Leather goods

Where the men are men and the burgers are cheap.

THE REPUTATION of this little haunt on Capitol Hill has been wafting my way the last year or so—primarily talk of its luscious burgers. And I must admit that I've been putting off a visit. Perhaps you'll think me small-minded, but the Cuff's other reputation had me intimidated: It's a leather bar. Cuff Kitchen

1213 E Pine, 323-2946 Mon-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm AE, DC, MC, V; full bar I've encountered my share of good food in gay bars and dyke bars; it was the leather thing that frightened me. Would it be like trying to remain anonymous at a Hell's Angels convention? Would the servers be hulking Paul Bunyans with extruding forearms and too much hair? Would I be the only girl in the place? On my reconnaissance visit, I approached through the bar and was hardly mollified. Darkness enveloped me as the door from the street swung closed, and after my eyes adjusted to the light, I made out a couple of Paul Bunyans around the bar. Bulging-crotch art adorned the walls, and as I scuttled past in the direction of the restaurant, I walked by a big metal door marked NO ENTRY. The dungeon?! I chose instead the door to the Cuff Kitchen, and it was a little like the moment when Dorothy opens the door into Oz. Indeed, if Dorothy had teamed up with Pollyanna to open the restaurant of a leather bar, the Cuff Kitchen is what they'd have come up with. Genteel greens and mauves set the tone, prettily offset above every booth with colorful Mardi Gras prints. Servers with ordinary-sized forearms were unusually sweet and frightfully accommodating. On that visit, overplaying my role of Pain-in-the-Ass Customer, I requested half of my meal at the table and the other half to go—and to be ready within 15 minutes if possible. They beat that time and did it with a smile, setting an efficient tone that would remain cheerfully unbroken in subsequent visits. It's a throwback of a menu, heavy on the fried foods (chicken strips, onion rings) and Denny's faves (chicken fried steak, hot turkey plate) with a dash of New Orleans (jambalaya, catfish strips) for seasoning. We began with popcorn shrimp ($5.95), a heavily breaded and unremarkable version of the compulsively eatable munchy, and onion rings ($3.95), which were huge and sweet and greasy—just right. A cup of chicken gumbo ($2.95, bowl $4.95) was tasty— it just didn't taste like gumbo. Oh, the chicken was tenderly enough stewed, but evidence of andouille sausage or okra—without which gumbo isn't gumbo—or any vegetable, for that matter, was nowhere to be found. Anyhow, the savory concoction was spooned over exceptionally delicate basmati rice and made a satis- fying lunch, what- ever it was. And Louisiana credentials were somewhat restored on first bite of the crusty and lightly herby hush puppies ($2.95). AS FOR THE BURGERS, the rumors were true. Moist, fat patties starred on both the chili ($6.95) and ground turkey ($5.95) burgers. Enlivened with garlic and piled between onion buns with lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, and pickles, this turkey burger offered heft and real interest, and fries came with it. The chili burger—a daily special—was basic and satisfying, and flooded with chili. Little pots of onions and grated cheddar for sprinkling accompanied it. Even better, I thought, was a club sandwich ($5.95), a moist triple-decker on my choice of bread piled with my choice of roast beef, ham, or turkey, along with provolone, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and lively peppered bacon. A half-sized Cobb salad (half $5.25, full $6.50) was huge, groaning with bountiful piles of turkey breast, egg, avocado, tomato, blue cheese crumbles, and warm bacon. These are two classics one hardly sees on a menu anymore; we thoroughly enjoyed reuniting with such generous versions. Breakfast is served all day at the Cuff. I sampled a design-your-own frittata ($6.20) with biscuits and gravy ($3.95), and had to be rolled out. The former (a Southern method of baking eggs), which included my choices of provolone, mushrooms, and sausage, was terrific and flavorful. I found myself gobbling the well-greased, well-salted hash browns that came with it. The biscuits, homemade, were properly flooded in pale, sausage-studded gravy; I'm not sure how this artery-hardening dish got invented, but whoever did it had to have been really, really hungry. Upon thoughtful inspection, I found the Cuff Kitchen's whole menu is like that: an ber-manly list of very hearty dishes for the very hungry. Girlish decor notwithstanding, the Cuff Kitchen is, to the bottom of its deep fryer, a bastion of he-manliness; given its mandate, that's altogether as it should be. It is also underpriced, accommodating, and excessively welcoming—in short, friendly. A kinder, gentler leather bar. Welcome. krobinson@seattleweekly.com

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