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For a Bonanno restaurant, Lou's just isn't good enough

How was everything?"

The server was looking at me expectantly, eyes flicking to the half-eaten plate of spaghetti, thick noodles lying listless in a lumpy tomato sauce that was beginning to separate, orange grease coagulating on the surface.

I looked up. "Fine," I said, giving the restaurant code word for not bad enough to send back, but not worth a "Good" or "Great," either.

The down-and-dirty Ron and Dan's Keg is now Lou's Food Bar.
mark manger
The down-and-dirty Ron and Dan's Keg is now Lou's Food Bar.
The meatloaf is one of the best dishes at Lou's Food Bar.
mark manger
The meatloaf is one of the best dishes at Lou's Food Bar.

Location Info

Map

Lou's Food Bar

1851 W. 38th Ave.
Denver, CO 80211

Category: Restaurant > Gastro Pub

Region: Northwest Denver

Details

Lou's Food Bar
Rillettes du jour $6
Country pâté $8
Provençal pâté $7
Chasseur pâté $8
Escargot $13
Beef carpaccio $11
Sausages $13 each
Fried chicken $16
Meatloaf $16
Spaghetti $15
1851 West 38th Avenue
303-458-0336
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

I was at Lou's Food Bar, the restaurant that Frank Bonanno opened late last December, throwing open the doors for fans who rushed in for housemade sausage, charcuterie and what the restaurateur was calling roadhouse fare informed by a seasonal French influence. He'd put this concept into the former home of Ron & Dan's Keg, an open, awkward room that was given a minimal makeover, in shades of gray with cement floors, dark wood and red cursive lettering on the walls. The bar dominates half of Lou's, sharing space with a couple of wall-hugging booths; tables fill in the rest of the blocky dining area, one corner of which is designated for the charcuterie station, where an aproned chef slices cured meat, cheese and pâté.

A group of friends and I had stopped by on a warm April night, eager to continue the jovial vibe of the happy hour where we'd all met up. When we piled into Lou's, the staff hadn't missed a beat, pulling together some tables and quickly setting us up with bottles of wine, chosen from the comprehensive list after our server delivered an efficient spiel and savvy recommendations. But then, over the four months I'd been visiting Lou's, service had never been a problem; the front-of-the-house staff is invariably savvy and smooth. The problems have been in the back. And as I watched that half-eaten plate of spaghetti head back through the swinging doors into the kitchen, I recognized that even Frank Bonanno could be bowled over by a boring meatball.

Ten years ago, after a long stint with Mel Master, Bonanno and his late partner, Doug Fleischman, had opened Mizuna, an inventive fine-dining spot with a focus on seasonality that's still one of this town's best restaurants. Bonanno scored again a couple of years later with Luca d'Italia, an Italian joint just around the corner. In late 2007, he debuted Osteria Marco in a dingy Larimer Square basement, immediately transforming a subterranean space that had held a series of disappointing restaurants into another bright spot. A year later, he gave Denver Bones, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, which marries the Japanese noodle house concept with French flavor combinations. This wasn't a new idea, but Bonanno did it well — and as David Chang recently noted, being a restaurateur is a lot like being a fashion designer: Most recycle and rework instead of actually creating something new. Along the way, Bonanno made a few missteps with Milagro Taco Bar and Harry's Chop House, but overall, as his empire grew, it just got better.

And then he opened Lou's.

The first time I stopped in to eat at Lou's was one of the coldest nights of the winter. I nabbed a bar booth and ordered a couple of sausages and the spaghetti and meatballs, which sounded like it might ward off the chill. But the dish left me cold. While I appreciated the fat, chewy, hollow strands of pasta, they'd been drowned under a gloppy red sauce that had an almost metallic taste. And not only were the spongy, mealy meatballs underseasoned, but I could find no evidence of the homemade mozzarella they were supposedly stuffed with.

