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Bite Me

The two Ted's Montana Grill eateries that recently opened (at 1401 Larimer Street and 7301 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton) serve beer and wine only. Why, you may ask? I was wondering the same thing, so I called the Larimer Square location with what I thought was a very simple question: Since Ted's (or, more accurately, TMGR Restaurants LLC) holds a "hotel and restaurant" license that allows them to pour the hard stuff, why don't they?

But apparently there's no such thing as a simple question in the Ted Turner empire. After being put on hold not once, not twice, but thrice, I did finally get to a manager, who became so immediately defensive once the word "reporter" came out of my mouth that you'd think I was asking her about Ted's secret stash of porn and Nazi gold. But no, I was just curious about the bar and why they were serving what they were serving (a no-big-secret scoop that had been tossed in my lap by my editor, who'd had lunch at the Larimer Square Ted's -- she saw the great man there himself -- and noticed several disappointed would-be drinkers getting the bad news at the bar).

Despite the fact that the beer-and-wine-only policy quickly becomes evident to anyone dining at Ted's, the only information I could get out of this poor manager without a "But you can't print that!" attached was that the Ted's concept "all the way around, at all of our restaurants, is that we only serve beer and wine." The manager (who never provided her name, either) insisted that Ted's is "a simple place," but that "because of who we are, we refer everyone to our PR company. And I've probably said too much already..."

Because of who you are? I'm sorry, I thought Ted's was a restaurant. All I wanted to know was why this bison-happy chain of (currently) six restaurants (with an eye to opening another four by the end of the year, and an additional 17 million by 2005) had made the decision not to serve hard liquor, and all of a sudden I'm playing a bit part in a bad Cold War spy drama.

Having had quite enough of the creepy omerta vibe, I called the PR company in question -- Atlanta-based Fleishman-Hillard International Communications -- and got to talk to Mary Puissegur, who handles the Ted's account. "In terms of the concept, they" -- meaning Turner and partner George McKerrow of Longhorn Steakhouse fame -- "wanted it to be a meal-friendly, family-friendly place," she told me. The thinking went that serving the firewater, in addition to putting stress on what's already a small bar area, would give the place more of a tavern atmosphere -- something the partners wanted to avoid.

Oh, okay. So then why was the Colorado Springs location planning on pouring the hard stuff? "They'll be a test market," Puissegur said. "Mostly because of a quirk in the local liquor ordinance that says, essentially, if a joint holds a full license, it must have a full bar."

Okay. So why, I asked, was the Larimer Square Ted's displaying two antique whiskey bottles -- one with a couple of swallows of the very hard stuff left -- that workers had found buried in the walls while remodeling the century-old space? The only answer Puissegur had for that was "when they were doing the restructuring, they found a lot of interesting things." Like what? Cash? Jimmy Hoffa's body? Another print of Gone With the Wind for Ted to mess with? Again, Puissegur wasn't talking. Instead, she took my name and number and told me that someone from another department in the company would get in touch with me soon. Mr. Turner himself was unavailable for comment because he's currently in negotiations to buy Argentina, where he can go to hide out when all those AOL-Time-Warner stockholders (whose portfolios are light about $99 billion as of this writing) come looking for revenge, and his bison can graze on nothing but freshly minted hundred-dollar bills. But frankly, after all this, I kinda expect him to be showing up at my door at 3 a.m. with a blackjack and handcuffs. As yet, I've had no contact, but if you see that next week's Bite Me is suddenly being written by Fred Furner, you'll know what happened...


Sam I am: Fortunately, there are plenty of restaurant guys in this town who are more than happy to talk about anything that's on their minds. One of them is Patrick Armatas, grandson of Sam Armatas -- the founder of a string of Sam's eateries -- and current owner (along with brothers Sam and Alex) of Sam's No. 3 at 2580 South Havana Street in Aurora. Ever wonder why the place is called "No. 3"? Well lemme tell ya a story...

 

According to Patrick, his grandfather first came to the United States (in particular, to the Coney Island area of New York City) in the early days of the twentieth century. But Sam's visit didn't last very long, because with the coming of the Great War, he returned to his native Greece to fight beside his countrymen.

