By Philip Poston
By Jonathan Shikes
By Noah Reynolds
By Gretchen Kurtz
By Kate Gibbson
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Patricia Calhoun
Under my Grand Unified Theory of Steakhouses, the operation of any steakhouse can be diagrammed the way a particle physicist diagrams an atom. The customers come and go through the dining room like electrons jigging through the outer valences, entering with full wallets measured as an excess of positrons, then bouncing out of their orbits two hours later having been stripped down to neutrons and pocket change for the valet.
2500 E. 1st Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Region: Central Denver
Shrimp cocktail: $12
Corn chowder: $6
Iceberg wedge: $5
Creamed spinach: $4.50
Potatoes ó mashed, baked, twice baked: $4.50
16-ounce NY strip: $31
Bone-in filet: $34
8-ounce filet: $26< br>15-ounce prime rib: $26
Lobster tail: $34 / $44
Bacon cheeseburger: $10
Duck burger: $10
Milk and cookies: $3
In a mediocre steakhouse (as with sex and pizza, it's rare that a steakhouse sinks to the level of truly bad; instead, there are varying degrees of satisfaction), the cash register is at the center, atomic weight measured by the amount of cash extracted from the happy electrons that fill the tables every night. Conversely, a good steakhouse has the nucleus situated firmly in the heart of the kitchen, with tiny little subatomic units scampering about -- quarks and muons all white-hatted and bound up in chef's coats -- circulating around a magnetic core made up of several grills, a big cooler and some meta-particle in the shape of a giant butcher's illustration of a cow, further broken down into its own constituent parts.
On the periodic table of steakhouses, Elway's fits somewhere in the goofy quadrant. Far to the left of the more staid and stable elements -- the iron and hydrogen neighborhood populated by the Palm, Morton's and Sullivan's -- but also right of the noble gases, that ether inhabited locally by the Capital Grille and Del Frisco's. It's down in the sticky southern latitudes, among the radioactive, the fractious, the inherently rare and unstable. Elway's is steakhouse radium, born with a half-life -- a built-in expiration date equal to that of the fading glitter of celebrity. It is restaurant trinitite, entirely man-made and existing with no natural precursor.
Just saying the name "Elway's" drives a certain breed of Coloradan into paroxysms of fanatical lust, conjuring up sweaty dreams of Big John slouching around the back of the house in his Hall of Fame jersey, flipping burgers and grilling tenderloins for the masses. And just saying it drives a certain other breed of Coloradan into fits of giggles. Do we really need another celebrity restaurant? Not just in Denver, but anywhere? In this brave new post-Planet Hollywood world, haven't the idols learned that there are still some places (granted, they are precious few) where their names and grinning faces are not welcome? Think the Model Cafe (which was a joke before it ever opened, and closed to peals of cruel laughter). Think NYLA, the place Britney Spears threw her insignificant weight behind in New York. Locally, think Dante Bichette's or Larry Walker's or Lyle Alzado's. The restaurant world manufactures its own celebrities, thank you very much, and we've always been cultish about them, reacting with automatic scorn and reflexive contempt for outsiders trying to get us through the door of Michael Jackson's King of Pop Soda Fountain or Spielberg's Chicken and Waffles.
But here, Elway, the icon, is far less important to the success of Elway's, the restaurant, than is the triumvirate of businessman Elway, partner Tim Schmidt (of Hacienda Colorado and the Black-eyed Pea chain before that) and manager Tom Moxcey. The restaurant isn't jammed with statuary or blanketed in Broncos paraphernalia; the tables aren't clothed in blue and orange; the menu isn't front-loaded with Quarterback Burgers. The dining room looks like a shrine to the steak, not a temple of celebrity.
"We wanted a restaurant that lived up to its name, not a restaurant that was its name," explains Moxcey. And when he says "we," he means all three of them, because Elway -- in a surprising departure from most personality-driven restaurants -- was there through the entire process. He came to design meetings, helped map the concept of the restaurant, and walked through the space as it was constructed. He was in on the discussions of pricing, of serving Prime steaks over Choice. All three men knew exactly what they wanted before the first brick was laid, before the first cook was hired, long before the doors opened to the public.
And what they wanted was a steakhouse that wasn't just a steakhouse. "John and Tim and I all thought that we'd start with that -- the Colorado-steakhouse concept -- as a base and wander from there," Moxcey says. "We thought there were enough starched-shirt places in town and that we could do something more...casual? No. Well, yeah -- I guess Œcasual' is the right word. We thought we could make our own niche where you could decide what you want to spend and what you want to eat. That's why you can come into our dining room and see one table where one side is eating, you know, a nice big steak chop, and the other side has a burger."
Or rotisserie-roasted chicken. Or grilled, farm-raised salmon, tilapia and black cod. Or duck tacos, prepared and plated more in the style of a New American restaurant, with two small, thick flour tortillas stuck into an overflowing bowl of heavily seasoned meat, sided by another bowl of surprisingly good guac and a third of thin salsa. Or an excellent, inch-thick slab of bloody-rare, center-cut prime rib.
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