Monday, December 28, 2009

Ganja Gourmet

Dinner and a buzz at Ganja Gourmet

The Denver restaurant, serving pizza, lasagna, salads and more, is a
unique medical marijuana dispensary for patients who prefer an edible
dosage -- and are tired of brownies.

By DeeDee Correll
December 28, 2009

Reporting from Denver

At the Ganja Gourmet, the chef's first order of business on a recent
weekday morning was to whip up a meat lasagna.

Her next was to entice customers to try it.

"Dinner Buzz Special," Jenny Fowler wrote on a dry-erase board. "Start
with our ganjanade [ganja tapenade], bread and a fat dank joint! Then
choose from a slice of pizza or LaGanja [lasagna]. Then top it off with
a Ganja Gourmet dessert, your choice, $30."

This, pronounced owner Steve Horwitz as he watched over her shoulder,
was a dinner special no other restaurant in America could claim.

Technically, the Ganja Gourmet, in a modest brick building on a worn
boulevard among gas stations, hookah shops and antique stores, is not a
restaurant -- it is a medical marijuana dispensary, one of many that
have sprung up this year throughout Colorado.

Nine years after voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing
medical marijuana, state health officials decided in July to end a
five-patient limit for marijuana suppliers. The numbers of both
registered patients and dispensaries have exploded.

At least 15,000 people have applied to join the 15,800 already on the
state registry of patients. Although no official tally exists of the
number of new dispensaries, dozens have opened -- so many that Westword,
a Denver newspaper, hired two critics to review them.

Horwitz decided to join the rush. He had an idea for standing out:
emphasizing "edibles."

"I already knew I loved to eat pot," said Horwitz, a 51-year-old Long
Island, N.Y., native who said he has used marijuana since his teens to
cope with attention-deficit disorder.

The self-described food connoisseur quickly drew up a menu that would go
beyond the requisite brownies found in other dispensaries. He hired two
cooks, ending up with a menu that includes balsamic-vinaigrette-dressed
greens, white-sauce pizzas, tapenade, hummus, lemon meringue tartlets,
cheesecakes and muffins (low fat), all prepared at an off-site
commercial kitchen.

A gleeful Horwitz soon found himself the subject of news articles and
Jay Leno jokes ("I understand they make a terrific pot pie!").

But despite orders rolling in for the tie-dyed staff T-shirts -- "Our
food is so great, you need a license to eat it!" -- at least half of the
customers still come for the "bud bar" where they buy marijuana to
consume the old-fashioned way.

Some patients find eating pot more helpful for maladies such as
arthritis or muscle problems, said Georgina Livermore of the
Oregon-based American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, which promotes the
use of medical marijuana. Others simply don't like to smoke, she said.

When eating marijuana, it's harder to control the dosage, she said. It
also takes longer to feel the effect -- an issue Horwitz said he
addresses by not permitting customers to eat more than one item every 45

"It's a different buzz," Horwitz said. "A much more awake, alert, hyper

His chefs "medicate" the dishes by cooking them with butter or olive oil
infused with marijuana. The infusion process can take several days of
simmering an ounce of marijuana in one pound of butter or one cup of

The use of butter or oil makes it tricky to develop low-fat recipes,
said Fowler, who's also tinkering with recipes for the chocolate mousse
cake, paella and jambalaya Horwitz is determined to offer.

"I'm experimenting with the jambalaya," Fowler said. Part of the
challenge, she said, is finding the right blend of herbs and spices to
mask the pot flavor. She's skeptical about the plan for paella: A whole
pot pizza is $89. A seafood paella would be even more expensive, she
notes. "Who's going to buy that?"

Last week, Fowler rolled out a new menu item -- baba ghannouj, served
with pita bread -- to the approval of its first customers. "They loved
it," she reported.

On a recent morning, business was slow, with only a handful of
customers. Jason Cisneros, 32, a construction worker, arrived with his
medical marijuana registry card in hand to purchase some goodies to help
relieve back pain from a work injury. He bought brownies in three
flavors -- coconut, Heath bar and German chocolate.

Sometimes, it's just easier to chow down than to light up a bong, he
said. "It's more relaxing at the end of the night. You just eat the

Next came Jamie Currey, 30, who studied the menu while her companion
smoked some marijuana. "I might try the pizza or the salad," she mused
as an employee brought out a free order of tapenade, made of tomatoes,
olives and olive oil. Her doctor had suggested edibles to help with her
chronic nausea and difficulty gaining weight, she said, spooning
tapenade onto a triangle of pita bread.

"It's pretty good. It doesn't taste like marijuana," she said, declining
entrees: "It's kind of expensive, and it's close to Christmastime."

Such dining in could become illegal in Denver, where city officials are
considering an ordinance to regulate dispensaries, including a rule
banning the on-site consumption of marijuana.

If the ordinance passes, Horwitz said, he'll just make his restaurant
100% takeout. Most customers take their food home anyway, he added.

Horwitz remains convinced of a bright future; his pipe dream is to
eventually ship his creations all over the country.

"I'll be the Omaha Steaks of medical marijuana," he said.

Correll writes for The Times.


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