The sausages were more disappointing, because they're supposed to be a house speciality. Based on my server's recommendation, I'd gone with the Thai pork and duck on green curried potatoes and the Merguez, made with lamb and mint and plated on a pile of couscous. Like the meatballs, though, these were limp, loose and surprisingly mild. I'd expected ground meat stuffed in taut casings that would drool juice when pierced; instead, the overcooked, dry sausages had already been cut in quarters. There was no juice, and little taste. I couldn't detect much mint in the Merguez, and the Thai pork and duck carried not even a hint of cumin. I was still hunting for flavor when I heard my name, and my stomach dropped.

"Thanks for coming in, Laura," the manager said. "How is everything?"

Soon after Lou's opened, I'd gone in for a cocktail and encountered a beverage manager for the entire group of Frank Bonanno restaurants, someone I'd met at cocktail contests before I got this job. He rarely works the bar, and had just stopped in to see how the bartenders at Lou's were doing before he headed over to Osteria Marco — but first, he pointed me out to the manager. Now that manager was greeting me by name, asking me how my meal was.

"Fine," I muttered. But since it clearly wasn't, he picked up a round — just as any good manager might do for any dissatisfied customer, even those who aren't busted restaurant reviewers.

After that, I stayed away for a month, in hopes that the manager would forget my face and the kitchen would work out the kinks. When I returned with a companion, we grabbed a table in the dining room and decided to try another sausage — this time the turkey with grilled summer vegetables. Although the meat was more tightly packed, the sausage was still overcooked and dry, and served over a bed of slimy sautéed zucchini strips — what passed for "summer" in mid-March. If I'd been recognized again, the kitchen wasn't doing me any favors with this dish. But our meal took a decided turn for the better with the escargot: supple snails, coated with Gruyère, in an escargot dish filled with a warm lake of garlicky butter. The fried chicken was another decadent delight: A delicate buttermilk crust, golden and crisp, had kept the leg and breast moist; a side of creamy, rich whipped potatoes played well against the coarse texture of the bird.

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70 comments
caviar_and_chitlins
caviar_and_chitlins

The hullaballoo inspired us to try Lou's. Visit 1: sat at the bar, nice happy hour specials, great pork slider, good service. Visit 2: raw sausage, with the bartender telling us that "it's supposed to be that way". Really? Arguing with me that I should eat raw, gummy and cold ground pork, and treating me like I'm some kind of idiot for not knowing this? pfft.

Guest
Guest

I've been to Lou's twice in the past week - once to meet a friend for their new happy hour, and again today for lunch. I would be a fool to try to complain. The service was impeccable - incredibly friendly, helpful and attentive wait staff. The crab cakes, both at happy hour ($3!!!) and at lunch were on point and my moscow mule(s) were the perfect blend of strength and taste. I really don't understand what there is to bitch about...a great new restaurant in the Highlands, opened by Frank Bonanno, should be enough to please even the hardest cases. Eh. I'll go ahead and reserve Laura's vacant tables.

Monopoly_man
Monopoly_man

Why is everyone standing up for Frank Bonano? He's been serving average food at his restaurants for a long time. I'm not saying he sucks, he's just average.

Xochi
Xochi

As a lifelong resident of THE NORTHSIDE, it was a sad day seeing such a giant neighborhood institution, Ron & Dan's Keg, closed & then turned into yet ANOTHER gentrified yuppie hangout-the type of which are overwhelmingly taking over ALL of the formally ethnic neighborhoods of Denver! Sad times, sad days. Why is it that all this "revitilizing", aka GENTRIFICATION, is seen as "good" ONLY by the communities of people that have come in and PUSHED the neighborhood people OUT? NOBODY asks US how WE feel about these changes, and that's sad, too. As long as you have $$$$, you could do WHATEVER you want, without regard for ENTIRE communities, after all, the lower socio-economic classes, our concerns, they never get heard, no matter how much we attempt to voice them! Alot of people are so TIRED of all the whitewashing of our neighborhoods, the gentrification that is RAPIDLY changing the essence of our communities. Which, in turn, raises our property taxes, FORCING ALOT of the elderly & low-income families OUT of our neighborhoods JUST so the yuppies can TAKEOVER another area of town for their pleasures, extravagant needs & FLAMBOYANT lifestyles!??AGAIN...at OUR expense....the people & communities y'all are FORCING OUT :(

