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Cafe|Bar fills a comforting niche, with some surprises

Cafe|Bar fills a comforting niche, with some surprises
Anthony Camera
Two four-ounce char-grilled lamb t-bones, house made blueberry marmalade, fingerling potatoes, salt smoked tomatoes and roasted duck leeks, which sells for $24. See more photos from Cafe|Bar.

On my first visit to Cafe|Bar, I spent an inordinate amount of time making plans for art projects. I'm not much of a DIY-er, but just about every decor item in the place gave me an idea for my own home.

"How do you think they made those ornaments?" I whispered to my boyfriend, pointing to the front window where blue and red orbs were dangling in a shabby-chic holiday display that someone had either made or paid hundreds of dollars for at a store like Anthropologie. While Rob, a definite DIY-er, launched into an explanation that included balloons and special glue, I moved on, pointing out the mismatched hooks on a back wall where the staff was hanging coats, the horse-head purse hooks below the bar, the subway tiles on the walls (though I mentally swapped out the dark gray for something lighter), the stools at a long community table that looked like cross-sections of tree trunks, even the adorable blue salt and pepper shakers, which, for a wild, fleeting moment, I contemplated lifting. I wanted every single item in the restaurant, from the glowing glass lights hanging from the ceiling in the bright front room to the semi-open stainless-steel kitchen in the back of the cavernous second room. Cafe|Bar looked like what my house would look like if I could afford to hire an interior designer to scour vintage shops for adorable things that shouldn't match but do. Something about the place just felt like home — only better home, because it was prettier and someone else was doing the cooking. Better cooking, too.

Rob and I had gone to Cafe|Bar for a date-night dinner, enjoying our last free moments before the crush of the holidays and family obligations. And it was fortunate that the place was cute, because that distracted us from an early flub. We'd ordered a bottle of Prosecco almost as soon as we'd sat down, then perused the menu for a few minutes before asking for buffalo cheddar meatballs and bread pudding to start our meal. The appetizers showed up before the wine — baffling, considering it takes about three seconds to pull a chilled bottle from the fridge — and then when our amiable server brought the bottle, he popped the cork and left without pouring a taste for approval, much less filling our glasses.

The bison burger at CafeBar is slightly twisted...and deeply satisfying. See more photos from CafeBar.
Anthony Camera
The bison burger at CafeBar is slightly twisted...and deeply satisfying. See more photos from CafeBar.

Location Info

Map

Cafe|Bar

295 S. Pennsylvania St.
Denver, CO 80209

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: South Denver

Details

Cafe|Bar

Bison burger $14
Caramelized onion-sage bread pudding $8
Buffalo n' porter cheddar meatballs $11
Rustic tomato soup (cup) $5
Lamb T-bones $24
oasted acorn squash and chestnut mac and cheese $12

Cafe|Bar website
295 South Pennsylvania Street 303-362-0227 www.cafebarcolorado.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-close Monday through
Friday, 10 a.m.-close Saturday and Sunday

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Cafe|Bar is a casual restaurant, but this was too casual for me. A server should always pour a taste: That way, if the bottle is flawed, diners won't have to flag down a server to tell him of the problem, and the server will be able to replace the bottle quickly, without wasting valuable drinking time. Luckily, our Prosecco was just fine.

I'm a firm believer that sparkling pairs with just about anything, since effervescence can stand on its own, but it was an especially good match for the bread pudding, packed with sage and caramelized onion, then cut in pie-like slices, covered with a celery-root purée and sided with peppery arugula for the best Thanksgiving stuffing ever. The wine also worked with the pungent, garlic-tinged seasoning in the meatballs. Unfortunately, the buffalo itself was dry, unrevived by the drizzle of tomato demiglace on the plate and missing the promised porter cheddar, too.

Before our main courses showed up, we debated an intermezzo of charcuterie, intrigued by the list of daily selections sourced from different domestic craft producers that had been scrawled on a large chalkboard — the same trendy type employed by many restaurateurs this year. I rarely pass up cured pork, but we finally decided to skip it — and were glad we had when our hearty entrees arrived. The menu boasts that the macaroni and cheese features apple-smoked Promontory, and the kitchen was apparently very proud of the ingredient, as it had been cut into slabs and laid across the top of the orrechiette. The presentation was sloppy, but smart, since I could scoop up bites of nothing but the delicious, sharp melted cheddar with my fork. The Promontory played nicely off the subtle sweetness of the chestnut and acorn squash mixed into the sauce, too.

