over you, you really can't ask for more.