Brunch—and beignet—fans will swoon over Four Friends Kitchen
While you’re waiting for a table at Four Friends Kitchen, a breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch place in Stapleton, you will undoubtedly pass the time twirling the white knobs of a children’s toy. Some restaurants— especially those that breed kids—have board games and decks of cards to tranquilize restless attention spans. In lieu of these, Four Friends Kitchen has a dozen or so low-tech Etch A Sketches, and, for nearly an hour, our apparently not-so-bright party of three attempts, in vain, to convince the stubborn straight lines to magically create circles. It’s an exercise in patience, and, on a Saturday afternoon, patience is also the name of the game at this Southern-imprinted restaurant, which lies at the intersection of busy and insanely busy.
Numerous plates of beignets brush past us while we curse our Etch A Sketches, and my kid, who’s of the instant gratification teenager generation, threatens more than once to take a server hostage.
While we’re contemplating an exit strategy should a hapless server become a target, the hostess calls our name. Elliott doesn’t waste a second, blurting out, “We want the beignets” before his butt hits the seat. Warm, fragrant, freckled with powdered sugar and paired with wild berry preserves and crème anglaise, they’re as bewitching to eat as they are to ogle. The beignets have been a menu staple since owners Genefer Thornton and her husband, Tim, along with friends Kurt and Sarah Pletcher, opened Four Friends Kitchen in the spring of last year—and they’re so ethereal that pretty much no one arches an eyebrow if you instinctively slap the impulsive hand that dares to wander into your wonderland of sugar and dough. I suppose that if you start with the beignets, you’re technically accepting the notion that it’s OK to eat dessert first. Most people here seem to wholly embrace that concept.
If you happen to be looking for a rollicking weekend spot to sit beside convivial neighbors on the rooftop deck to converse over hearty, buttermilk- rich biscuits cloaked in a textbook truck stop gravy studded with sausage in the informal, sunsmooched dining room, or to linger solo at the bar, your head hunched over a sprawling plate of eggs, maple-smoked bacon, grits and a pancake, then you, much like everyone else, will embrace Four Friends Kitchen with the same enthusiasm as those who begin the day with beignets. Even grouchy types—the ones who stumble in bleary-eyed and desperate for a remedy to alleviate the thud in their heads—perk right up after a beermosa.
Despite the omnipresent crowds, Four Friends Kitchen started out a bit sleepy. I remember having lunch there just a few weeks after it opened, and wondering, quite frankly, if the neighborhood spot would latch on. Its location, on a side street just far enough from Stapleton’s main drag to make it off the beaten path, isn’t exactly prominent, nor is the entrance, which stands off to the side. But, in reality, it didn’t take long before the restaurant cultivated a dedicated following. The menus, originally executed by chef Larry Shore, who departed in the spring to open Cedar 65, a restaurant in Evergreen, were then in the experienced hands of Scott Parker, formerly of Table 6, the now-shuttered Session Kitchen and Carbon Beverage Café. But Parker, who took over the galley in late April, suddenly vacated Four Friends Kitchen in mid-June, less than two months after he took the gig.
His short regime didn’t give him much time to toy with the board, which remains largely intact. So the huevos rancheros, a pyramid of melted Jack and cheddar cheeses and refried beans smeared between layers of shatteringly crisp corn tortillas crowned with a pair of eggs, a few slices of avocado and a bit of pickled pepper relish, is still one of the most captivating morning glories in the city. Enhanced by a wreath of irresistibly delicious ranchero sauce—a concoction of dried chiles that mimic the hue of a Santa Fe sunset—it’s pure pleasure on the plate. My husband declared it the best huevos rancheros he’d ever eaten. We argue a lot, but on this we agree.
That ranchero sauce makes an appearance, too, in the smoked brisket hash flush with crusty ribbons of tender beef, a tumbleweed of black-edged potatoes, cubed and seasoned with barbecue spices, and two eggs, the yolkier, the better. The housemade kettle chips, superbly crunchy and dusted with a confetti of spices that tastes much like a backyard barbecue, are matched with pimento cheese dip, made with cheddar, that channels the restaurant’s Southern roots.
So, too, does the three-way that involves a crock of ultra-creamy macaroni and cheese textured with bacon; braised collard greens with a slight crunch—and arrive studded with more bacon; and buttermilk-fried chicken tenders glazed with a syrup whose sweetness is subdued by the spark of chiles.
Much has been made of the grits. Of the all-natural, heirloom persuasion, the grains originate from Shaw Farms in Georgia. The kitchen cooks them overnight, resulting in a smooth soothe of comfort that’s further bolstered with butter—but I found them less than exemplary. And whether served plain, or creamed with cheddar, a thrust of salt would be a welcome addition.
One weekday afternoon, during a rare lull, I ordered the crab cake Benedict, all dressed up with fried green tomatoes, nicely poached eggs and hollandaise sauce spritzed with a light squeeze of lemon. The crab cakes, though, were a little too undercooked, the tomatoes way too difficult to cut, even with a knife. But it’s hard to find fault with the buttermilk pancakes or the grilled tomato and cheddar bisque streaked with sour cream.
If there’s one major complaint I have with Four Friends Kitchen, it is, ironically, the lack of friendliness on the part of the hostesses. The servers and bartenders have the Southern charm down pat, but first—and last—impressions are important, and when the first and last face you see can’t be bothered to squeeze out a cursory “hello,” “goodbye” or “thank you,” it sours an otherwise enjoyable experience. The upside: The euphoric sugar high from those brilliant beignets can last all day.
Small plates: $5.50-$12; breakfast plates: $6.50-$15.50; lunch plates: $3.50-$15
Beignets, biscuits and gravy, smoked brisket hash, huevos rancheros, kettle chips and pimento dip, pancakes and the tomato bisque.
Excellent, save for the hostesses.
All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Parking lot and street parking. Reservations aren’t accepted, but you can check to see if there’s a wait (and join the list) using the Nowait app on your phone.