January 29, 2010

Brother Mel’s BBQ still cooking right along

What do Brother Mel’s Southern Style BBQ and Mark Twain have in common? The reports of their deaths were greatly exaggerated.

It is true that Brother Mel Johnson closed his Oak Street restaurant in 2005 to tend to his ministry and did not open again until 2008. He’s been up and cooking in Prospector Square at the corner of Prospect Road and College Avenue in Fort Collins ever since, but a defunct phone number and persistent Internet reports of the closure make finding the place more difficult than it should be.

“I just don’t know what to do about Google,” Brother Mel said. “We have tried to contact them to get that old information off, but nothing seems to work. When the story came out that we had closed, all our customers were amazed.”

George Moore, Brother Mel’s longtime employee, reported that a regular customer came in and said, “OK, I am standing here. This is not an hallucination. You are not closed.”

It’s true: Brother Mel’s Southern Style BBQ is alive and well in its fifth location, serving both BBQ and a non-BBQ Southern special every day. This February marks the restaurant’s 25th anniversary.

“Our first restaurant was on Mountain, next to where the Melting Pot is now. Then we were at the Park Central Food Court at Lemay and Prospect where East Moon Asian Bistro is now,” the peripatetic Brother Mel said. “Most people who come find us when they are back in town remember us from our East Mulberry location. Then there was the Old Town location on Oak. Now here.”

Although the BBQ faithful always knew where to find Brother Mel, new customers might not get the chance to try the place. As the Internet becomes the source of choice for quick information, any business would be wise not to leave its story to its tender mercies. Google Hog Wild, Albert Pit Barbecue, Serious Texas Bar-B-Q, Nordy’s or Moe’s and up come their handcrafted sites, well before any reviews or outdated contacts.

For now, a gold star for Brother Mel’s BBQ and its quarter-century in Fort Collins.

February restaurant trifecta

Last year would not cut restaurateurs a break. The bad economy came to Northern Colorado and squatted on the hospitality industry like some malevolent toad. Everyone scaled back, some all the way to oblivion. Then someone kissed that toad.

This year is offering up a February trifecta of movable feasts: The Lunar New Year joins Valentine’s Day on the weekend of Feb. 14, just ahead of Mardi Gras on Feb. 16.

“This is really good news for restaurateurs, ´ said Jason Shaffer, chef and owner of Chimney Park Restaurant in Windsor. “When Valentine’s comes on a Monday or Tuesday, then it’s just one day. When it comes on a Sunday, it becomes a weekend event.”

To honor St. Valentine or, as the Chimney Park menu puts it, for those “entertaining a significant other or significantly pursuing another,” Shaffer will offer a Sunday prix fixe menu featuring lobster, steak and duck, seasoned with natural aphrodisiacs such as truffles, compliments of Mother Nature and her good friend Aphrodite.

Jacki and Jay Witlin have also planned a special Valentine’s menu, to be served Thursday through Sunday, at Jay’s Bistro in Old Town Fort Collins. Jacki Witlin agreed that a weekend Valentine’s Day is a welcome bonus.

“Most people will say that they only want to celebrate exactly on the 14th,” she said. “But as the time gets close, and there are no more reservations for the 14th, the other days of the weekend will look good. I am sure we will be booked Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

Jay’s adults-only “Sensuously Luscious Valentine’s Menu to Intrigue the Imagination & Jump Start your Fantasies” features “French Kiss!” and “Love Muscles at Work!” for starters and, behind the green main course door, “Get your Bass in Bed!” What happens at Jay’s, stays at Jay’s.

This year also marks Jay’s 30th anniversary, dubbed by the Witlins “30 years of inspired insanity!” To have survived for three decades in the restaurant business, much less prevailed, is a notable achievement. Cheers!

Coinciding with Valentine’s Day is the first day of the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars. Lulu’s Asian Bistro owner/chef Tian “Erik” Lu has invited the Denver-based Colorado Asian Cultural Heritage Center Dragon and Lion Dance Troupe to frighten demons from and help bring good fortune to both his business and the community at large. Old Town should be grateful.

“We will have some special dishes for the New Year,” Lu said. “But for the first day of the New Year, the dance at 6 o’clock is the main event.”

And, finally, there is Fat Tuesday.

Up in Estes Park at the Stanley Hotel, chef Stewart Redhead has created a special menu for a Mardi Gras meal hosted by Robert Sickler, Master of Whiskey for Johnnie Walker. Redhead is from New Orleans, and so when on his menu he references the Acme Oyster Bar, Mandina’s, Galatoire’s, Commander’s Palace, Praline Connection, Cafe du Monde and Napoleon House (since 1797, if you please), you can be sure he knows what he is talking about.

As for Lucile’s Creole Cafe — with locations in Fort Collins, Boulder, Longmont and Denver – the runup to Lent is all about the King Cake, named for the three kings who arrived at the stable on the Twelfth Night after Christmas, Jan. 6. Cakes are baked — and eaten — between Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday.

“Our cake is traditional with the three colors: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power,´ said Lucile’s assistant manager Katie Miller. “Every cake has a trinket in it. The one who finds the ‘baby’ gets a free entree. This year during Mardi Gras week, we will feature the Hurricane as our special drink.”

Miller pointed out that by tradition the person who found the baby was responsible for the next year’s King Cake party. A free entr?e is better.

And speaking of Valentines, Engaging Loveland takes the celebration all the way to the end of the month with The Art of Dining, Feb. 15 through 28. Each of the 18 participating restaurants has created a menu with the set price of $18.77 for the year that Loveland was established. At the same time, the Food Bank for Larimer County will also be the beneficiary of Your Change Can Make a Change, which gives diners the opportunity to donate the change from their check to the Food Bank.

Gone but not forgotten

The Funky Monkey closed in December, leaving Fort Collins with one full-time creperie. Out on Harmony Road, Harmony Grill has closed — as did Mulligan’s, Somi’s I and II, and The Savoy Brasserie before it, a new record. It’s a space still in search of the right concept.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Loveland’s Monaco Trattoria is also chiuso. In business for five years, the restaurant received consistently high ratings from locals and websites such as Trip Advisor and BooRah (98 percent rahs). The complaints that did pop up concerned price and pace, which raises the question: Can European-style dining, which may begin at 8 p.m. and finish up at midnight, survive in a region accustomed to an early dinner hour?

Jane Albritton is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

What do Brother Mel’s Southern Style BBQ and Mark Twain have in common? The reports of their deaths were greatly exaggerated.

It is true that Brother Mel Johnson closed his Oak Street restaurant in 2005 to tend to his ministry and did not open again until 2008. He’s been up and cooking in Prospector Square at the corner of Prospect Road and College Avenue in Fort Collins ever since, but a defunct phone number and persistent Internet reports of the closure make finding the place more difficult than it should be.

“I just don’t know what to do about…

Related Content