One sweet deal: Open since Halloween at 1 Broadway, a space that has scared away several restaurants (and swallowed up a few more), Sweet Bob's Bar-b-que is now running a special to lure people in the door. A five-spot gets you a Little Bob sandwich with your choice of meat (ham, turkey, sliced beef or three ribs), bread, some chili or beans, depending on your preference, pickles ("for cleaning your palate") and the most amazing fries in town.
Once lured inside, customers are sure to keep coming back, because owner Bruce Harrison has barbecue in his blood. A native of Kansas City, he claims he learned to cook BBQ by "divine intervention," and while I'd usually scoff at such a statement, his 'cue has made me a true believer. Harrison is putting his whole heart into turning around this cursed location. "We're really trying to do everything we can to just get this place to blow up, you know?" says Harrison. "People should be lining up out the door for this stuff."
And he's right. All of Sweet Bob's meats are smoked off-site, then finished on a rotisserie in the shop, and they have a wicked edge more like what you'd find at a back-country, open-pit BBQ shack in the Carolinas or the Deep South than any inner-city rib joint. The ribs are tender but not mushy, and Harrison also does kiwi-smoked ham and cherry turkey drenched in sweet-hot sauce -- the kind that makes your mouth water when you taste it and fills your dreams for weeks. But the real treat is the sweet-potato fries, with a coating that's as sugary as candy and addictive as heroin. Harrison says it's "a sweet concoction of egg whites, dried kiwi, a little brown sugar, a little cinnamon, a few other little things," but that description doesn't do it justice. Imagine a kiwi cake frosting melted over soft, fried sweet potatoes. Or your grandmother's best sweet-potato pie, topped with warm syrup. Hell, imagine anything you like -- but get down there and give these spuds a try.
Sweet Bob's is open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and until 3 a.m. on weekends, in case you get an après-bar-hop case of the munchies. Sunday hours stretch from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. And on Monday, Harrison rests. He deserves it.
Neighborhood watch:When Doug Fleischmann left the message on my voice mail last Thursday, he didn't even know what day of the week it was. "You know, now that everything is coming down to the wire, it's all been like one big, long day," he said. "We -- I mean Frank and me -- haven't had a day off in a month."
Frank would be Bonanno, Fleischmann's partner in Mizuna (225 East Seventh Avenue) as well as Luca d'Italia, the rustic Italian restaurant they've been putting in the former home of China Hill, just around the corner from Mizuna at 711 Grant Street. Luca is set to debut this Saturday -- or is it? "Absolutely, positively? I can't say," Fleischmann tells me when I finally catch up with him. "But we're 99.9 percent sure that February 15 is going to be the day. Everything seems to be falling into place."
That means no last-minute changes, no sudden decisions to become an Argentine-French fusion restaurant. "Although," he adds, "a couple days ago we were seriously considering chucking it all and opening an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet."
Like Mizuna, Luca will be open for dinner only, five nights a week, and it will close down entirely on Sundays and Mondays. The menu is shaping up to be a throwback to those traditional Italian family meals, with appetizer courses featuring braciola, house-cured salami and mozzarella made by Bonanno himself. "It's like butter," Fleischmann says. "It's amazing."
Appetizers will be followed by a pasta course (in small portions, designed specifically for those coming in for the entire multi-course spread, with larger plates available on request), then meats, fish and desserts. "We wanted to do traditional Italian in a contemporary setting," Fleischmann explains, going on to describe Luca's interior in blocks of color -- grays and off-whites mixed up with oranges, yellows and reds.
"We wanted it to be a contrast to Mizuna, which is like your grandmother's kitchen," he says. "This is more like going to eat your grandmother's food at your cool aunt's place in the city."
More sweet deals: On February 23, Opal (100 East Ninth Avenue), which I recently gave a rave review ("A Beautiful Dine," January 30), is hosting a culinary all-star chefs' tasting with Duy Pham (Opal's exec), Eric Roeder (formerly of Micole and soon to be taking over the space at 1424 Larimer Street that housed the Little Russian Cafe), Tyler Wiard (of the Fourth Story) and Steven Fling (Roeder's former pastry chef at Micole). Their ten-course menu will include spiced Calvados oysters, butter-braised Maine lobster with lobster-roe rice and saffron butter, chile-grilled Kobe beef served over sweet-potato-chorizo hash with cumin jus, sweet polenta pudding with avocado sorbet and candied limes, and a whole bunch more. Big-name guys like this don't share a kitchen very often, so this evening is a rare opportunity -- and a pricey one, at $125 a head ($150 with wine). Call Opal at 303-861-7999 for more information.