Troll
Troll

Wow, 57 comments, that's a lot! Gosh, everyone sure does seem to have an opinion! Sure seems like there's a lot of people who know about food in this town, really makes me wonder why anyone who does would pay attention to the musings of a person who works for a FREE newspaper -- a newspaper whose reviews, I might add, are a bit of a conflict of interest considering the fact that the newspaper sells advertising to the same (or competing, as may be the case) restaurants it reviews...(and, um, in case you haven't noticed, considering the fact that Westword is FREE, you might be able to put two and two together and figure out that quite a lot of their revenue comes from advertising...)

Oh, and just as an aside, 57 commenters, you might want to note that there is a website where you can write your own nifty restaurant reviews! Yeah, it's real nifty, it's called Yelp! Oh, wait, I forgot, you hate that website 'cuz it's just "people's opinions" and, like, totally biased.

Hahahahahahahahaha.....

Guest
Guest

If you are a "critic" why don't you give honest feedback to the manager and waiter? You give a passive aggressive response of "fine", then you go home and type all the shit you should've vocalized. If you have an opinion about food, service, atmosphere, drinks etc. you should tell the people taking care of you first.

Thepourboy
Thepourboy

Make up your mind, make a stand. Bash not bash, bash not bash, Do you like Bonano or not. You keep going back for a reason. Like not like, like not like, What was your recomendation?? To go or not to go? This was a Squishy Squashy article about the best Chef in Denver. I have been dining in Denver for 22 years now and credit Bonano for taking us to the big city level.

Scott

guest
guest

I recently moved to Denver from one of the most food-centric cities in the country. Lou's was one of the first places I ate here in Denver, and easily put my fears about finding great food to bed. I've gone back several times now and always had a wonderful experience.

If a critique comes down to sausage and meatballs, perhaps the writer should stick with the salads.

Mario
Mario

Frank Bonano, MASTER Italian chef from NJ... Can't make a decent spaghetti and meatballs! Maybe the Denver Chef of the Century should shave some Alba Truffle on there, put a little lipstick on that pig.

Guest
Guest

I wouldn't pay 15 for spaghetti if it were made by Mr. Chef Boyardee hisself.

Oli
Oli

Wow I couldn't disagree more with the reviewer. I have eaten at Lou's many times and have loved everything that I have tried (including the spaghetti and meatballs btw.)

Philip Saraff
Philip Saraff

Laura.... Wow... This place is on my top ten.... Sorry you missed it on this one... Think I'll make a point of hitting all the places you throw the hateraid on......

jenniferisabel
jenniferisabel

So... the writer just didn't like the spaghetti and meatballs or the sausage, right? A pretty condemning article and title even though she clearly loved the rest of the food/drinks/experience. I have been to Lou's multiple times and I truly enjoy the food and service. I will say that they had some initial kinks to work out and the food is much more consistent and priced more reasonably now. I was disappointed with this review. I hope that Ms. Shunk realizes she is commenting on people's livelihoods and careers. While a sensationalized article grabs more attention than a thoughtful and balanced one I find this type of review irresponsible. Why spend 3/4 of your article ripping a restaurant apart then casually mention all the wonderful things at the end? Criticism can be helpful, but this article was not.

Eze4prez
Eze4prez

To be a food writer, I am guessing you should have an eclectic pallet. Clearly not. I eat at Lou's quite often. It is great to have a nicer place near my house, especially on 38th!! The price is right and their sausage is always amazing and different. Something to look forward to. Cant believe you chose Lou's as your controversial centerpiece

Mindy
Mindy

Lou's is a great (and long needed) addition to the Highlands. It has quickly become a staple for me for lunch and dinner. I love the variety on the menu and the staff is the best!

