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Unmasked

With egg on my face!

While I messed up at Mona's, at least I didn't blow my cover until I went to pay for my last meal there. Which means that for at least for two full meals and nine-tenths of a third, I was still working under my normal, modest cloak of anonymity, still being treated as just another shlub in off the street and looking for breakfast.

As such, I was able to get an objective view of the place and balance what I experienced against what I might have seen had I unmasked myself earlier — say, during my first meal rather than my third. Would my food have shown up a little faster? Perhaps. The cooks might've been told to VIP the order, and why. But as it was, my lunch hit the table in less than ten minutes, my breakfast in only a few more, and I doubt they could have been delivered faster. Could it have been delivered better? Probably not. My grilled cheese on wheat bread with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers was obviously done the way the guys on the line do every sandwich; there were no mistakes, no obvious failures in prep. But the thing had been botched from inception by the use of canned and/or pre-prepped red bell peppers — fire-roasted, peeled, sliced and then put on the sandwich cold and oily. And the French onion soup, which was very good, couldn't have been made any better even if they'd known a critic was in the house, because a decent crock of French onion takes hours to prepare.

As it was, since I'd finished my third meal before I inadvertently revealed my identity, the food and service I received at Mona's were exactly what they would have been for anyone. But since owner Garren Austin had caught me, I decided to call him and ask what kind of difference it might have made had they known I was in the house.

We both laughed at what an idiot I'd been, and then Austin said that, ideally, it should make no difference at all to an experienced restaurateur. "I've been in this business for thirteen years," he said. "And I know what it's like. You guys have a job to do the same as we have a job to do." And those two jobs should never really intersect. A good operator knows that every customer is a potential critic — especially in this age of blogs and message boards and what have you — and that a staff (both in the kitchen and on the floor) should be at their best every day.

"Not to be rude about it," Austin said, "but I really don't give a rat's ass what you say. We're just doing our job, and you're doing yours."

Of course, he meant that in the nicest possible way...


Leftovers: Both outposts of Brix appear to have hit the bricks. The original, at 3000 East First Avenue, is now answering the phone as "Barron's Bar and Bistro" and claiming it's had that identity for four weeks — even though in mid-June, the new owner/operators were still being secretive as hell, as detailed in my June 19 Bite Me. And if they'd been less secretive about their plans, maybe they'd have discovered that there's already a Baron's Restaurant & Lounge, at 4335 West 38th Avenue. No relation, according to the peeved fellow who answered the phone at that northwest Denver establishment.

As for Brix Downtown, which the original Brix partners opened a couple of years ago at 2200 Market Street, it's been dark for the past couple of weekends, the website has been shut down, and on Monday, dialing the phone number led to a "disconnected" message.

Still, the "anti-bistro" moniker that was part of the first Brix's marketing has been resurrected at 1120 East Sixth Avenue by former Brix frontman Charlie Master. With his folks, Mel and Jane Master, heading east, Charlie is taking over ops at Mel's Bistro (formerly Montecito), turning it into Mel's Anti-Bistro. He already has a new chef in place: Carla Berent, most recently chef de cuisine to exec Chad Clevenger at Agave Grill. "She is young," Mel said of Berent, "and, I think, a star in the making." Which, coming from the guy who hired and oversaw some of the best chefs currently working in this city, is really saying something. I can't wait to see what Berent can do.

Meanwhile, the location of the original Mel's — 235 Fillmore Street — remains in flux. The building was bought up by Christian Anschutz's Western Development Group a while back, a move that prompted the Masters to abandon their home of eleven years because the new rent was so high. Mel's was succeeded by a second location of Iron Mountain Winery, which closed almost before it opened. And for the past several months, the address has been quiet.

Until, that is, a recent City of Denver posting of a liquor license application, with the "235 license manager" listed as Roy Kline, but no restaurant name or other identifying information. "Look, I'm a partner here at Western," Kline said when I got him on the phone. "We're just maintaining the license." Apparently there had been some confusion, and Iron Mountain had either let its license lapse or had it pulled somehow, "so we put one in place for the eventuality that someone will move into the space," he explained.

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