One of the great, guilty pleasures of a critic's gig is having to wait for a table. Because I work anonymously, I don't get to waltz into any room I choose and demand the best table in the house and untold adulation. No, I have to wait out in the cold like anyone else, and every once in a while a long, thirsty delay at one restaurant can lead to the accidental discovery of some great watering hole nearby.
That's just what happened last week. Since I knew Moongate Asian Grill (see review, page 63) was a jumping little joint in the Lowry neighborhood where table space is at a premium, and I also knew that Glen, my dining companion, is the kind of guy who'll someday show up twenty minutes late to his own funeral, we'd decided to meet a couple doors down from Moongate at Harvey's Thunderbird Lounge (721 Quebec Street). This is a classic, dimly lit neighborhood bar, with cheap happy-hour specials, a Johnson & Wales culinary student in the kitchen -- which I know because he was sitting out in the bar in his embroidered white chef coat and silly blue neckerchief watching women's tennis when I showed up -- and a menu that leans heavily toward the burgers-and-beer end of the gustatory spectrum but also includes some nice specials. Pool tables in the back, a half-dozen TVs, a few old men propping up the longbar -- you can't ask for much more than that. My only complaint is that the Thunderbird has one of them new-fangled jukeboxes with the million CDs inside. The day this joint replaces it with an old Wurlitzer and a tall stack of 45s, I'm moving in permanently.
Working the chain gang: Even though we here at Bite Me World HQ devote most of our time to the wheres, the whens and the what-were-they-thinkings of the independent restaurant community, the hardworking research staff still receives a ton of crap every week from the faceless PR machinery of the chains. Every once in a while, we paw through the stacks looking for anything interesting, and this round a few things stood out:
First, Chipotle -- which started as a homegrown venture but now is in league with McDonald's and has locations on just about every street corner in the city -- is trying to stay ahead of the curve in the fast-casual arena by offering a burrito "bol" for those Atkins-diet fanatics living in mortal fear of flour tortillas. The "bol" (Spanish for -- you guessed it -- bowl) is made from 100 percent recycled newsprint, and, just like a regular burrito, can be filled with anything you please, including all that good Niman Ranch pork. Carb-free dieters should probably skip the black beans and rice, but with what's left on the Chipotle assembly line they can still put together one mean salad.
In what seems an incredibly presumptuous move by Giesen Restaurant Enterprises, the Glenwood Springs-based franchise group is planning to open a Johnny Rockets eatery in the hulk of a dead department store on the 16th Street Mall. Rockets is one of those family-friendly joints that try to appeal to the entire nuclear-clan unit with a faux-'50s look, big burgers, thick milkshakes and a squeaky-clean bobby-soxer image -- but someone apparently forgot to tell Giesen one very important fact: There are no families living downtown!
Denver is loft city now, filled with rich single folk locked tight in their six-figure downtown flats. These people don't have children; children wouldn't match their decor. And because the new Rockets has already made the decision to be both smoke- and booze-free, I'm not sure who they think they'll attract after the sun goes down. Teetotaling investment bankers out for a night on the town? Single-Mormon support groups? Sure, the noon hour should be good, but unless Giesen hopes to float this joint entirely on the backs of the corporate lunch crowds and suburbanites who've already done the Hard Rock Cafe at the Denver Pavilions, I don't think this Rocket will make it off the launchpad.
And finally, Denver's potheads, itinerant drunks and insomniacs have reason to rejoice. They can have it their way, right away and at three in the morning now, thanks to a recent decision by OCEDON Companies Inc. (a Denver-based restaurant management company) to keep its three local Burger Kings open 24/7. The restaurants -- located at Colfax and Quebec, at Leetsdale and Quebec, and at 2601 Sheridan Boulevard -- will serve the regular menu 24 hours a day and, more important, will have the breakfast menu on tap from midnight till 10:30 a.m. This development is expected to cause panic at citywide IHOPs, because everyone knows that hungry stoners and beer-drunk frat boys have been the only thing keeping those venerable pancake joints afloat. And in an attempt to retain control of the vital stuttering-weirdo market share, the seven Denver area 24-hour Waffle House locations may have to fight back by offering a 25 percent discount to anyone who brings his own tinfoil hat.
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Leftovers: Everyone's favorite Mexican/Irish restaurant in Boulder, Jose Muldoon's (1600 38th Street), has gone dark after 23 years in business. Funeral festivities were held right before St. Patty's Day, with the doors shut tight by March 17. When they reopen in a few months, those doors will lead into the Table Mountain Grill, a more upscale enterprise that will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Marco Colantonio, who last month left Vega (410 East Seventh Avenue) and a partnership with chef Sean Yontz and building owner Michael Payne, is back in the restaurant biz a few blocks away. But this time he won't be working the floor: He's signed on as a consultant to help with the opening of Cielo, Curt Simms's long-awaited restaurant/club in the former home of the Denver Buffalo Company at 1109 Lincoln Street. Originally slated to open in August of last year, Cielo is still under construction -- but lately the pace has picked up.
Just down the street at 988 Lincoln, the flagship Spicy Pickle has big news: All three outlets of the sub shop are now serving a different spicy pickle than the one that's brought them such acclaim over the past three years. The new freebie is a Boar's Head dill that the shop soaks in a secret marinade of spices for a little extra kick. Last week also saw the start of the Pickle's box-lunch program at the 745 Colorado Boulevard store; free lunch delivery (five-box minimum) is available seven days a week, from 10 a. m. to 3 p.m., for businesses in the Denver area.
Good news for fans of Venice (5121 South Yosemite, Greenwood Village): At the end of the month, a second, larger location will open to the public at 5946 South Holly Street, a spot that's seen both Uncle Sam's and Swiss Haven. Alessandro Carollo, chef/owner of the original Venice, and wife Sara will be bouncing back and forth between the two locations, but the new kitchen will be in the hands of Christian Delle Fave. Like Carollo, he made his bones at restaurants in and around Rome before settling here in Denver.