Kman
Kman

I love Lou's. I have had lunch/brunc/dinner including our company Christmas party and it was spot on every time. I guess its true that people prefer to say something negative 9 out of 10 times....even if they are totally wrong and just being negative to jump on the bandwagon. Try having an original thought for a change

Josh
Josh

I 100% disagree with this Ms. Shunk’s review of Lou’s spaghetti and sausages. I have eaten at Lou’s around a dozen times and have had the spaghetti there two of the times, and both times I truly enjoyed it. About half of the times I was there I have had the sausage and always enjoyed the ones that were ordered. Just yesterday I went there for lunch and had the Merguez and it was amazing.

Guest
Guest

I have to say, I kind of agree with Shunk's review regarding Lou's. I have been there now about a half a dozen times and think the food could use some work.. Her observation about the front-of-the-house is spot on. The servers are knowledgeable and things on the floor run quite smoothly. The food though is less then stellar. I agree in particular with her assessment of the sausages. Considering the price, I've been less then impressed with almost all of them. The spaghetti, which I only had once, was pretty awful. I had almost all the pates on a particular visit and I found them pretty standard. The fried chicken was quite delicious though.

I'm a little perplexed why everyone seems to be picking awart this review. I honestly didn't think it was all THAT negative. Does anyone remember Sheehans reviews of Che Bistro & Root Down? THOSE were negative. Mizuna and Oseria are both top notch Denver joints. I've been to Bones a couple of times and while I've enjoyed my meals I always leave feeling the the place is WAY too pleased with itself. The comments I've read seem to reveal a pattern that maybe there is a contingent of people who are perhaps a bit overly sensitive about Bonanno himself.

Chezhoff
Chezhoff

Wow...the amount of vitriol that restaurant reviews generate just amazes me. I completely agree with Laura's comments. I live 2 blocks from Lou's and so wanted to love it. I've been 3 times and have been underwhelmed. The service is great but the food - especially for the price - is quite boring; better versions of every dish on the menu can be found elsewhere in the city.

Bubba
Bubba

Oh, please this place is Bonanno's attempt at Bouchon meets Stubens. "Oh, cool, they wear blue fucking aprons, just like Thomas Keller, and Bonanno even worked for him back in the day, and stole his lobster mac!" You don't get any value from a Bonano restaurant unless it's called Mizuna. The rest of them are schwag.

Prairebayou
Prairebayou

Been here twice and loved it both times. Excellent apps, the suasages were very good a nice drink and wine menu. Where did Jason go??? Shunk, you shanked this one.

calhounp
calhounp

we'd love to publish some of these comments in the print edition -- ideally with the author's full name. If that's okay with you, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Mayor
Mayor

Lou's is absolutely pretty horrible...If you think it is good, good for the owner and bad for you.

I could remember when you got what you paid for. Not here! It is a dump....If you disagree, cool. You don't have to be wrong.

Jeff
Jeff

I dine at all of the Bonnano restaurants including Lou's and Green Russell. I agree with several of the previous posters that this is a very personal attack on not only Frank and Jacqueline but all of their employees. I have eaten at Lou's at least 6 times and the food has always been great. What struck me is how welcome my wife and I are always made to feel at Lou's. I believe others feel the same way since I recognize alot of faces each time am there. It seems that you were bothered that you were recognized but frankly isn't that what a smart restauranteur should do?

On another note, now in the world do you give a great review to El Camino recently and a bad one to Lou's this week? What kind of "new ground" is El Camino covering?

Ralphbaxter
Ralphbaxter

The very restaurant you assholes voted best "spaghetti and meatballs" is the same place your dumb bitch restaurant reviewer just bashed on. So which is it Westword?! God you people suck so fucking bad... make up your fucking mind... and best of Westword was the worst ever (La Fuente!... Ernies bar and pizza!... what a load of shit...) oh, and look out Shunk, i'm coming for your job bitch because you suck worse than Sheehan's little punk ass... pathetic...

FrenchPressMemo
FrenchPressMemo

Oh dear. "Guest" - Laura is just right. I frequent Bonanno's restaurants and had the exact same experiences at Lou's funny enough three times. It's not the end of the world- they can improve. I will sure go back and see if they worked out some of the kinks. In the meantime, attacking the messenger because you dislike the message is just juvenile.

