2625 W. Colorado Ave., 471-0887,

It having been February 2008 since I last reviewed Gertrude's, we dropped in for lunch, three men feeling out of place in an entire dining room of middle-aged or older women.

My mates were pleased by their BLT ($7.95) and TBA (turkey, bacon and avocado; $8.95) sandwiches, the one saying his BLT was the best he'd had locally. I, however, was let down by the stuffed portobello mushroom ($10.95), which has slipped since it was formerly plated with sautéed veggies and wild rice. It now comes with dry, unseasoned quinoa, and the finer asparagus has been subbed out for boring, whole baby carrots. Fontina cheese and a few walnuts can't save the oregano-dominant flavor, and it all feels disparate next to a basic side salad (with a redeeming house balsamic). Like a pricey $16 shrimp salad special at lunch, this one's just not sensible. — Matthew Schniper

Left Hand Brewing Co.

1265 Boston Ave., Longmont, 303/772-0258,

If you're seeking a great seasonal, get Left Hand's Oktoberfest Marzen Lager ($8.99/six-pack) — and don't let the words "Malt Liquor" scare you. This beer is bold, rich and malty with a super-clean finish. Technically, malt liquors (which tend to be a bit sweeter, with slightly higher ABVs) fit into the greater beer category of a lager, which are bottom-fermented at relatively cool temperatures, typically over a few months. (Ales are top-fermented at warmer temps and can run the cycle in as few as five days.) The only reason for the designation here is because Texas is one of the 25 states where you can find Left Hand, and according to a now-defunct liquor law there, anything greater than 5.5 percent ABV had to be stamped malt liquor.

This Oktoberfest weighs in at 6.6 percent ABV, with a nice caramel color and complex flavors. Bonus points for drinking it in lederhosen. — Steve Hitchcock

Smitty Dawgz Soul Food

132 W. Cimarron St., 634-7132

This classic Valentine diner, former home of Mr. B's BBQ and Soul Food and, most recently, Vernacchio's, returned to a Southern stop as Smitty Dawgz around two months back. Owners Smitty and Sherry Smith and their three daughters Sheila, Stephanie and Hope, rotate through the place, similar to the way they ran their drive-in for five years in St. Petersburg, Fla.

At lunch, I get the oxtail stew with black-eyed peas and cabbage, plus sweet cornbread ($9.50) with an extra side of collard greens ($2). The peas and cabbage are both pleasantly pork-laced, and the greens get strips of oxtail, too. The stew, served on rice, is oily and fatty, with tender meat hunks served on the bone and nicely enlivened with hot sauce hits.

Speaking as an Alabaman, this is real, good Southern food. Also catch $2 breakfast plates (called "hollers") and bring cash to pay, for now. — Matthew Schniper

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