By Jamie Swinnerton
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By Cafe Society
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The Tom-Tom club: Tom's Diner isn't the only place in town named after a true Tom cat. For almost three years now, Tom Unterwagner has been cooking up a storm at Tom's Home Cookin', a Southern-inspired takeout joint at 3403 Holly Street. But that location is now closed, and on July 11, Tom's will open in its new home, at 800 East 26th Avenue.
"The owner of this property wants to change the type of eatery, and he wants a shorter lease than we wanted to commit to," says Unterwagner, whose partner in Tom's is not another Tom, but Steve Jankousky. "And I've been looking for something that would offer more dine-in space and a bathroom you didn't have to walk through the kitchen to get to." The East 26th spot, just off Welton, fit the bill; the building most recently (and briefly) housed Ray's Smokehouse, and before that, it was the Eastside Cafe and the legendary Zona's (which is now just a few feet away, at 713 East 26th).
Tom's actually bought the building, so Unterwagner's days as a renter are over. "I think it will make all the difference in terms of how I can spiff the place up and get things done," he adds. "And just being able to let more people sit down here and eat instead of them having to cart the food back to the office will be a big change."
601 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80203
Region: Central Denver
What won't change is Tom's home-cooking roster, which relies heavily on catfish, ribs, fried chicken, meatloaf and other comfort foods and will be available to eat in or to take out from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays -- or whenever the kitchen runs out of food, whichever comes first. The daily "Meat & Two" specials are quite the bargain: $6.45 buys you an entree item plus two sides, bread (the dense, wet cornbread is a treat) and a drink. The restaurant's roster changes every day, but there are usually six or seven main courses (a different meat is a "featured special" each day), a dozen sides, and two or three desserts. If you haven't had a slice of Tom's sweet-potato pie, you don't know how sweet life can be, and the icing Unterwagner puts on his carrot cake and red velvet cake is to die for, too.
Call Tom's Home Cookin' in the morning (303-388-8035) for a cheerful message listing the day's offerings.
Not using my noodle: The folks over at Ristorante Catalano (5970 South Holly in Englewood) weren't too cheerful the other day -- and understandably so -- when they read in the June 28 Bite that the place was closed. Turns out the eatery is very much open and still called Ristorante Catalano, but owners Joeand Dedria Catalano-Tudor sold the restaurant in February to Lonnieand Allison Holbrook. Lonnie's a restaurant veteran who says he's worked everything from "dishwasher to regional vice president" at such companies as Landry's and Dave & Buster's. He's kept a few of the Catalano faves -- the minestrone is still offered -- but he's also worked with chef Marie Homer to revamp the menu a bit and offer such specialties as cioppino and osso buco. My apologies for the confusion.
There are plenty of other open-and-shut cases around town. I'd really enjoyed La Chine (5071-A South Syracuse Street) when I went there last year, but the upscale Asian eatery is no more. No word on what happened to its collection of celebrity chopsticks. But the Denver area's gained another interesting ethnic restaurant with Singapore Grill, 7923 South Broadway in Littleton, which now gives us a total of two eateries specializing in the food of Malaysia and Singapore (the other is Isle of Singapore, at 2022 South University Boulevard). The tiny Singapore Grill is jammed in next to Cub Foods in a strip mall; if you blink as you drive by, you'll miss it.
We'll all miss driving past the White Spot at 800 Broadway, the forty-year-old diner that closed last week. Sadly, longtime waitress Edith Shaw died at home the day after the eatery shut its doors, making the end of the era especially hard on the White Spot's extended friends and family.
On June 27, the owners auctioned off just about anything that wasn't nailed down inside. Menus were a hot item; these laminated items may one day be the only proof that the White Spot once offered "hibachi" steak and chicken, as well as the infamous Chuck-O-Melt, a ground-chuck burger topped with onions and cheese. (For fans who missed the auction action, Westwordpicked up a few extra menus; call us at 303-296-7744 if you feel you deserve to have one.) So far, no one has been able to talk Tony Clements, who took the White Spot chain over after his father, William Clements, died in 1982, out of the groovy orange light fixtures that graced the last surviving Spot. Maybe the Rickenbaugh family can use them in the retail/housing/parking-garage complex it plans to put in the space. (For more on the building's architectural merits, see Artbeat.)
While other restaurateurs, including Marilyn Megenity of the Mercury Cafe (2199 California Street), focused on kitchen paraphernalia, I snagged two bright-orange booster seats for my kids, and a colleague picked out two captain's chairs as the perfect wedding present. But another co-worker went home with the real prize: He managed to extract one of the Spot's circular orange Naugahyde booths -- complete with many intact cigarettes that had fallen down behind it over the years -- for future use on his porch. While we exited with our booty, Clements sat looking forlornly out the window at the traffic on Broadway, as James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" played poignantly in the background. Googie on, Tony, googie on.