By Philip Poston
By Jonathan Shikes
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By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Patricia Calhoun
The next time you see a grown man walking down the street dressed in a black T-shirt, black tuxedo jacket, black shorts and spotless white sneakers (no socks) carrying a bottle of Heinz 57, you'll know why. It's the legendary Barry Fey, former concert promoter, current racehorse owner and always steak lover, disgusted once again that a self-respecting steakhouse would have the nerve to stock only A.1. sauce.
1040 15th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Beefsteak tomato salad $7.50
Marinated herring $7.95
Veal loin $28.95
"Gallagher's own" potatoes $4.95
Hash browns $4.95
Creamed spinach $5.50
Pooca mushrooms $5.50
Lobster (1.75 lbs.) $31.42
Strawberry shortcake $5.75
Chocolate mousse cake $5.50
Chicken honey mustard salad $9.95
Spinach salad $5.50
Oxtail soup $4.95
Onion soup $3.95
Bookmaker sandwich $12.95
That Fey left Gallagher's in the middle of a meal, dodging prom couples as he walked several blocks to The Palm, a rival steakhouse, in search of his favorite meat accompaniment came as no surprise to those of us already accustomed to his steak quirks. That the Palm handed over a bottle, no questions asked, was truly impressive. "They just went into the kitchen and got it," Fey reported. And this after we'd already tried to score some Heinz 57 from the 7-Eleven next door to Gallagher's, where the clerk reported that we were the third party requesting the sauce that night. "We used to carry it, but we stopped," the clerk said. "I don't know why. Every once in a while I get requests for it, but this was an unusual night."
Maybe it was because other Gallagher's diners that evening were desperate for something, anything, that would add flavor to their bland dinners. Although the huge hunks of animal flesh hanging in the lobby's refrigerated, glass-front aging closet -- as you walk into the restaurant, a Gallagher's employee invariably whispers a tired "Shhh, please be quiet, the beef is aging" -- have the appearance of real beef, the actual steaks brought to our table had all the flavor and texture of Fey's sneakers.
Purists might wonder why Fey, a self-proclaimed steak expert -- he's been to every steak joint in town, from the highest end to the lowest, not to mention most of the steak joints in every major city -- who's accompanied me on several steakhouse-review meals, would use any sauce at all. "I'll have a couple of bites, and, depending on the cut, sometimes it just adds to the experience," he explains. "Sometimes, though, I smother the thing in sauce out of necessity."
And this meal was one of those times -- which came as something of a surprise, since Gallagher's is one of the more popular steakhouse chains in New York, its state of origin. But Fey has a theory on that, of course. "You have your hierarchy in New York for steakhouses," he says. "Peter Luger stands by itself. Then there's a group of six or seven, including Bobby Van's, which is a copy of Luger's, and then Sparks, Smith & Wolensky's, Ben Benson's, The Palm, Gallagher's, Pen & Pencil and now Del Frisco's, which each have their own crowds and celebrities. All the other steakhouses are below those. And once you get below the Luger's level, people latch on to their favorites based on who treats them like regulars, and they don't care so much about the food. That middle group is pretty interchangeable in terms of quality, but it's still way above the low-grade places." For the record, Fey's favorite Denver steakhouse is Del Frisco's in the Tech Center, which is owned by the company that owns his favorite downtown steakhouse, Sullivan's.
The guy responsible for putting Gallagher's on Fey's list, Jerome Brody, died earlier this month at the age of 78. In 1963, Brody purchased the original Gallagher's, which was nearing bankruptcy, from its founder, Helen Gallagher, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer who'd labeled it a "speakeasy" when she opened Gallagher's in 1927, during Prohibition. She's the one who came up with the look that involves planked flooring, red-and-white-checked tablecloths, dark wood paneling and neatly hung portraits of sporting legends and celebrities, decorating ideas that are copied by the franchisers who buy into the Gallagher's concept. There are now three of those franchise operations, with another set to open in San Antonio within the next few months; Grady sold the original New York steakhouse to a group of employees in 1999.
Denver's eight-month-old Gallagher's is owned by Bruce Rahmani, a longtime Denver restaurateur best known for the European Café and Al Fresco groups; he also owns La Fondue, which sits next to Gallagher's at the base of Brooks Tower. Rahmani tapped Todd Armstrong, recently the sous chef at Palomino's Euro Bistro and, before that, head chef at the Cosi Cucina Italian Grill in Des Moines, to be executive chef, and he brought in Tom Voskuil to run the front of the house. In the process, he guaranteed Gallagher's a good wine list, since Voskuil made a name for himself as the wine man for Real Restaurants, a group that runs Ajax Tavern and Bumps in Aspen, among other places (Voskuil was also part owner of Boulder's short-lived but excellent 15 Degrees). And Gallagher's cellar is indeed a sound one, filled with mostly safe bets but also some interesting choices in a coopera-tive range of prices. For instance, the rich, velvety 1996 Markham Merlot we tried one night was well worth the $58.
Not only was the wine list commendable, but so was the service, particularly in the face of some food problems that would try the patience of most veteran career servers. My dinner with Barry started with an appetizer crabcake the size of a lady's evening bag and nearly as black as one on the bottom. What we managed to salvage from the top was a soggy mass of crabmeat shreds and too much filler; much better was the side of rich, tart, homemade tartar sauce. Another good sauce -- a dreamy Roquefort dressing -- topped a plate bearing slices of beefsteak tomatoes (decently ripe) and Colossal (and yes, it was) onion. But the Caesar salad's dressing was gloppy and strangely sweet, ladled on so lavishly that the romaine resembled newspaper strips dipped in papier-mâché paste. The pickled herring was just fine -- if I remember correctly from my restaurant days, the fishies arrive in a big tub from a local food purveyor, already steeped in vinegar and spices -- although the kitchen tried to disguise this happy fact by smothering the herring under a scoop of sour cream so big we almost needed a forklift to remove it. The first course's only real hit was the butter-drenched, crispy croutons that came with the Caesar, more like pieces of toast than true croutons. They were so sublime that we requested more with the entrees, a request our server cheerfully granted.
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