Diner fare finds a few fun touches at MareBear's 


click to enlarge The chile verde bowl with side cornbread salad. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The chile verde bowl with side cornbread salad.

Though it may not elevate far beyond Pinterest foodie fodder, there's still something awesome about Barry Leak Jr.'s $2.95 Brownie Cookie Cups. They're simple: cookie on the bottom, candy of some ilk in the middle, brownie on top, muffin shaped.

Leak, who briefly attended Pikes Peak Community College's culinary program after a decade of call center work, insists the idea for the cups "just popped into my head," though he's since gone online to find similar layered Frankensweets — perhaps evidence of Jung's collective unconscious or the culinary equivalent of simultaneous invention.

Either way, for diner dessert fare in the humblest of settings (the former Thai Eats), the cups show a welcome level of creativity and play, and their textures are spot-on. Each begins with a different cookie dough to match the respective commercial candy flavor, but all finish with the same fluffy brownie cap. So a peanut butter cookie gets a Reese's middle; Snickerdoodle sees Snickers; chocolate chip pairs with Oreo; and oatmeal raisin mates with a Mounds. I don't have to tell you what any of those taste like, but if I did, the answer would be, "good."

Don't think Leak's totally sugar-obsessed when you also see Grandma Evelyn's Cocoa & Biscuits on the menu. As I explained in Side Dish in early September — where we also learned that the MareBear's name pays tribute to his late wife Mary, who succumbed to cancer just before the eatery opened — that recipe hails from Oklahoma, where he ate it as a kid when visiting his relatives. The bowl places conventional biscuits, which he buys, in a soup of chocolate gravy, made with butter, flour and light cocoa powder. We'd have preferred it served with a spoon rather than a fork, but otherwise it arrives as expected: sweet, but not sickly so, and guilty good, like a brunch favorite transported to Candyland.

From there, Leak's menu returns to café normalcy, running a wide gamut from breakfast burritos, bowls and sandwiches to lunchtime club sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, rice bowls, melts and salads. Everything rates unpretentious and homestyle, made with standard marketplace ingredients (read: no artisan, craft or local-focus), which explains prices from $3.95 to $9.95, the higher end coming as a combo with one side item. We try sweet potato tots, coleslaw and bright mustard potato salad fit for a backyard barbecue, and Momma Brenda's Cornbread Salad, the best of the batch, served cold, wherein the bread's crumbled into chunks with beans, scallions, green bells and sour cream, like a not-nacho plate.

MareBear's chicken and waffle sandwich manages to taste like a McDonald's Chicken McNugget and Leak's mother-in-law Kathy's chile verde (instant) rice bowl errs on the side of mild heat, allowing guests to up the ante with hot sauce at the table. My Reuben continues the no frills/but no complaints model, wrapped in red checkerboard parchment paper and properly loaded with the respective fixings. We opt for the Super Six Cheese grilled cheese (that's Swiss, American, Mozzarella, Pepper Jack, cheddar and smoked gouda) because when in a place that serves cocoa gravy, do all things to excess. Again I probably don't have to tell you what that tastes like, but if I did, the answer would be, "pretty good."

That sums up the modesty of MareBear's as a whole, being a place with heart and sincerity, but nothing competing for a gourmet award. Then again, those Brownie Cookie Cups, taken as an everyman treat, rank pretty badass.


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