Differing Hues

Sometimes off and sometimes on, Colors has the potential to be a fine gay/gay-friendly restaurant and bar

One of my favorite places to dine in San Diego is Hamburger Mary's, a gay/lesbian restaurant and bar in Hillcrest. The food's decent--slightly better-than-normal bar fare--and the service and fellow diners are always friendly. It's got a great vibe, and it's hard not to go there and enjoy yourself--whether you're gay or straight (and, of course, gay-friendly).

Now Tucson has its own gay/lesbian bar and restaurant in the form of Colors Food and Spirits, at 5305 E. Speedway Blvd. (It's in the same shopping center as Live Theatre Workshop and Something Sweet Dessert Lounge, making this little strip mall one of the most gay-friendly areas in all of Tucson.) While Colors is no Hamburger Mary's franchise (it's too small for that), it's a nice little hangout with a lot of potential. Some of this potential is unfulfilled--one of the two meals I recently had there was poorly executed, and the crowds were sparse on both visits--but the problems are fixable.

Garrett and I visited Colors on a recent Sunday morning for the champagne brunch. I'd heard good things, and like all self-respecting homosexuals, I love a good brunch. Unfortunately, we did not find one.

The menu looked promising, especially considering that a free mimosa is included with all dishes. I love eggs benedict, and Colors offers three different permutations: Southwest benedict (the requisite English muffin, poached eggs and hollandaise along with turkey, guacamole and chiles, $7.45), Florentine benedict (the requisites with spinach, mushrooms, onions and diced bacon, $7.45) and the regular eggs benedict ($6.95). Other breakfast standards--biscuits and gravy ($3.95, $6.45 with scrambled eggs), a create-your-own omelet ($5.95 plus 50 cents for each ingredient) and chicken fried steak and eggs ($7.45)--make up the menu, along with some salads and appetizers.

I chose to get the regular eggs benedict, and Garrett ordered the fried egg croissandwich with bacon ($6.95). We also decided to split the chips and salsa ($2 according to the menu, although we were charged $2.95, I discovered later) with guacamole ($1 extra).

As we waited for the food, Garrett and I enjoyed the atmosphere. Colors' décor is quite nice; black is the predominant color--the chairs, tables, bar stools and industrial-style open ceiling are all black--and mellow track lighting provides the mood. Five televisions are placed high on one wall, and one hangs over the bar. Music usually plays overhead--during brunch, it was techno-style music (aka the gay mating call). The metal/stone art of Joseph Birdsong sits in various places around the restaurant, along with the paintings of Jon Lightfoot (depicting some impressively muscular men). My favorite aspect of Colors' décor, however, is the aquarium on the east side of the restaurant. Filled with all sorts of coral, fish and other aquatic creatures, the aquarium is entertainment in and of itself. Garrett and I watched in amazement as a shrimp vigorously scrubbed a fish off and on throughout our meal. (If you visit Colors, and one of the tables near the aquarium is open, request it.)

Our pleasant server brought our chips, salsa and guacamole. The chips seemed store-bought and slightly stale, which made it harder to enjoy the homemade, tomato-intensive salsa. The small dish of creamy guacamole was decent and quickly devoured.

After finishing the chips and salsa, we sipped our mimosas and watched the clownfish cavort until our meals came. Both dishes were messed up. I sent my eggs benedict back because it was missing the hollandaise sauce; Garrett didn't send his croissandwich back, even though what he got was not what was described on the menu: "two eggs lightly fried with cheddar cheese and served with lettuce and tomato." Garrett's croissant: scrambled eggs with a slice of processed American cheese, with no lettuce or tomato in sight. What was there was OK, he said, but we felt gypped.

When the apologetic server returned with my eggs benedict, I was less than impressed. The Canadian bacon and English muffin were all OK, but the hollandaise sauce--which makes or breaks eggs benedict--was runny and bland.

We left brunch disappointed, and concerned about what we'd find when we returned several days later for dinner.

Colors' regular menu is a small step above the average restaurant/bar menu. Whole pages are dedicated each to appetizers, salads, sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, burgers and "dinner delights." We decided to start off with two appetizers--the bruschetta ($5.95) and the Colors quesadilla with chicken ($6.45). For main courses, I picked the grilled boneless pork chops ($11.95), while Garrett, a bleu-cheese fanatic, predictably ordered the "blues burger" ($8.45).

The appetizers were a relief. The quesadilla was huge, a flour tortilla packed with cheddar and jack cheeses, roasted chiles and chicken, with pico de gallo on the side. (We also got sides of guacamole and sour cream, adding $2 to the tab.) The chicken was juicy and tasty; it was a winner, but it came in second to the bruschetta. The Colors version is a bit different from traditional bruschetta, which tends to come on crispy, almost crunchy bread. At Colors, the middle of the bread slices--packed with tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and olive oil--were soft, maybe even a bit soggy, but it worked. The four slices, dipped in marinara sauce, were delicious, and they were quickly eaten, along with our freshly made salads.

Our entrées were both delicious, giving us hope that the brunch blunder was the exception rather than the rule. Garrett relished his burger, on an onion bun (other options: wheat and sesame seed) with bacon and bleu cheese. Garrett's only complaint, other than the fact that the restaurant does not stock regular Dijon mustard, was that he would have liked more bleu cheese on his perfectly prepared burger. I had a taste, and trust me: The amount of cheese was more than adequate. His fries were the only downer of the meal; they were a bit undercooked.

My pork chops, which came with a baked potato, were sweet, juicy and yummy. The honey and mustard they were seasoned in gave the meat a wonderful flavor. (I couldn't taste any ginger, as the menu promises, but this was not a concern.) I was delighted.

To finish things off, we chose the autumn cheesecake ($4.95) off Colors' limited dessert menu (a wise choice, given the proximity to the always-wonderful Something Sweet). We could barely taste the cheesecake as the apples, cinnamon and finely chopped pecans dominated the flavor, but it was good nonetheless, a fine conclusion to a near-flawless meal.

It's worth noting that I probably would not have returned after our brunch experience but for the fact that I had to, for reviewing purposes. I am glad I did. Colors is no Hamburger Mary's, but it has the potential to be pretty darn good.