Someone may be in the kitchen with Dinah on weekend mornings, but whoever it is needs to brush up on food preparation.
Brunch is a relatively new offering at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery, the train-themed eatery that sits in the old Union Pacific Railroad headhouse between Union Station and Coors Field, and the going is still a little rough. But this mid-day meal -- brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays -- could be your best bet for grabbing a table in the popular ChopHouse, which has been standing room only from happy hour on almost since the day it opened six years ago ("The Train Gang," July 19, 1995). "There's really not a whole lot available down here for early Sunday," our server told us. "We're thinking it will eventually catch on."
Not if the ChopHouse keeps charging $7.50 for a mimosa, it won't. Even at the fanciest frou-frou buffets, mimosas go for $6, tops -- the drink's half orange juice (or more), for heaven's sake -- and I'm thinking the ChopHouse isn't exactly using Dom. Meanwhile, a tall mug of a Bloody Mary -- an excellent, spicy, veggie-filled one, at that -- was a relative deal at $5.25; and a Salty Dog (that's a Greyhound with salt around the rim of the glass) big enough to slake the thirst of a Great Dane was only $4.50. Huh?
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Once we'd downed those eye-openers, we were prepared to look at the menu, which also leaned toward the pricey -- particularly as most of the brunch items don't come with toast or any other kind of baked item. The calamari starter, at least, was a good value: The squid had been coated in sesame seeds, which made for crunchier, lighter eating, and the ginger-spiced apricot dipping goo was a welcome departure from marinara, especially for a morning meal.
But our main courses kept jumping the track. One minute we were swooning over Granny's German apple pancake, with its powdered-sugary-sweet flavor, downy texture and soft, spicy apple slices; the next we were biting down on underripe avocados in the alleged lobster omelette, which also featured dry, overcooked eggs, limp chives and very little of a very rubbery crustacean. The salmon Benedict was another disappointment, with a big slab of focaccia topped by chewy, dry smoked salmon, too much red onion and too little béarnaise sauce for the amount of bread involved. Our brunch's standout dish was the Colorado buffalo hash: Two eggs and a from-scratch hollandaise topped a hash boasting tender bits of corned buffalo brisket, red and yellow peppers, onions and potatoes.
Also on the right track is the ChopHouse's notion of serving dessert at brunch -- a rarity in these parts, where restaurateurs seem to assume we'll be too full to have something sweet. How wrong they are. We finished up with an absolutely decadent Lava cake, which erupted with warm, runny chocolate as soon as it was pierced by a fork, as well as a sweet, fruity raspberry bread pudding that was both moist and light.
With a little work in the kitchen, the ChopHouse's brunch could become as popular as those lunch and dinner stops when you wait an hour or more for fancy pizza and microbrews. While our morning meal wasn't an entirely smooth ride, there were enough appealing side trips to make it worth the journey.