Vega (410 East Seventh Avenue), which joined the Denver dining scene six weeks after Opal and is just down the street from Mizuna, has added a $24.95 three-course prix fixe menu to its already full board of nightly chef's tasting, vegetarian and à la carte menus. Some prix fixe possibilities: duck confit and chicharrón tamales with green-tomato salsa and habanero port reduction, steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with chorizo, banana-leaf-roasted chicken in achiote sauce, tamarind-glazed salmon, and homemade cotton-candy-topped crème brûlée for dessert. This newest addition to chef Sean Yontz's formidable arsenal will be available from 5 until 9: 30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but just until 6:30 p.m. on weekends.
Richard Sandoval, Yontz's former boss at Tamayo (1400 Larimer Street), has cut a deal to open a multimillion-dollar "destination" restaurant on the corner of 16th and Little Raven streets in the Platte Valley. Sandoval also owns the Maya eateries in New York City and San Francisco; the as-yet-unnamed Asian-Mexican fusion place will be his fourth restaurant -- or fifth, if Pampano (in which he's partners with Placido Domingo) opens first in New York. Kevin Taylor, Yontz's even more former boss, offered a great bottomless-wine-glass deal at both Nicois and Dandelion, although it wasn't enough to keep those restaurants open. Now he's reintroduced the promotion -- a three-course menu with unlimited wine for $39 -- at two of his remaining restaurants, Bistro Jou Jou (1100 14th Street) and Palettes in the Denver Art Museum (100 West Avenue Parkway). Bottoms up -- and remember to tip your waiter appropriately.
Leftovers: The El Azteca at 1780 South Buckley Road in Aurora is gone, taking with it the wild streak of Cuban cuisine that ran through the menu thanks to Alicia Sanchez, wife of owner Sergio Hernandez. The original location of the homegrown Mexican chain, at 3960 South Federal Boulevard, is still going strong, though, as is a downtown outlet at 303 16th Street, #9, and a third at 12201 East Arapahoe Road in Englewood. Sadly, none of those spots have liquor licenses...or cook Cuban.
But Cuba Cuba (1173 Delaware Street) does, and it's just put picadillo -- a kind of Cuban shepherd's pie with ground beef, mashed potatoes and black olives topped with thick tomato sauce -- back on its menu. The fans demanded it, reports owner Kristy Socarras Bigelow, who's one of many reasons this place is hot ("Hot Times," October 31, 2002).
In one of those six-degrees-of-separation situations, Norma Jean's -- which was opened at 102 South Broadway by a few die-hard Parlour staffers when that restaurant closed -- went dark shortly after the Parlour itself was reborn. Peter Schlicht, who ran Basil Ristorante in the original Parlour space at 846 Broadway, closed Basil this summer, then reopened the space as the Parlour Bar and Grill. But its hours are something new: Schlicht reports that he's now staying open until 1:30 a.m.
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No Frills Grill (7155 East Hampden Avenue) has shut its doors, which makes me wonder what they're going to do with all that crazy crap they had nailed on the walls. Maybe they can sell it to the Darkhorse Tavern (2922 Baseline Road in Boulder), which is and forever shall be the king of restaurants with crazy crap nailed on the walls. And Cappuccino's Italian Ristorante and Cafe (2740 South Wadsworth Boulevard), which put all kinds of crazy crap on its great, thick pizzas, has closed, too.
Country Gardens Tea House has closed its location at 2839 South Broadway in Englewood -- "We just grew out of it," says owner Bobbi McCandless -- but is now pouring it on at 8190 West 14th Avenue in Lakewood. "It's double the size," reports McCandless. "It's a house!" The new Country Gardens has several theme rooms, where they host children's birthday parties and serve $6.95 lunch specials and a high tea for $12.
If British-style tea isn't your thing, keep an eye out for a Lollicup Tea Zone store, which specializes in "boba," or bubble tea -- tea featuring floating little gobs of tapioca. The Taiwan-based franchise operation is the brainchild of Daniel Lai, who also owns the Forever Young Afternoon Tea Station chain in Taipei, and it's already expanded to over a thousand units worldwide. Here's Lollicup's "Franchise Strategy" from its Web site, www.lollicup.com: "Dominate the American Market swiftly and completely. Many states enthusiastically request for Lollicup. Lollicup Franchise became the hottest and most feverish franchise in town; a formation of Lollicup is being born. Lollicup U.S.A. has achieved excellent recognitions from the media, these includes..."
Well, now these includes Westword, right?