By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
A brief list of stuff I don't like:
The musical stylings of the Grateful Dead or any of their legions of hippie imitators.
Veggie pizzas: $9.25/$14.50/$18.50
Meaty pizzas: $9.75/$15/$19
Dessert pizza: $5.50
Vegetarianism used as a social construct and/or political cudgel.
Restaurateurs who give their food cutesy names.
People who back into the restaurant business as a way to showcase some personal obsession that has nothing to do with food, be it 1940s movie memorabilia, the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber or Love Is... comics.
Open-mike nights of any description.
Every newsletter that goes out from the D Noteto its faithful fans either starts or ends with a snatch of poetry. The owners -- brothers Matthew, Adam and Jeremy DeGraff, along with Matthew's wife, Monica -- have been collectively described as "the Ben & Jerry's of pizza" for their earth-friendliness, overt vegetarian leanings, unabashed hippieness and fondness for jam bands. Also for the profusion of dreadlocks in their dining room. On the D Note menu, every pizza, some of the apps and almost everything else is named after a song, a band, a musician -- often with little apparent reason (why name a pizza "the Debaser," after a Pixies song about slicing up eyeballs?), at other times with pitch-perfect humor (the Liberace, a seasonal fruit salad). And the last time I dropped by, I walked into the middle of an open-mike night featuring some guy alone on stage, poking disconsolately and arhythmically at a keyboard. I thought maybe it was just a soundcheck. It wasn't.
So, keeping all that in mind, how do you think I feel about the D Note?
I friggin' loveit.
How is this possible? Easy. I can forgive anything -- pretension, goofiness, bad spaces, bad addresses, godawful service, high prices, terrifying emptiness, anything -- if the food is good enough. I would sit on a peach crate in an alley and take a slap from a waitress if the food was good enough. I'd happily amuse myself by finding shapes in the mold growing on the ceiling tiles if the food was good enough, would eat alone in a garage off a paper plate while listening to the owners fight in the kitchen and still come back for seconds if the food was good enough. As a matter of fact, I've done exactly that. Because the food was good enough.
And at the D Note, the food is more than good enough. On occasion, the food is so good it makes your eyes go wide and your mouth hang open, so good it makes you weak in the knees.
The D Note was never even supposed to be a restaurant. When it opened four years ago, it was a live-music venue tucked in among the bars, cafes and quaint shops along Grandview Avenue in Olde Town Arvada. According to legend (and Matthew, to whom I spoke at length last week), after a rousing game of disc golf in the park one afternoon, the brothers DeGraff spied the vacant space next to the Olde Town Pickin' Parlour, where Adam had stopped to buy a banjo. They thought it would be an ideal spot for a bar and music hall, but didn't make a move for months as they mulled things over, considered their options.
Finally, Monica pulled the trigger on her mulling husband and his brothers, and they opened the D Note in February 2003. It was a big, open room with hardwood floors, a good-sized stage, a raised sound booth and a short, serviceable bar in the back. And for two years, that's all it was. The brothers booked bands, poured beers, scraped by. The lineup was always heavy with jam bands, and eventually they realized this was a problem, because fans of the trippy, spacey, Grateful Dead-style music were showing up stoned -- and stoned hippies don't drink. At least, not enough.
Stoned hippies don't drink, but they do have the munchies. And what do stoned hippies with the munchies like to eat? Twinkies, of course. But also pizza. Lots and lots of pizza. So Matthew did what any sober, business-minded young entrepreneur would do when faced with such a situation: He went on vacation.
Okay, not vacation, exactly. He prefers to call it a pilgrimage, a pizza pilgrimage that took him all the way to Anchorage, Alaska, to visit the biggest pizza seller in the United States, a place that does $30,000 a day in pizza sales. This was the restaurant on which he wanted to base his food-service operation. And in May 2005, the D Note put in its kitchen -- work spaces, coolers, a bank of blazing stone ovens from the 1970s. The brothers had forgotten just one thing.
"We're very not restaurateurs," Matthew explained. They had no business experience, no kitchen experience, really no idea at all what they were doing. Matthew, who'd waited tables at the Morton's downtown and elsewhere, came the closest to being a pro.
I asked if that had given him any useful knowledge going in. "I've been a waiter for most of my life," he said, then paused. "So that means no."