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Dennis Miller's prime-time rants have yet to veer too far afield from football, but give him time. For now, he has the luxury of slurping down beef tenderloin and shrimp cocktail in a private box at the stadium after each game. But he'd fast lose that chipper demeanor -- not to mention his appetite -- if, on Monday night, he had to eat in your average sports bar, as your average sports fan does.
Ever notice that the food served in those places tends to resemble a deep-fried hockey puck smothered in the leftovers from somebody's spit cup? You go to a sports bar to watch buff, healthy athletes do their thing, but you sit there courting a myocardial infarction by munching on a pile of greasy nachos so massive and messy they resemble a pile of Buffs after they've been trampled by CSU, then pelted with bottles and sprayed with Mace. So, hey, if it's already fourth and down for your heart, you might as well see the big game in a place where you can eat good versions of food that's bad for you -- a place like the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill. And not only is the Lazy Dog a great spot to wash down those heart-stopping favorites with a few brewskis, it also offers a few healthier dishes, in case your favorite spectator sport isn't swimming in your own fatty deposits.
Steve Ross opened the first Lazy Dog in Boulder three years ago, then added a Denver Dog last November, in a location most recently occupied by the Larimer Group's short-lived Starlight Cantina, and before that (some would say for forever), a Grisanti's. This stretch of Colorado Boulevard has been in need of some decent food for a long time -- there's not much to choose from between fast-food outlets -- and a casual, comfortable, sports-themed eatery was just the ticket. Especially because it goes easy on the sports paraphernalia and heavy on the eats.
1346 Pearl St.
Boulder, CO 80302
Hours: 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. daily
"Steve doesn't like to overdo it on the sports stuff," explains chef Bill Clifford, a Culinary Institute of America grad who joined the team in January and now oversees the kitchens at both Dogs. "He had the concept for an upscale sports bar that would serve good food, but he didn't want to whack people over the head with the concept, so that people who aren't into sports could come, too. Which was a pretty good idea, since the sports crowd really thins out in Denver in the summers."
Still, Clifford is a true sports fan, as is general manager Tim Shaughnessey, and the Denver Dog's decor includes a few of their favorite knickknacks. There's a film poster from Gary Busey's 1984 role as Bear Bryant in The Bear, for example, and an autographed photo of Muhammad Ali, and a jersey autographed by Vince Carter that Clifford says he looks at "every day, 'cause I think the man's amazing." In addition to the memorabilia, the Lazy Dog sports two ten-foot TVs and 26 smaller ones -- strategically placed around the room so that they're easily seen, but not right in your face -- that show every sporting event available every night of the week. And give the place extra points for great service: There's not a lazy staffer at the Lazy Dog.
But it's the food that really scores. The kitchen started turning out winners with the appetizers, and it didn't stop until we'd spooned up our last bite of dessert.
What is it about a sports-bar venue that makes the skins of potatoes suddenly seem appealing, when at any other restaurant you'd eat the inside of the baked spud and then leave the skin on your plate, like an old, discarded baseball mitt? The answer could lie in an order of the Lazy Dog's "the skins game" ($5.25). A large pile of potato skins had been fried until crispy on the outside and French-fry-consistency on the inside, then filled to overflowing with cheddar and jack and baked until the cheeses melted into a gooey mess -- but not an oil slick, since the kitchen had obviously used quality cheese. And that meant we could go for a side of the almost grease-free bacon (for another 75 cents) without fear of coronary repercussions.
The fried mozzarella ($5.25) also had the potential to be a low-grade grease pit, but this version turned out quite respectably. Although it's hard to know what the menu intended by calling the mozzarella "fresh," since it didn't have the wet, super-soft consistency that normally indicates fresh mozz, the cheese was certainly better quality than the rubber-ball version you get at a grocery store -- and truly fresh mozz would have been difficult to work with, anyway. As it was, the four flattened balls of cheese had been lightly coated with bread crumbs, then fried until the centers melted and the outsides turned to an only faintly greasy, medium brown. These golden orbs were elevated to star status by a dip in the housemade marinara, a semi-chunky concoction that was light in color but long on flavor, with just the right amount of herbs and no tomatoey bitterness.