Fast forward a couple years. Sam had had enough of fighting and was steaming his way back toward America. Unfortunately, the U.S. -- now on the verge of joining the war itself -- had enacted stricter immigration standards, and Sam, always ahead of his time, had to jump ship in the harbor and swim ashore illegally, becoming one of America's early "wetbacks."

He found work shoveling coal for the railroads, then finally made it to Denver sometime in the early '20s. Here, he hooked up with a partner (also named Sam) and got into the restaurant business, soon buying out the other Sam and ultimately opening five Sam's locations throughout the city.

But that's just the start of the story. Remember, Armatas was here illegally and, successful restaurateur or no, it was only a matter of time before that came back to bite him in the ass. Karma finally caught up with him on the steps of the downtown post office, where he fell and broke his leg. The INS visited him at the hospital, charged him with being an illegal immigrant and put him before a judge who, coincidentally, just happened to be a regular at Sam's No. 3, then located at 1527 Curtis Street.

The matter of Sam's immigration status was settled privately between him, the judge and the prosecutor in the judge's chambers (Patrick wouldn't say how many burgers and cups of chili it cost Sam to work things out), and when they emerged, the judge announced that he would sponsor Sam's citizenship. All it took then was a quick trip to Canada, a wedding, a ceremonial crossing of the border -- and Sam was legal.

Over the years, the original Sam's eateries closed, one by one. In 1964, Sam's son Spero Armatas took over the family business and finally shuttered the Curtis Street location -- always the most popular; the last Sam's left at that point, in 1969. He moved the restaurant to Havana Street in Aurora, where it retained the "No. 3" appellation and all the good Coney Island cuisine that had earned his father's lunchtime spots a certain measure of local fame. The Curtis Street space went on to become a White Spot, then a Village Inn and, most recently, Playa Azul. But now (drumroll, please...) the third generation of Armatas restaurateurs are returning to their Curtis Street roots. And they've secured not just the original Sam's spot, but the former homes of Gordy's bar and a deli next door, giving them enough space to spin off a large bar area and have seating for 200-plus customers.

The new dining room will have a "modern diner feel," according to Patrick. "We totally gutted the front. I wanted it to have a cool downtown feel, but with a modern look." And a few retro touches: "For some reason all the Village Inns and Perkins and places like that took out their counters," he adds, "but to me, counters are the public space, right? They're that communal, idea spot." So the Armatases have put the counters back in -- three of them, actually -- and made them the centerpiece of the new location's floor plan.

The menu at the downtown Sam's will be the same as at the Aurora outpost (which will remain open, and keep the name Sam's No. 3): about ten pages long and filled to bursting with American, Mexican and Coney Island faves for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Patrick also tells me they're planning for a possible theater menu at the new spot -- a quick dinner sort of thing -- and will have longer hours there, from 5:30 a.m. to midnight. Look for the new/old grand opening sometime after February 15.


Leftovers: Another Aurora favorite, Kathy and Bill's Diner (1050 South Havana Street) has opened a second location. They're dishing up the same grub -- comfort food in portions as big as your head -- at their new digs at 595 South Clinton Street, where they're also offering buffet specials Tuesday through Saturday and have a large catering facility capable of handling the largest, hungriest crowds around. Unlike the original, the new Kathy and Bill's is smoke-free, and currently open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Back in Cherry Creek, the spot at 250 Steele Street that was Bistro Adde Brewster, then just Adde's (after Ed and Karen L'Anglais of Emil-Lene's Steakhouse bought the place), now has a name the new owners are happy with. Once the papers were signed last week, the joint officially became Bistro 250. "It was time for a change," Ed says. "People needed to know it was something different."

 

Besides the name change, the menu is shifting toward an "air of European, Continental dining," he adds, and they plan to glass off the bar from the rest of the dining room and open up the back room. Reduced-price early-bird dinners and a cocktail hour (or three, because it will run from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday) will be part of the new lineup as soon as things start settling down. But some things remain the same: Joe Sinopoli, who cooked through the last days of Bistro Adde Brewster, is still in his spot, although he's now doing more surf and turf, steak au poivre and the like.

"We want to bring back traditional dining to Cherry Creek," Ed explains. And along with that, a half-pound cheeseburger topped with seared foie gras and black truffles (à la the now infamous $42 monster at the Old Homestead in Manhattan) that should sell for somewhere around 27 bucks.

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