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The Bite

Feeding Your Flock

As far as I can tell, the major draw of White Fence Farm -- and perhaps its only draw (see review, previous page) -- is that the eatery is kid-friendly. In fact, in the restaurant's own words, "We are pleased to serve young children, but remind parents that the pleasant dining experiences of our customers depend on your child's good behavior." Hmmmm, can I get that young child served well done?

Of course, there are other places in town where you can dine with the kiddies -- and I'm not just talking about fast-food joints that involve a Playplace and toys in every meal. One of Denver's more unexpected family-oriented spots is Bandera (184 Steele Street), in hip Cherry Creek North. And when this link in a national chain changes its name in the next few weeks to Cherry Creek Grill, it will also officially shift its concept from chic bar-and-grill hangout to family-oriented bar-and-grill hangout.

"It's still the same company, but we're trying something new," says manager John McClain. "We're trying to identify more with the community, and we want people to know that we're a straightforward American grill." The company (Houston's, which owns a group of upscale American bistros nationwide) has been making similar moves with other Banderas: The one in West Palm Beach recently became the West Palm Beach Grill, and the Rutherford, California, site, in the heart of Napa Valley, is now the Rutherford Grill, natch. "Each restaurant then has some license to make changes that respond to each individual area's needs," McClain explains. "We really want to participate more in the communities we're in, and we were getting it that people were looking at us as some kind of outsider."

Although it might take more than a name change to make that happen, they're going in the right direction. Over the past year, the Bandera space has slowly been transmogrified into a cozier, more casual spot. While only the most dedicated regulars would spot some of the modifications -- new doors on the bathrooms, beams above the bar for enhanced intimacy, new flooring, reconfigured booths -- the overall effect is less groovy and more snug. In addition, the eatery has added lunch to its repertoire. That switch occurred after "some of the corporate people came into town and looked around Cherry Creek," McClain says. "They felt that the area was lacking in a nice, classy, quick place for a midday meal."

Midday, the focus is on straightforward sandwiches with a little twist, such as an open-faced New York strip sandwich with arugula or a fresh-fish sandwich made from a blackened fillet. The dinner menu has a new focus, too: Some of Bandera's heavier items, such as the roasted leg of lamb, have been dropped in favor of more internationally inspired dishes and salads. The killer mashed potatoes are still there, however, and the rotisserie that turns out that tasty wood-fired chicken remains.

Day or night, the restaurant is a great place to take kids for a meal that makes them feel like they're in an important, big-people restaurant -- and won't make you feel like you're about to get the usual sideways glances from staffers. The kids' menu is terrific, too; five bucks buys a side dish, a drink and a frozen Dove bar, in addition to the entree. And entree choices include not only a thick grilled cheese sandwich, but also gooey barbecued ribs, a cheese-covered chicken sandwich, and prime rib, which comes with a bone that you can take home to the dog.

Now, that's family-friendly.

Other upscale, welcoming places that serve good food to all ages are Seven 30 South (730 South University Boulevard), which has a good kids' menu and booth seats that encourage bouncing, and Strings (1700 Humboldt Street), where it's tough to keep owner Noel Cunningham from giving your little ones a tour of the kitchen. The Fourth Story Restaurant, atop the Tattered Cover (2955 East First Avenue), always has a smile and a pile of books for the younger crowd, and Panzano (909 17th Street) offers Etch A Sketch and little amuses bouches for the tykes. You can tell kids who don't behave that they're going to wind up like the mannequin in the bathroom at the Hilltop Cafe (1518 Washington Avenue in Golden), an eatery with enough of a sense of humor that kids feel comfortable. Even Ellyngton's (321 17th Street) in the Brown Palace Hotel has a way with youngsters, who tend to be so in awe of the hotel's majestic setting that they wait at least half an hour before spilling something on the upholstery.

Good luck, and take plenty of crayons.


Drink and be merry: In last week's Bite, I wrote about how folks are drinking more in these tough times; to help that along, several area eateries are offering more or better opportunities to do so. The aforementioned Brown Palace has always offered a happy hour in its stunning atrium -- complete with a pianist and a martini cart -- from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m., but now it's added food to the mix. And what food it is: a house-smoked salmon tart, pepper-crusted buffalo carpaccio and a lobster "martini" that I'm dying to get at, with Champagne-marinated lobster and an avocado-cilantro crème fraîche.

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