I don't spill a lot of ink writing about chefs and restaurants doing charity events. A lot of you probably think that's because I'm a miserable, Scrooge-ish crank full of spite and humbuggery. And while I certainly am, the real reason I don't keep track of every bake-off, giveaway, beneficent open-bar dinner and eleemosynary institution in town is that if I did, this column would be filled with nothing else.
Fact is, Denver's chefs and restaurants (and, in turn, foodies) give 'til it hurts with inspirational regularity. Not a week goes by without some chef (or group of chefs) volunteering time, labor and ingredients to host a $60 dinner for the eradication of the Philippino brain worm or a black-tie event with donations taken at the door for the preservation of the red-tailed spink. Someone's always trying to eradicate something, preserve something, research something or cure something, and Denver's food community has apparently concluded that the best way to do so is to put out a press release, then feed everyone foie gras and champagne until they pass out and their wallets can be stolen more easily.
But after I heard what Stephen Anson is doing, I decided to break my rule about not pimping for charities -- because this story has everything a heartwarming holiday tale needs: urchins, Christmas and pie.
Anson owns Wholly Tomato at 955 Lincoln Street, and his lunch crowd includes a bunch of regulars from the Denver Family Crisis Center, which is about the closest to a Dickensian poorhouse as you'll find these days. It's essentially emergency housing for kids who've been taken away from their parents (or whose parents have been taken away from them) and are awaiting other placement.
"It's an arm of the Denver Department of Human Services that deals with children who are in some sort of adjudicative limbo -- such as children whose parents were running a meth lab," Anson explains. So kids, this is where you'll be sent when Mommy and Daddy get popped for cooking crystal in the bathtub. And Merry Christmas.
The facility has one cook to handle three meals a day, seven days a week. Anson and some of his staffers started taking shifts in the cafeteria just to give that cook a break, which is how he hit on the idea of doing something nice for the sixty-odd kids who'll find themselves in residence at the crisis center over Christmas. "They have nothing," he says, and plans for celebrating the holidays were "very limited because, obviously, all the staff want to spend the day with their families."
So on Christmas Eve, Anson and his Wholly Tomato helpers will prep a dinner for seventy (they're planning to feed some of the center's staffers, too), with turkeys and ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies, cranberry sauce and pies. On Christmas Day, Anson and his wife, Jessica, as well as some friends, will give up their holiday in order to take everything over to the center's kitchen, where they'll finish the cooking and then serve the feast. "Jessica and I don't have any family in the city," Anson explains, "so we thought this would be a nice thing to do so that the kids don't feel so alone on the holiday. We're going to make it work."
While all the produce and ingredients have already been donated by Wholly Tomato's suppliers and the labor's arranged, Anson still faces one hurdle: He wants to bring gifts to the kids (and would also like to find some local sports celebrity to kick in a half hour of his or her time to visit with the waifs), but Santa's sack is pretty much empty.
9News has already stepped up with ten gifts, but things are coming down to the wire. So if you're looking for a way to clean up your karma, here's your chance. If you happen to be a famous local celebrity who wants to make nice, give Anson a call. If you've got a few extra bucks and want to put it to a worthy cause, pick up a gift and drop it by. Anson will be taking donations at the Wholly Tomato right up until zero hour. And you can also call him at 303-860-0041 to find out what's needed and how you might be able to help.
Critical mass: While the Coral Room (see review) is the only high-end restaurant in the entire Stapleton development, the 900 block of Lincoln Street is getting seriously overpopulated.
Apparently all it takes is a high-end development like the Beauvallon complex to drive eatery owner-operators into a frenzy because, by my count, there are now ten food-service outlets open, coming soon or planned for that block. Across the street from the Beauvallon, there's the original Spicy Pickle outlet (which expanded after the coffeehouse Ink! Shut down) and Dazzle, a great jazz club/restaurant. Already open in the Beauvallon, there's the aforementioned Wholly Tomato, Jim Sullivan's fancied-up comfort-food restaurant Nine75 (which recently added lunch service), Dolce Vita, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Aviano Coffee, which just started pouring. They'll soon be joined by a Lollicup tea franchise, Teriyaki Bento and Aqua, the oyster house whose opening has already been pushed back a couple of months. Aqua will (someday) be brought to us by Jay Chadron, who owns Opal, catty-corner at Ninth and Lincoln. And across the street, in the old home of Booze and Beans, club impresario Regas Christou hopes to someday open the Salty Dog Tavern.
I could quit my job here, go to work for a paper called The 900 Block of Lincoln Weekly and have no lack of things to write about.
Leftovers: Remember Bryan Moscatello? Big guy, used to cook at some little place down in LoDo called Adega? He slipped off the radar pretty fast after he packed up his kit and hightailed it for the East Coast following the surprise closure of Adega this past August (the space at 1700 Wynkoop Street is now home to Venice Ristorante). He called last week to say that while he'd been back in Denver for about a month testing the waters, he's now officially accepted a position with the Star Restaurant Group and will open a new (and as yet unnamed) restaurant on the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia.
And what had he been doing since the splashy closure of one of Denver's best restaurants? "Not much," he told me. "Consulting, relaxing. Just vacationing, really."
He spent some time with Cornelius Gallagher at Oceana in Manhattan, bounced around awhile, catered a wedding for some Adega regulars down in Cabo, then returned to Colorado. And while he would have liked to have found something here, the gig with Star was just too good to pass up. "It's a whole new restaurant," he said, "and a small restaurant group. It should be very exciting."
Speaking of small, Tables -- which started out this past April as a sandwich shop and little cafe at 2267 Kearney Street -- has gotten its liquor license ahead of a planned expansion into full dinner service come February. The twenty-table Gavi, which just opened at 1109 Lincoln Street (right between the Donkey Den and Grenade) is an Italian/Spanish restaurant and "dessert lounge" (whatever the hell that means) being run by Tosh Berman (of Donkey Den fame), Paul Piciocchi (from Tryst Lounge) and Sebastian Grazzini (formerly general manager of Campo de Fiori). Grazzini is originally from Argentina, and if I've learned anything over the past few weeks, it's that Argentines have a wicked knack for doing the Eye-tie thing. See my review of Buenos Aires Pizzeria ("The World Is Flat," December 8) for details.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.