See more photos from Cafe|Bar

The macaroni was also a perfect accompaniment for the lamb T-bones. The meat was on the rare side of medium-rare — which I love, though I hadn't requested that temperature — and simply seasoned with just salt and pepper; it was lightly caramelized along the edges from its time on a hot grill. A thick, sweet blueberry marmalade had been spooned over the top, and the T-bones themselves rested on a bed of fingerling potatoes, leeks and a couple of whole, smoked tomatoes. Although I doubt every ingredient was local, taken as a whole, this heavy, gamey dish tasted like a Colorado winter.

Full and happy, we lingered over French press while eavesdropping on conversations around us. "The neighborhood has gotten so good!" a man nearby proclaimed. "I'm so glad this place opened!"

Cafe|Bar definitely fills a niche in this area north of West Washington Park — although it took some smart operators to identify the niche. When owner Dane Huguley and chef Eric Rivera, who'd manned the burners at LaLa's Wine Bar + Pizzeria for years, landed the lease for this spot off Alameda, they surveyed the neighborhood to determine what type of restaurant they should build. Noting the handful of Asian restaurants, the two breakfast/brunch joints, the Greek spot and Olav Peterson's Bittersweet, a fine-dining restaurant, all within a couple of blocks, they decided to open a cafe and bar that would dish out less expensive seasonal American fare in comfortable digs that they hoped would attract regulars. What they envisioned was a reinvented neighborhood restaurant that would become a community gathering place for people looking for good company...and good food.

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9 comments
Celeanor
Celeanor

I live down the street and its been a bit of hit and miss on some things, but find its getting better.

JL
JL

I had dinner last Wednesday at Cafe/ Bar. The food is overly described on the menu and the presentation of my entree was a tad weird. I ordered Colorado striped bass. It arrived as a tower - starting at the bottom: cherry tomato "stew" (made with what tasted like canned tomatoes); PEI mussels (yum!); fried potato cake (leaden and lukewarm); and a teetering fillet of bass (well-cooked, but underseasoned). This arrived in a big bowl and was, frankly, hard to eat and there wasn't enough tomato "stew" to go around. However, service was good and earnest, although I couldn't get an explanation of the sourcing of a monkfish entree (according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, monkfish is overfished and should not be ordered at a restaurant, tempting as it may be). I'll go back again, but hope that they ditch the potato cake in the striped bass entree, because the rest of it was good. The happy hour wine selections were from unfamiliar vintners, but turned out to be nice wines.

knut
knut

Prosecco does not require a taste to be poured by a server. If the wine has healthy bubbles the wine will be fine. If the wine is corked, it will be flat.

MattyDread
MattyDread

This review is confusing, you sound like you did but didn't like this place. And 3 paragraphs about decorations? I went there and hated it. The service is shite and the food is mediocre at best and way over priced. I really wish new Denver restaurants would stop trying to be fancy and just be good! i live in Wash park and this has not filled a niche at all it has just added to the already saturated mediocre restaurant offerings in the neighborhood, sad really.

JL
JL

How hard would it be to include the restaurant's address somewhere in the article or summary?

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Sorry about that... Should be in the details section now.

JL
JL

Thanks! My past as an editor popped out and became overly critical.

Mantonat
Mantonat

While the food and atmosphere sound fine, many of the food descriptions seem the product of pretension or ignorance. Why call something macaroni and cheese if there's no macaroni in it? Why call something blueberry marmalade if there are no citrus rinds in it (maybe there were, but it wasn't mentioned in the review)? What is molasses-smoked bacon: bacon that's been smoked with burning molasses? The assumption is generally that American-style bacon is smoked, so only the word molasses is necessary to differentiate it. Why are the meatballs from a buffalo but the burger is from a bison? And the reviewer is correct in pointing out that bisque should not be used to describe a tomato soup without cream. More accurately, it really should not be used to describe a soup without shellfish.

Elwood
Elwood

Says molasses-glazed on the menu. Guess that gives them one pretension point back.

 
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