By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
The pizza oven survived.
When the Saucy Noodle, 727 South University Boulevard, burned this past March, the only truly salvageable item inside the storefront eatery was the pizza oven -- which makes sense. "It's designed to operate at 700 degrees on the inside," explains Nathan Markham, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Erin, daughter of Saucy founder Sam Badis. "It hit 700 degrees on the outside. I guess you could have cooked a pizza in the place while it was burning. The oven looks bad, but it works, and since they don't make them like this anymore, we were relieved."
And the neighborhood is relieved to be smelling garlic again. When the Markhams reopened this past Saturday, the line of fans stretched out the door. But lines have long been a fixture of the 36-year-old eatery; in fact, the couple had almost completed an expansion of the restaurant into a next-door space when it caught fire. "All told, it has now taken us a year and three months to redo the place twice," says Nathan. "For all practical purposes, the second time around, it was from the ground up. We had to put in brand-new plumbing, new electrical -- everything. You could see the sky when you went in and looked up."
727 S. University Blvd.
Denver, CO 80209
Region: South Denver
Still, he and Erin tried to focus on the positive side. "You don't get the opportunity to redesign a place twice," Nathan says, "so this time we really made sure it looked the way we wanted it to."
Without the old family photos, of course, which went up in the flames. But the menu's the same, offering the town's best plate of homemade spaghetti and meatball (BIG meatball), as well as a ravioli appetizer dedicated to Morey Amsterdam, and the Markhams were able to retain all but two of their former employees, including kitchen manager Jared Jamison, who's been with the restaurant for nearly a decade and shares cooking duties with Nathan. And soon another Markham could be helping out with the family business: In the midst of all the remodeling, Erin gave birth to daughter Sawyeron Labor Day, appropriately enough.
No one's expecting to see such a happy outcome from the most recent restaurant fire: The Skyline Cafe, a grubby but beloved landmark in the Platte Valley, at 779 West 29th Street, was gutted early on the morning of October 28. The fire department suspects arson; no one expects the bar/club/ burger joint to open again. (Not surprisingly, no one's been answering the Skyline's phone.) As the area around Coors Field gets increasingly cleaned up and chain-fed, it's sad to lose such an authentic joint.
Open-and-shut cases: The snazzy Skydiner Cafe, which last year took over the old home of Juanita's Uptown at 1700 Vine Street, has gone more upscale still, with a revamped menu featuring dishes such as venison ragout and mushroom-and-eggplant lasagne with beurre blanc. The new chef is Ric Rosser, who replaced Karl Rinehart. Juanita's once shared a kitchen with Mike Berardi's, a still-missed eatery that looked like it was straight out of Little Italy and presented operatic entertainment long before it became a main course at Bravo! Ristorante(see review, previous page). And speaking of Italian, the correct address for Little Pepina's -- my November 2 suggestion to a reader looking for good homemade pasta with strong-flavored sauces -- is 3400 Osage Street. My apologies.
Mama Pirogi's Old World Bakery is keeping its old address (2033 East 13th Avenue) but revamping its entire concept. The little bakery will become a full-scale eatery; to make that happen, owners Steve Trusus and Lloyd Wentworth have purchased the used-clothing store next door. Although the official expansion into that space won't take place until the end of the year, the bakery has already begun offering gourmet takeout lunch and dinner items, including boxed lunches for businesses, individual pizzas, lasagne and pot pies.
Now serving American fusion is the Empire Diner, at 3 South Broadway. Owners Marvina and Raza Khanhave nabbed chef Gregory Epperson, former top toque at Nashville's Havana Lounge; he's cooking up such tempters as spring rolls filled with jicama, plaintains and carrots; mahi mahi with Peruvian mashed potatoes and guava sauce; and sandwiches filled with house-smoked salmon. "That's a favorite of the guys over at Freaky's," says Marvina of the nearby head shop. "You'd think they'd go more for the veggie stuff."
The Khans realize that the Empire's menu -- not to mention its groovy Victorian atmosphere -- could be a tough sell in the neighborhood at first, so they're keeping the prices reasonable and the portions large (dinner entrees run between $9.95 and $18.95). And they know the neighborhood well: They owned Curry Kebab House, just up the street at 1 Broadway, from October 1999 to this past February. The Khans are now in litigation with that restaurant's current owners, who took back the eatery in March but closed it a few months ago. A sign on the door says it will soon become a pizza joint.
The York Street Cafe (2239 East Colfax Avenue) has become The Bank Bar & Grill. The new owners have changed the menu from Cajun to burgers and pizza, and the entertainment is no longer live jazz -- it's now pool, foosball, darts and pinball.