Mouthing Off

Missing links: Happy third anniversary to the Cracker Barrel at 350 West 120th Avenue in Northglenn. It's one of four Cracker Barrels in the Denver area--and the corporate office says at least four more will open by the end of next year. Yikes! To mark the august occasion, I suggest you go get some down-home comfort food at one of the non-chain local eateries that offer it. A few options: Bang!, at 3609 West 32nd Avenue (Southern focus, and don't miss the gingerbread for dessert); The Moondance, at 1626 Market Street (great roasted chicken); The Park Tavern, at 931 East Eleventh Avenue (good for kids and excellent dinner specials); Breakfast Inn Dinner Too, at 6135 East Evans Avenue (the atmosphere is very Seventies, but the portions are enormous and the price is right); So-Fully Kosha, at 20 South Havana Street in Aurora (soul food at its finest, with a decor that looks like your aunt's living room); Jus Cookin's, at 10600 East Iliff Avenue in Aurora (real mashed potatoes; need I say more?); Iris Cafe, at 5641 South Nevada Street in Littleton (breakfast and lunch only in a charming converted house); and Uncle Sam's, at 5946 South Holly Street in Greenwood Village (slightly more upscale family dining with big, sharing-size portions and a Southern bent).

Eat, drink and be wary: When you live out beyond Parker, your homegrown nearby dining options are few. So I was sad to learn that Bourbon Street Pizzabar & Grill has given up on its Parker outpost, closing the restaurant late last month. (The original, at 5117 South Yosemite in the Denver Tech Center, continues to do a great business.) "Although some of our problems there were self-imposed--i.e., at times poor service and long ticket times," explains owner Mike Brody, "we also believe our concept of doing pizza in an extraordinary way was neither understood nor appreciated. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. would say, 'So it goes.'" And here it comes: Brody promises to use any leftover money and creative energy to remodel the space at 10158-A South Parker Road into the 29 Mile Cantina, inspired by a legendary bar off Route 66 and featuring an extensive margarita menu. Look for it at the end of the month.

In the meantime, I don't think Safeway is going to compensate for my local dining-option shortage. The supermarket chain is banking on the popularity of gourmet takeout foods by offering a selection of "Homestyle" and "Chef's Choice" meals, which are billed as complete dinners for four. The "Homestyle" version includes an entree and two sides for $9.99, while the "Chef's Choice" brings the same amount of food, but presumably at a better grade, for $14.99 (you also get four dinner rolls with enough fat in them to deep-fry a horse). After trying a set of Homestyle dishes, though, I'd have to say McDonald's would be an improvement, both in quality and in proportions. (How many of your family members like to balance a half-pound of alleged meat with a tablespoon of a side?) The meatloaf (there are three main-course choices in each category) tasted just like the caramel coloring listed as an ingredient, and its texture was somewhere between cooked oatmeal and wet cork. One side, the dense cheddar-cheese-and-bacon mashed potatoes, wasn't bad--although it listed water as the second ingredient and one serving contributed 28 percent of my daily recommended intake of saturated fats--but the other, creamed spinach, was watery, weakly flavored and just plain gross, with a chemical quality and a few more grams of saturated fat. Yum!

These may feed a family of four, but not well. McDonald's, here we come. Not surprisingly, Mickey D's does a big business in Parker.

Eat, drink and be very merry: The fifth annual LoDo Beer, Wine, Food & Fun Fest is set for June 13-14 at 19th and Wazee streets. Nearly forty beers will be available for tasting, along with locally produced wine and mead, single Scotches and food from five LoDo restaurants (Wazoo's, LoDo Bar & Grill, Croc's Cafe, Rock Bottom and Old Chicago), with Tosh's Hacienda thrown in. Tickets to get in run $3 before the event and $5 the day of; six-ounce samples of beer cost $1 each. Steve Crenshaw and Opie Gone Bad are among the acts scheduled to perform. For more info, call the hotline at 893-LODO.

Elsewhere in LoDo, Bella Ristorante (1920 Market Street) is celebrating the 65th birthday of its ma”tre d', Harry Lordino--who has worked at many Denver restaurants over the past forty years, including Pagliacci's, Footer's, The Navarre and Giulino's--by creating a private-label bottling of a California red table wine with his name on it. Lordino's birthday was June 2, but festivities will continue through the month. Buy a bottle of the wine for $20, and $5 will go to Lordino's favorite charity, Mount St. Vincent Home, a place for abused children. The wine also is available at Wines Off Wynkoop (1610 16th Street), which will send $5 from each bottle purchased to Mount St. Vincent. After tasting the red, all I can say is that it's a good thing that five bucks is going to a worthy cause--the wine's not bad, but it doesn't necessarily merit $20.

A few blocks away, in Larimer Square, the annual Copper River Salmon Festival continues through June 15. Tommy Tsunami (1432 Market Street), Josephina's (1433 Larimer Street) and Cadillac Ranch (1400 Larimer Street) all have specials running with the fabulous fish.

Up the road in Boulder, chef Bradford Heap and Rick Stein--co-owners of Full Moon Grill, at 2525 Arapahoe Avenue--have once again opened up the 180-seat Chautauqua Dining Hall at 900 Baseline Road. Chautauqua Park, which also features a wonderful concert hall and some of the most spectacular views around, celebrates its centennial this year--and Heap and Stein hope to mark the date by convincing the park to let them keep the restaurant open past the usual Labor Day closing date. Whether or not they manage to expand their schedule, they've already expanded their menu--and it looks great. Sticking to Heap's emphasis on using local produce and seasonal ingredients, they've added more breakfast and lunch items to the roster.

Of more immediate interest in Boulder is the June 5 Vini d'Italia 1998 event at the Hotel Boulderado (2115 13th Street). For a mere $15 per person, you can try wines from twenty Italian producers that sell their wares here through Winebow Imports. Representatives from the vineyards will be on hand to answer questions, and I can guarantee that some of the wines being offered are ones that you've never seen in a Denver restaurant or wine store. Winebow owner Leonardo LoCascio is known for tracking down off-the-beaten-path vino in Tuscany and Piedmont. Call 449-3374 for tickets.


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