Tess on the Town: Robust taste? Try torta ahogada

Torta ahogada (drowned sandwich in Spanish) is a favorite dish in the streets, stadiums and bodegas of Guadalajara, and the whole of Jalisco, Mexico. It is filled with spicy pulled pork, ham, carne asada or any of the other taco fillings.

Variations are many, but El Tapitio on North Avenue in Grand Junction smears the rustic bread with refried beans and tops with it with sliced onions, radishes and jalapeños. It is then dunked or drowned in chile de arbor sauce. Because the soft-inside telera or birote bread is crispy on the outside (think ciabatta), it stands up to the drowning in the tangy, spicy sauce.

The torta ahogada is not for the timid. It is robust and bursting with taste and drunken with all the flavors of Mexico.

Natives of Guadalajara eat this sloppy sandwich with their bare hands, but a knife and fork works well for me.

Las Marias and Leon’s Taqueria in Grand Junction also will prepare a drowned tortas on request, although their menus only list the non-drowned kind. If you’re curious about the bread only, City Market on 24 Road sells round telera rolls in the bakery.

SWIMMING WITH THE FISHIES: Next trip to Denver, you might want to consider visiting the Highlands neighborhood of northwest Denver, which used to be a Little Italy of sorts. It’s now populated by all sorts of ethnic groups, but some reminders remain, namely a handful of the venerable red sauce joints.

On top of the list is Gaetano’s on 38th and Tejon streets, now owned by Wynkoop/Breckenridge Group.

Gaetano’s claim to fame is that it was once owned by three connected brothers, the Smaldones. Books and lore say Denver’s most infamous crime family ran their business out of the restaurant, including gambling, bootlegging and prostitution.

The Denver police ran a 24/7 surveillance operation for years outside the pasta palace hoping to catch Eugene “Checkers,” Clyde “Flip Flop” and Clarence “Chauncey” Smaldone.

Gaetano’s recently underwent a serious upgrade that highlights its underworld past. The restaurant booths will all face the entrance, arranged that no one’s back is to the door. Were the Smaldones watching their backs for Denver’s finest, or some a packing punk looks to scooch their territory?

The new chef and new menu will offer some northern Italian dishes, but true to its roots, veal parm and Mogen David will be on the menu.

And the name will revert to its historic moniker, Gaetano’s Eccellente Cucina & Cocktail

INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF OATMEAL: IHOP, the home of pancakes dripping in syrup, dolloped with butter and covered with sugared fruit and whipped cream, is teaming with the folks at Quaker Oats to enhance the healthy choices on the menu.

You’ll still be tempted by the 1,000 calorie create-your-own crepe and the 1,500-calories country breakfast, but this fall there will be some lean, super-food alternatives. It’s about time. I’m getting tired of watching IHOP commercials that make my teeth hurt.

The new line includes:

■ Various oatmeal dishes with a varying combination of bananas, almonds and walnuts and dried so-called super fruits, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raisins and golden raisins.

■ Whole wheat pancakes with egg substitute and turkey bacon.

■ Whole wheat crepes with cream cheese and blueberries.

■ Whole wheat waffles with turkey bacon.

Everything on the simple and fit menu are between 260 and 510 calories.

They’ve also have a Facebook gimmick to win free coupons. See either company’s Facebook page for details.

EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ORANGE: Remember the frothy iconic mall drink of the 1980s, the Orange Julius?

Not quite orange juice, not quite milkshake. Well, they’re making a comeback at Dairy Queen. The ice cream shop and burger chain has added the traditional Orange Julius, plus a line of Orange Julius smoothies to its menu.

Flavors include orange, strawberry, strawberry banana, triple berry and mango pineapple. Since DQ makes much of its profit on ice cream, it’s probably a logical leap.

QUOTE: “I’m not a glutton. I’m an explorer of food.” —Erma Bombeck

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