That brings me back to the Negrin family opening up a Cuban cafe in Colorado. Allow me to clarify my stance on this event: I couldn't be happier.
The Frijoles Colorado family sedan
The Denver On a Spit family finally happened upon Frijoles Colorado after spending a long morning in the nearby foothills outside of Genesee. Our babies were tired and it was a risky call dragging them out of their cozy car seats, but I did like any good dad would do, and I couldn't rightly let them miss out on their first Cuban meal. "Trust me," I told them as they were rubbing their eyes from fatigue, not understanding any words coming out of mouth, "You'll thank me for this later."
Frijoles is decidedly casual, with its counter service and informal dining room. It is also incredibly welcoming and refreshingly busy. The vibe is friendly and the Negrin family is endlessly bantering with its customers (many of whom seem to be regulars already), sharing their passion for the cuisine, and patiently--even enthusiastically--explaining any and everything on the menu to anyone who asks. And while the space is small, the menu is relatively extensive; offering an impressive variety of sandwiches and main plates along with a special or two. They also have a full assortment of fresh-made Cuban baked goods and desserts.
While a lot looked really good--especially the arroz con pollo special that seemed to be on every table that afternoon-- I was here to complete a mission and have myself a much-anticpated (and needed) Cuban sandwich.
Our food was out shortly and the short of it was that my Cuban was wonderful. The bread, which is baked in house was perfectly crisp, yet soft and dense on the inside. Layered between them was thick-sliced ham and a thin grilled pork loin. Melted Swiss, pickles and yellow mustard--all smashed together by the grill press--rounded off this rather impressive Frijoles Cuban.
As much as I loved my sandwich, my wife's pulled pork was even better. Shredded, slow-roasted pork between the same great bread. It was a pefect example of how the most simple foods--when done right-- are often the best.
Next up were empanadas and coffee. I love a strong shot of espresso (I even don't mind chewing on coffee sludge) but I am not one to ever put sugar in my coffee (or milk for that matter). Being full aware of this inevitability when I ordered my cafe at a Cuban restaurant, I was prepared to begrudingly sip my little cup--because I really needed a cup of coffee. Nothing magical happened. I didn't suddenly love sweet coffee. But I could see how if you like your coffee sweet this would probably stand out as a very good cup of coffee. I kinda liked it.
The empanada desserts, however, were another story. I love my dessert and especially anything in the pastry family. These sugary, but not-too-sweet, flaky pastries full of guava and cheese were absolutely delightful.
I would like to mention that my boys did not cry once while inside Frijoles--mostly thanks to the large TV (they don't really get to watch TV at home) they sat under showing a baseball game (this place really is Cuban)--but also thanks to the excellent moros-- black beans and rice-- and papas fritas that had them stuffing their chubby little cheeks the entire time. It turned out that father did know best for once in their 16-month existence. If I can keep that up until they leave my house that means I might be right about something 15 or 16 times over the next 20 years. I'd call that a success, but then again, I like to aim high.
The Negrin family has brought Denver exactly what it needs by dishing out Cuban comfort food--in a comfortable atmosphere-- with tremendous respect for the cuisine and care for its preparation. With daily specials like paella, picadillo, arroz con pollo, ropa vieja-- and standbys like lechón and the classic Cuban; Frijoles Colorado has quite literally blown the Cuban doors right off of Denver's Cuban dining scene. Or better, it has allowed us to begin to proudly say that there is a Cuban food scene worth talking about in our town.