By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Coming down from the mountains, I was eating tafelspitz with my fingers. I was scooping up spaetzle — sticky with gravy, dyed purple by the pickled cabbage it had snuggled up against on the plate — and shoveling it into my mouth. Like a caveman (or just another unprepared culinary day-tripper), I was lifting a slab of dripping top round to my mouth and tearing off bites with my teeth: Westfaelischer sauerbraten, the glory dish of Westphalia, one of the most recognizable in all of the German canon.
Laura was driving. My mom — in town for another lightning visit, having arrived at dawn as if air-dropped from some sort of blacked-out parental commando flight — was in the back. The two of them were talking about something; I had no idea what. I was oblivious to the conversation, the fruited plains, the purple mountain majesty all around me. Oblivious to everything but my impromptu, rolling lunch from Westfalen Hof, one of Colorado's oddest, most maddening and most unique restaurants.
A couple of years ago, I was in New York for an awards ceremony, dressed in my best suit, sweating like a sinner at confession among my food-writing brethren. I'd already knocked back a few cocktails and was feeling frisky, so to kill time, I picked a fight with a guy who, if I remember correctly, was one of the editors at New York magazine. There was just something about him that bugged me — an uppity sense of geographical superiority common to Manhattanites, that sense that all of history, all of culture, all of cuisine, began and ended on his little island.
Our conversation had started off pleasantly enough: I asked what he did, and he told me. He asked what I did, and I told him. And as I said "alternative newspaper" and "Denver, Colorado," I watched his eyes actually glaze over, his gaze flicking up over my shoulder to see if there was anyone more worthy within hollering distance. Really, it was that instant of dismissal that set me off. Followed by his boneheaded jokes about eating bulls' testicles and steaks seven nights a week.
Au contraire, I insisted, laughing it up and trying not to punch him in the throat. Why, Denver has long been a bastion of interesting, cutting-edge and ethnic cuisine.
"Rattlesnake?" he asked.
"Sushi," I countered. "One of the best in the country."
"No way," he scoffed. "I'm not eating sushi in a landlocked state."
"Well, then, you're an idiot."
Things went downhill from there.
Eventually, our argument devolved into a square-state-versus-Coastie pissing match. He insisted that New York was the center of the culinary universe. I told him there was nothing he could get in New York that I couldn't get in Denver (or close enough). And then we started going down the list: sushi, fresh abalone, dim sum, Korean, decent pizza, real Italian. He scored points with the classic Manhattan defense: really good Thai food and an ounce of California hydro, delivered, at four in the morning. I counterpunched with my neighborhood's strengths: authentic Shanghainese street food, Vietnamese breakfasts and a joint that offers Korean doughnuts and chicken soup, nothing else. He hit me with Mario Batali, and I told him that I'd see his Batali and raise him the former chef of the Grand Hotel in Florence. Bobby Flay? Screw you, we've got the guys (and girls) who used to cook Bobby's menus.
I challenged him to get on a plane and come out to Denver; he demurred. After that, we both were busy losing our respective categories and drinking away our sorrows. But right before we abandoned our little game, I mentioned one thing that Manhattan was never going to have: a view. "You know the last place I ate before getting on the airplane?" I'd asked. "On top of a mountain. Nine thousand feet and some of the best koeniginpastetchen I've ever had."
I was talking about Westfalen Hof, although by this point I'd had enough drinks that I was having difficulty pronouncing words like "Westfalen," "koeniginpastetchen" and "airplane." But I was serious. My first meal at Westfalen Hof had been that impressive (amazing koeniginpastetchen and bunter salatteller, perfect jägerschnitzel and beef roulade), good enough to carry me across half a continent and add a last kick to my ridiculous foodie slap fight.
It took me two years to get back — not from New York, but to Westfalen Hof, the restaurant that Edward and Patricia Gumieniak opened a few years back in the former Copperdale Inn outside of Golden. Two years to find the right excuse and an appetite for kartoffelpuffer and spaetzle strong enough to justify the drive, the expense and the downright difficulty of enjoying a meal there.
The place is a museum of kitsch, an Austro-German wonderland of Old World knickknackery complete with wooden carvings of fat little apple-cheeked chefs and mounted pictures of walled cities, old cooking implements repurposed as decor, plastic flowers and imported beer advertisements, all dusted and polished. Eating here is like mainlining shlock, like dining inside a cuckoo clock — one that smells faintly of beer and boiled cabbage and echoes with oompah music drifting down from hidden speakers.