FrenchPressMemo
FrenchPressMemo

Oh dear. "Guest" - Laura is just right. I frequent Bonanno's restaurants and had the exact same experiences at Lou's funny enough three times. It's not the end of the world- they can improve. I will sure go back and see if they worked out some of the kinks. In the meantime, attacking the messenger because you dislike the message is just juvenile.

Keith
Keith

I would consider myself a foodie and Lou's is my favorite new spot in Denver. From Mizuna, Z Cuisine, Fruition, Luca, Rustico, etc. I know my way around great places to eat. This article sounds like a personal attack more than a review. I guess that's why I rarely read the Westword...its hard to find your way to the content with all the medical pot ads.

Jessehall
Jessehall

You have my respect for writing the article Laura. Bonnano has got a free pass for way to long in by a certain predecessor of yours. It is refreshing to see some objectivity in your reviews.

And yes Jen he does jack most of his concepts from trends that are going on out east. It is not a sin, it happens all the time but don't posture as if most of these "concepts" have not been done before.

Jay
Jay

While I agree with you about yuppies being annoying, I find it hypocritical that you complain about your property taxes rising, but don't complain about your property values rising.

Guest
Guest

Yelp is for retards and assholes, you're clearly both at the same time.

R McCoy
R McCoy

Great food both times I ate there, the guy doing this review needs to take another look at this great restaurant!

Ralphbaxter
Ralphbaxter

Little pussy Sheehan's review of Root Down was so ridiculous! I'm so glad that punk little bitch is gone!

Ralphbaxter
Ralphbaxter

Then publish it Calhoun! RALPH BAXTER! I'm ready for Shunk's fucking job because like Sheehan, the bitch doesn't deserve it! and Denver deserves better!...

Ralphbaxter
Ralphbaxter

Yeah, I do disagree and it is cool. Go back to Aurora and your local Appelbee's douche bag...

JC
JC

"On another note, now in the world do you give a great review to El Camino recently and a bad one to Lou's this week? What kind of "new ground" is El Camino covering?"

Umm, you give El Camino a great review because it is very good restaurant. Pretty simple actually. I've never been to Lou's, so I cannot speak to that, but Green Russell is in fact, subpar. While I am not a huge fan of Laura's writing in general, to insinuate that this was a "personal attack" or that she has some vendetta against Bonnano is downright preposterous. Grow up.

Guest
Guest

and if you don't agree with the reviews, don't read the paper.

Guest
Guest

real mature to use such language. you sound pretty uneducated if you have to express yourself this way. an opinion is just that, there is no reason to get upset because someone doesn't agree with your viewpoint. I hope you don't have children that your passing your lameness on to.

Lbortolotto
Lbortolotto

You will never get her job if this is how you decide to present yourself in print. Just saying.

Guest
Guest

Check it out another critic that can not even rate a Mc Donald's (The Fries are the exception). Wow this critic has alot of relatives. By the way dont you have some insignificant comment to make on twitter? Juvenile huh? Wow.

Troll
Troll

You're so right! Only smart and well-mannered people can be found here.

sigmund
sigmund

you are such a tough guy, it must be all the ridicule you recieved as a child for being named after vomit. it's ok, let it all out.

Ralphbaxter
Ralphbaxter

Look how many people agreed with me after I posted my response dumbass! And what do you have to say moron? Oh, nothing. I explain my opinion in the first few sentences which is why people "like" my comment and ignore yours. A "drunk fifteen year old"?! I love it. Dude, you call yourself "Rawdoggin"! RAWDOGGIN! Fucking clown...

greg
greg

Horribly done Ralph...

Weege
Weege

i think Penis would be more appropriate..

Rawdoggin
Rawdoggin

So do you disagree with the review on a semantic level Ralphbaxter? Lbortolotto is suggesting that cursing like a drunk fifteen year old without contributing to the conversation renders your opinion useless. If you disagree with the review, explain why. Don't verbally shit your pants. This is where I expect you start insulting everyone again while not discussing the topic at hand.

 
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