What defines an essential restaurant? Several opinionated friends and I were recently discussing that topic during dinner at a trendy newcomer that's amassed a flurry of flattery since opening its doors. It's a restaurant-of-the-moment, but will it still be relevant in six months? Will the crowds continue to jam the doors? More important, will it have made an indelible mark on Denver's dining landscape ten years from now? As a prelude to our annual Best of Denver issue, we're spotlighting, in no particular order, fifty restaurants -- old and new, classy, cool and conventional, strip mall and belle of the ball -- that are the Mile High City's most essential places to eat. These are the places that every foodnik in Denver should have on his or her feed-me list.
No. 49: Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
What would the wiener world be like if it weren't for Jim Pittenger, a former car swindler (aka, repo man), who single-handedly changed this city's hot dog culture? Pittenger, who everyone knows as "Biker Jim" -- and yes, he rides a Harley -- began his career on the pavement, pimping exotic sausages, the majority of which come from Continental Sausage, on the 16th Street Mall before his mug became a familiar snapshot on food TV shows and a household name in just about every home that eats hot dogs. Even curious tourists, we've been told, make Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, his edgy brick-and-mortar, their first stop in the Mile High City.
See also: First look: Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
The restaurant, frankly, doubles as a rather fascinating wiener museum -- a shrine to reindeer and elk, rattlesnake and wild boar, pheasant and buffalo. The dogs are split and grilled -- and that could be the end of the story, save for the parade of condiments that every hot dog gigolo has nearby: pickles, onions, relish, mustard. And all of those toppings are available, but what separates Pittenger from the pack -- what makes all of his sausages a game changer -- are the Coke-soaked onions and thick squiggle of cream cheese, ejected from a caulking gun, that he lobs down the dog's middle. Sure, there are plenty of good hot dog venders in the city, but none has challenged our hot dog habit more than Pittenger, who continues to spread his prophecy all over town -- and beyond.
Insider tip: Every Wednesday -- Pittenger calls it "What the Wednesday?" -- he features a dog that's weird, wacky and wonderful, posting whatever it is on his Twitter feed.
Personality points: Pittenger is easily one of the most conversational (and nicest) guys you'll ever meet -- and, oh, does he have stories to tell. Next time you go, leave yourself some bantering time.
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