Lookin' good: What do a ceramic clown, a stuffed fox, baseball trophies, a houseplant, a couple of statues of mariachi musicians and a plastic parrot have in common? They're all on a shelf lining the entry to the dining room of El Tejado, a Mexican restaurant (complete with live mariachis Wednesday nights) that's been drawing a large and extremely diverse clientele to 2651 South Broadway. Although the restaurant has made other physical changes--the new booths and tables look like they came from a Chinese restaurant's closeout, and the trout on the back wall add an odd, American Sportsman touch--the biggest improvements are in the kitchen. You can tell El Tejado's food is authentic because of the many native Mexicans who come to slurp down oysters ($12 for a dozen) and Mexican-style seafood. But for the gringos in the crowd--and there are many, from cops to retirees who probably visited the same address when it was a meat-and-potatoes place--the real draws are the good, gravy-like green chile, and tacos containing an assortment of meats, from grilled steak to barbecued pork to beef tongue, all best when doused with the homemade tomatillo salsa.
There are facelifts, and then there are major overhauls. Although the Purple Martini, at 1328 15th Street, continues to stir things up, its owners laid an egg with Beluga, around the corner at 1523 Market Street. Now they've replaced the private club and the Tapas Restaurant that had occupied the first and second floors of the building with the Cosmo Lounge--and instead of ser-ving caviar, the emphasis is on more affordable fun. Fortunately, they've kept the tapas (and the dancing upstairs, in what used to be Club Velvet)--and added a happy hour with two-for-one drinks and $2 tapas. Better luck this time.
The owners of Wazoo's (1819 Wazee Street) were still doing a good business next door at their Great Room, but after three years, they decided it was time for a change. Now it's a really great room: Tabu, with a Polynesian feel that could be the next big wave in club decor. The second-floor space has a smaller stage, as well as a more intimate bar area that serves up "martikis" and big umbrella drinks. Pu-pu platters for all my friends!
The most unlikely pu-pu platter in town has disappeared from the Lancer Lounge, a modest neighborhood joint at 233 East Seventh Avenue that offered a strange combo of Asian and Salvadoran food. These days the fare is barbecue. A few blocks away at Sixth Avenue and Santa Fe, the new Santa Fe Grill serves up barbecue, too. And I'm hearing great things about Brother's BBQ, at 6499 Leetsdale Drive, where brothers (and native Brits) Nick and Chris Sullivan have been smoking beef and pork over applewood, mesquite and hickory for a little over three months. The bros, who moved to the Denver area eight years ago, spent a lot of the intervening time eating barbecue in Texas, Tennessee, Missouri and Florida, and their sauce recipes reflect their travels. "It's as close to Memphis barbecue as I've tasted here," says Jim Adams, a fan who's lived in that city.
Adams also says he'd heard that one of the masters of Memphis barbecue, Corky's Ribs & BBQ, will be coming to Denver soon. But both the owner of the original Corky's and a spokeswoman from the "franchise office" confirm that any Denver outlet will be a franchise operation--so who knows if a Corky's here would offer that same killer pulled pork.
More local news: While The Parlour, at 846 Broadway, is gone, some of its original recipes live on at Norma Jean's, 102 South Broadway. When former Parlour staffers decided to open their own place, they brought their favorite dishes along--including the infamous pizza soup. Check it out. Chef Sean Brasel has left Ilios, at 1201 Broadway (he's been replaced there by the sous chef, Clint Wangsmes). Brasel told me he's sold his interest in the Mediterranean eatery and is going to Florida for a while--but as far as I know, the Diamond Cabaret Steakhouse is still here in Denver. That's where Brasel's been holing up while he works with Diamond Cabaret owner Bobby Rifkin (former life-and-business partner of Ilios owner Dee Diamond, by the way) on plans for a restaurant the duo wants to open in the space once occupied by Zenith (1750 Lawrence). But when I called the Diamond Cabaret asking for Brasel, several people scrambled around, asking me what company I was with and putting me on hold until finally a woman told me she wasn't sure which Sean I wanted and hung up. Could the secrecy be due to the fact that Brasel had a non-compete clause in his Ilios contract and the rumor is that the Rifkin venture is semi-Mediterranean?
Mediterranean-influenced Pacific-Northwest food is the theme of a restaurant recently opened by Brett Davy, owner of Coos Bay Bistro (2076 South University Boulevard). Called Half Moon Bay, the new spot at 2575 West Main Street in downtown Littleton will offer more seafood than Coos Bay, along with plenty of atmosphere, since its home is a 110-year-old building. Some old friends of Davy's, Randy Stein and Max Martin, own that building and several others on the block, and Davy says their long-term goal is to turn the area into a suburban Larimer Square. "We did the demographics, and it really needs that kind of setup," Davy says. "The Highlands Ranch people, the south Cherry Hills, Greenwood Village set--it's easier for them to go shopping in Littleton than it is for them to go to Cherry Creek." Davy says he'll try to divide his time between both eateries but is counting on his staff--Coos Bay managers Ken and Kim Pringle are partners in Half Moon and will run the front of the house--to keep things running as smoothly as they do at Coos Bay.
More local news: Changes are in the works at a few of my all-time favorite spots. First, Aubergine Cafe, at 225 East Seventh Avenue, is dropping lunch from its repertoire as of June 1. This is sad news, but I don't blame chef/owner Sean Kelly for making the move. Lunches just aren't that profitable, and with his wife about to give birth to twins, Kelly would like to have the chance to see them occasionally. This means dinner--Aubergine is open Tuesday through Sunday--will be harder to get into, but it's always worth the wait.
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Today's Gourmet Highlands Garden Cafe (3927 West 32nd Avenue) has completed its expansion; the June 11 Champagne Billecart-Salmon party is a good time to check out the new digs. Brut Reserve and Brut Rose will be offered with hors d'oeuvre from 4 to 6 p.m.; the price is $35 per person. Call 393-7576 for reservations.
On June 8, Carmine's on Penn (92 Pennsylvania) will be raising funds for the Peelgrane Foundation, named for the late Peter Peelgrane, a Channel 9 helicopter pilot prior to his death in 1995. The $35-a-head dinner will be a spaghetti cookoff, with the food and wines donated by Carmine's, Chives American Bistro, Sebastian Wines, Al Fresco and the European Cafe. Denver firefighters will prepare the sauces, which will be judged by local celebs. Call 778-8605 to get in on the action.
And you can help Project Angel Heart, the nonprofit agency that prepares and delivers meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, anytime by donating excess garden produce and herbs. They say they can use any amount, no matter how small; call 830-0202.