The Best of Denver 2009 will be released today, and as I've done over the past couple of days (with discussions of the city's best bread and places to go on a first date), I'm talking yet again about the process by which Denver's best restaurants are chosen. The category in question today? The big one: Denver's best new restaurant.
Award in question: Best New Restaurant
Possible winners: There were so many. But a brief list would definitely include Twelve, Beatrice & Woodsley, Indulge, Brasserie Felix, Bones, Root Down, Shazz, Masterpiece Deli, Star Kitchen, Black Cat, Bistro One and more.
Appearing in this year's issue? Of course.
So this year was weird. Despite the economy, despite everyone being broke and getting turned out of their houses and having to spend their final unemployment check on lacrosse pads and wrist-mounted crossbows in order to take to the streets like Road Warrior villains, Denver's restaurant economy boomed like no other time in my memory.
We saw a huge surge in new restaurant openings in 2008, which ran the gamut from absolutely brilliant to absolutely suck-tastic. In the office with my boss one afternoon -- the both of us somewhat shellshocked from the pure volume of information that'd been collected over the past months -- she said something that was both very telling and very true: that there have been years in the past when we would've prayed for even one restaurant like Bistro One or Beatrice & Woodsley or Twelve.
But this time around? With the whole country falling to pieces and TV news anchors getting hysterical about the sky falling virtually every night? Honestly, we almost had more choices than we could deal with. And that was holding firm to a deadline of December 31, since we don't review restaurants less than three months old.
It might be some kind of record, but my final Best of Denver research meal for the Best New Restaurant category was eaten at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 23 -- quite literally as the section was being rushed off to the printer's. I made the call to say that we were all good and done at around 7 p.m. that night, just hours before the presses started to roll. It could not have come any closer to the wire.
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By my own rough count, I ate about thirty meals for this one category alone--one category out of more than a hundred that will finally see the light of day when the paper hits the streets later today. Thirty meals, probably close to a hundred individual plates. And by the time all was said and done, the competition had essentially come down to three restaurants, maybe four. One had the most beautiful desserts and patio and perfect little snacks. Another was a personal favorite that has struggled all through the year to find its footing and its audience. Another was in the position of being presumed champ from the minute it opened the doors--an operation I have come to love more deeply with each consecutive visit. The last was a tiny little neighborhood joint, washed in light, serving food so good that it borders on narcotic. With no regrets at all, I could've chosen (and ably defended) any of the four. The running was that close.
And in just a few short hours, everyone will know who ultimately took home the prize this year.
At which point, the game starts all over again and I start counting down once more, towards Best of Denver 2010.