Right now, the Bistro is a disjointed mix of the old, the new and the coming-soon.
The signs in the former Conway's Red Top parking lot are the first giveaway: One says, "The Bistro, Welcome, Breakfast, Lunch," while the other still sports the familiar spinning top of the now-defunct local hamburger chain. Inside, the red and green paint paired with the restaurant's seasonal effects suggest an unhealthy Christmas obsession. Meanwhile, the fact that you can buy Krispy Kreme Doughnuts at the counter, delivered fresh from Denver daily, is advertised as loudly as the "half price omelettes and homemade soups."
But despite all the above, and the feeling of eating in a one-room cafeteria at the senior center, I've got nothing but love for the Bistro. Owned and operated by the Houston family, they of the neighboring North End Diner, the restaurant delivers even more than it seems to promise.
Take the Maryland Crab Po-Boy ($11.95), which we all know could be a dicey proposition in a place like this. Instead of some soggy ball of bread-crumbs on toast, though, out come two plate-filling buns full of mildly spiced, crab-laden patties that are as delicious on their own as on the bread. They even outshine the crinkly sweet-potato fries, which aren't that flavorful anyway.
Instead, get the onion rings, because those onion rings are right; like the juiciest onion slice found the thinnest corn dog-style batter and decided to make it happen in hot oil. Our onions never came slithering out on the first bite, and we never needed anything to dip them in.
For you morning types, the Belgian waffle ($7.45) has a lovely vanilla crunch that's going to go nice with whatever hot fruit you pile on — the cinnamon apples are excellent — while, on the other hand, our French toast ($4.95) was a little thin, flat in flavor and, like the waffle, offensively topped with a gross maraschino cherry. Those in the mood for neither would do fine with the huevos rancheros ($8.75), a messy bit of beans, tortilla, gorgeously gooey fried eggs, lime and peppers in a medium-spicy green chili. (Grab a tender pork tamale for $3.50.)
In an interesting culinary diversion from the norm, a teriyaki-beef noodle bowl can be had for $9.50. Unfortunately, ours featured meat that was more gristle than good, while the noodles had been cooked to a soft death; don't miss the golden-and-glistening homemade egg roll, though.
Maybe stick with the sandwiches, which, as the po-boy proves, are damn big, if a bit back-and-forth. For instance, the grilled-chicken panini ($9.50) — two big sourdough triangles full of cheese, peppers and black olives — looks mighty tasty but comes off meek. But a Reuben ($9.50) that takes the unusual approach of triple-decking the lightly toasted dark rye, then seemingly under-filling it with corned beef, Swiss and sauerkraut, still rocks a tangy, buttery punch.
Basically, through it all, there's the concerted feeling that, "Hey, these guys are trying." It's the house-made stuff. It's the meat from Ranch Foods Direct. It's the green olives and individual onion rings appended to the top of sandwiches as garnishes; the corn chips artfully upended in the huevos' beans; and the seamless service that neither disturbs nor disappears.
And if it's all a little crazy right now? Well...
"We apologize for the confusion," reads a sign on the front door. "We are a new restaurant."