By Philip Poston
By Jonathan Shikes
By Noah Reynolds
By Gretchen Kurtz
By Kate Gibbson
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Patricia Calhoun
Not too long ago, going out to eat meant just that: leaving your house and going someplace where someone unrelated to you would do the cooking. It was a simple process, requiring nothing of the diner except an appetite and a wallet. You didn't need to buy a new wardrobe, understand the plight of the endangered Patagonian Toothfish or learn several new languages before you could enjoy your dinner.
1801 Broadway St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Crabcakes: $12 single/$14double
Crab and corn chowder: $3/$6
Fish and chips: $11/$10 lunch
Germantown schnitzel: $16
Aged New York strip: $28
Nana’s slaw: $3
Back then, there were basically only three kinds of restaurants to choose from. There was the diner/deli/hamburger stand, where you went if you were in a hurry and unconcerned with such trivialities as silverware or ptomaine poisoning. If you wanted something a little nicer, there were maybe two dozen fancy restaurants (mostly French and located in New York or Los Angeles, which were totally mythological locales to the vast majority of people who lived in places like Boise and Topeka), where you'd go to celebrate anniversaries or other occasions requiring tablecloths. And then there was everywhere else.
"Everywhere else" was where you went when you wanted a fat steak, a potato and an inconsequential vegetable -- without anyone doing anything funny to them. It was where you went for a dinner that required a knife and fork, but not necessarily a jacket or a second mortgage. It was where you went for a meal that was good, but not necessarily memorable; tasty, but no cause to discuss the intent of the chef or the pedigree of the tomatoes. It was where you went to be fed, if not necessarily to dine.
Trinity Grille may be one of the country's last surviving examples of "everywhere else." For two decades (which, in the Denver dining business, is long enough to be considered "distinguished" but about ten years shy of "venerable"), this restaurant has been serving the meat and potatoes of American cuisine without anyone in the kitchen trying to get cute or clever.
Trinity was modeled after a very specific somewhere else: Tadich Grill, San Francisco's 140-year-old steak-and-seafood house (which itself was styled after those comfortable colonial New England pubs that all claim George Washington once ate there and loved the scrod). At Trinity, this translates into a space that's one part Massachusetts chowder house and one part Irish pub, with a little White's of London added in for some elitist, Old World spice. With all the dark wood and polished brass, the long bar with golf playing on the TV above and the orderly ranks of bottles behind, the hunter-green accents and framed prints of cigar advertisements and boxers in the clutch, Trinity is missing only the cigarette holders and top hats on its business-class clientele to be the perfect setting for an early-1900s musical farce about society bankers.
Sitting at the bar and looking over the power-lunch crowd, I was sure that more than half of the customers were committing such commonplace felonies and sins against good taste as trading insider stock tips, manipulating commodity prices and lying about their golf handicaps over their Mississippi catfish and fat, dripping steakburgers -- and that was fine. That's what I've always assumed people do in places like this, and while maybe I'll become one of them someday -- the sort of hearty fellow who can comfortably rub elbows with Captains of Industry over a glass of single-malt without embarrassing himself in some spectacular fashion -- this kind of environment will always tickle the seventeen-year-old punk in me, making me want to do something horribly boorish just to see the reaction I'd get. Like sticking up the bartender for a bottle of Glenfiddich with a stuffed-pork-chop pistol and my napkin tied around my face. The trick to pulling such a stunt is to do it loudly, quickly, and with an overabundance of enthusiasm. That way, by the time anyone notices, the whole thing will be over, you'll be sitting quietly at the bar, and everyone in the dining room will be wondering if that was one of those acid flashbacks they've been waiting for.
But I restrained myself and instead focused my attention on the food. I'd ordered the crabcakes, which are famous among Trinity devotees -- and rightly so, it turns out. Slightly smaller, slightly fatter, but just as heavy as hockey pucks, these cakes were a great example of how Trinity's kitchen keeps things simple and refrains from upscaling the classics. Here the cakes were all crab: Maryland lump blue with a little salt, a little pepper, a sprinkling of chopped green onion, and nothing else. The kitchen had valiantly resisted any urge to jazz things up with competing sauces, bell peppers or (God forbid) celery, and the result was some of the better crabcakes I've had in a while. Pan-fried until golden and warm in the center, they were served with fresh-cut (and overcooked) fries and a tame rémoulade that nicely matched the soft flavor of the crab without overpowering it.
Apparently the kitchen's entire supply of crab went into those cakes, however, because I couldn't find any in my crab and corn chowder. As just corn chowder, though, it was great: thick and heavy with potatoes and plump kernels, if a little light on the salt (but that was easily remedied). Even more impressive was Nana's slaw (the original recipe came from owner Tom Walls's grandmother who, like most grandmothers, was obviously a genius in the kitchen). Forget your church picnic version, your Friday fish-fry standard, even those New York deli originals. This was hands-down, no contest, without a doubt the best coleslaw I've ever tasted. Made with fresh, sweet, crunchy cabbage, it was creamy, with a hint of onion and garlic and a dusting of paprika for color. I ate it all, then ordered seconds. And I don't even like coleslaw.
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