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The server, who looked young enough to be Mick Jagger's granddaughter, twittered with excitement as she leaned toward one of my dining companions. Pointing to his Rolling Stones sweatshirt, she asked, "Have you ever seen them?"
Barry Fey made a low chortling noise but kept a straight face. "Yes, dear, I've seen them," he said, refraining from adding something like, "and the last time was in my living room." And then the Denver icon, a man our server clearly did not recognize--Barry Fey, longtime concert promoter, friend and fan of the Stones--turned his attention to more important matters: removing every particle of meat from the bone of his porterhouse.
Fey takes his steaks seriously. And the new kid in town, Sullivan's Steakhouse, serves up some serious contenders.
1745 Wazee St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
But first Fey had to dispose of that football-shaped loaf of bread that arrived at our table shortly after the conclusion of the Stones discussion. Its shape accurately foreshadowed its taste; how anybody can stomach more than two bites of that dough without their insides seizing up, I don't know. Fey didn't bother wondering. "Get that thing out of here," he told the server.
Its spot was quickly occupied by an order of crab cakes ($8.95), two little--and I mean little--beauties that were all sweet crab with just a teeny bit of breading holding them together. We also polished off the ahi tuna appetizer ($9.95, and seemingly always available, but not listed on the menu): slices of seared, silky flesh in a sharp, sharp wasabe sauce, sided with a tangy ginger-carrot slaw. But the fried calamari ($6.95), which arrived in a hearty portion large enough to feed four to six comfortably, just didn't seem the right thing to eat before taking on a big, juicy steak. On their own with a beer, though, the well-breaded, evenly fried, tender squid rings would have been nirvana, especially after a dip in the zingy marinara.
Actually, we could have skipped the starters altogether, because unlike most high-end meat joints, Sullivan's includes a salad with your meal (a move that somewhat justifies its positioning as a lower-than-high-end steakhouse--and more on that later). The salad was the perfect tease for the meal to follow: a crisp, retro iceberg-lettuce wedge dressed in creamy, chunk-filled bleu cheese.
Of course, the true test of a steakhouse is the steak. But when last I dined with steak expert Fey--which, not coincidentally, was the last time a big steakhouse opened in town--we were stunned by the mediocrity of the sides. Not so at Sullivan's, where both of our choices were excellent. The creamed spinach ($3.95) contained cream cheese (see Mouthing Off for the recipe), which made it extra-rich and very thick, and the horseradish mashed potatoes ($3.50) had the texture of butter and a horseradish bite that was neither too sharp nor too raw. Fey had asked our server for a side of grilled onions--an off-menu request that we quickly echoed --but the half-dozen strings of barely cooked onion we got in response seemed a bit stingy. Hey, if the kitchen doesn't like special orders, then the server shouldn't agree to them.
Still, we forgave the kitchen everything once our steaks arrived. The choice-grade Certified Angus Beef had been cut to order, and with the exception of my 24-ounce bone-in "cowboy" ribeye ($24.95), all the meat was cooked as requested. Although my steak was supposed to be medium-rare, it was rare all the way, and after the server took it back, the kitchen cooked it to a solid medium with a charred crust. That's what I figured they'd do (as did Fey, who remarked, "They'll kill it, you know," as it was whisked away), but the flavor of the well-marbled meat still came through. The house specialty, a 20-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip ($26.95), was indeed special, with a denser texture and less marbling than the ribeye but a strong, meaty taste nonetheless. And it arrived a perfect medium-rare.
Without question, though, the best of the batch was the 24-ounce porterhouse ($26.95). After asking for and rapidly receiving his trademark condiment, A-1 steak sauce, Fey began chewing over his life at the same time he put away the porterhouse. "I miss myself," he said at one point, licking his fingers. While he doesn't miss the concert business that much--he has a non-compete in the market with Universal, which bought his promotions company a few years ago but can book shows elsewhere--he does miss being able to eat the way he used to. The medication he's taking to treat cancer sometimes leaves him nauseated. "This, though," he said, stabbing the porterhouse bone into the air. "This is worth getting sick for."
And anybody would have been cheered by the sight of our absurd dessert, a baked Alaska ($3.95) the size of a motorcycle helmet, easily large enough to serve six. A baked Alaska, called an omelette norvegienne in French (the joke is that Alaska and Norway are icy), is ice cream surrounded by sponge cake and meringue, all of which is baked until the meringue browns but the ice cream is still hard. Like most odd culinary items, its origins are much disputed, with some folks giving an American physicist credit for providing the recipe to chef Jean Giroix in Paris and others attributing it to a chef at the Chinese mission in Paris.