Archive for Friday, May 29, 1998

DOWNTOWN CAFE SPECIALIZES IN MOUNTAINS OF POTATOES

May 29, 1998

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The Herbery/The Potato Mountain Cafe is a mashed-potato lover's dream.

The slogan, ``mountains of mashed potatoes,'' is enough to win my heart over, but boasting a selection of more than 100 kinds of mashed potatoes sends me into a frenzy.

I am a confessed and convicted potato fanatic. I revere the potato sometimes with religious fervor and experiment with it with scientific curiosity. There are infinite ways to cook and use the potato, but a spud in mashed form rules.

One person who agrees is Brent McClun, owner of The Herbery/Potato Mountain Cafe, 1011 1/2 Mass. He truly understands the significance of the mashed potato and has devoted his menu to more mashed potato recipes than I could have ever imagined.

The menu also has a mountain twist to it: All entrees are named after mountains or peaks. Included in meal descriptions are fun factoids about their namesakes. The theme of the cafe could be ``Get back to the basics: nature and mashed potatoes.''

Aside from The Potato Mountain Cafe, which I consider the main attraction, McClun runs what he calls ``the great big little store,'' otherwise known as The Herbery.

Shelves are lined with a perplexing array of different retail items . Herbs, spices and extracts, which are also used in The Potato Mountain Cafe recipes, share one wall with an assortment of scented and dripless candles. On the other wall you can take your pick from organic beans, rices, honeys, statuettes, frames, teach-yourself language books and a nice selection of classic literature. (I would consider Stephen Crane's ``The Red Badge of Courage'' or Fyodor Dostoevsky's ``Crime and Punishment'' healthy reading for anyone.)

After soaking in the atmosphere and reading the Potato Mountain Cafe Mountain Newsletter, an informative update on current mountain expeditions, I ordered the sample platter of any two items for $5.95 and a freshly made apple-carrot juice.

Now I've never been to Long's Peak in Colorado or Granite Peak in Montana, but I can say that I have consumed them with a voracious appetite. The Long's Peak with its crunchy bacon bits and chives and the Granite Peak and its steamed asparagus and spinach were very pleasing.

I plowed through them without paying much attention to the accompanying relish plate or bread slice. The relish plate included a small bunch of fresh, crispy celery and carrot sticks, pickles and The Potato Mountain Cafe house dip. It served as a good afterthought as did the bread slice topped with a bit of The Potato Mountain Cafe house spread.

The apple-carrot juice was satisfying in a nutritional way, but at $3 a glass, I prefer water.

Serving proportions are still at an experimental stage, so McClun may ask you if you've had enough before you leave. He does not want anyone to go away hungry, but also does not want to overload anyone's plate, leaving much to go to waste.

There is beauty in simplicity, and McClun does not plan on adding baked potatoes, hashed potatoes or any other kind of potatoes to his menu. He specializes in mashed potatoes only and I think offering more than 100 different kinds is enough to keep him busy for a while.

And in case you are wondering: Yes, McClun did indeed have a Mr. Potato Head, and no, he has not seen Richard Dreyfuss' famous potato mountain scene in ``Close Encounters of the Third Kind.''

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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