Personal bests: This town isn't exactly overflowing with places that cook up Southern-style eats--see the review of Hugo's above for one nice option--so it hurts when a good one goes down. And you can say goodbye to So-Fully Kosha Res-runt, which had been making some mean soul food in a knickknack-filled space in the back of an industrial park at 20 South Havana Street in Aurora. Owners JoEl and Mo Griffin were also doing one of my favorite Sunday brunches, sort of a post-church all-you-can-eat supper, that I'd hoped to include in the Best of Denver issue that came out four weeks ago. But when I called the eatery to confirm a few details, the phone had been disconnected. I have no idea what the couple is up to now: JoEl had been working on a cookbook and a self-help book for victims of abuse; I'm hoping that this disappearance means she found a publisher and they're living large. I sure will miss their sweet potatoes and peach cobbler, though.
Speaking of desserts, I received an e-mail and two phone calls about my choice for Best Dessert Menu, the Rialto Cafe at 934 16th Street. The e-mail came from David Carter, who is most likely a friend of pastry chef Mary Ludwig, who was with the Rialto Cafe until right before the issue came out on June 25. "The pastry chef responsible for all those wonderful creations was not named in your article," Carter wrote. The voicemails came from employees of the restaurant, and both asked not to be identified. One said, "I think it was really awful of you to leave Mary's name out of the paper, since she's the one who made all of those desserts."
Well, this is one of those sticky situations. Ludwig was indeed mentioned in the first draft of the award, but our fact-checker was told by a Rialto employee that Ludwig was no longer working there. Since I had met Ludwig myself--she came out to our table to find out who had ordered not only every dessert on the regular menu but the two specials as well (let's just say that my fellow employees at Westword are often called upon to do horrible things in the name of science)--I was surprised to hear that she was gone, so I called to double-check the fact-checker. Marketing manager Tracee Henigar confirmed that Ludwig had moved on and said that while the pastry chef had been responsible for the day-to-day execution of the desserts--which included interpreting the visual her way--executive chef Tim O'Piel had been responsible for the conception and recipes of every one of those desserts. So I went with that.
Since then, new pastry chefs Steven Davis and Elias Benson have been trying to live up to Ludwig's legacy, which is tough because she's a whiz with spun sugar, one of those tricks of the trade that can be a nightmare of adhesive proportions when it goes wrong. Perhaps as a result, Davis and Benson have turned to chocolate for the dessert garnishes. I've been back to the Rialto since the Best of Denver issue came out, and while the look of the desserts is different, the great taste remains the same.
Ludwig is now the pastry chef at The Great Northern Tavern, at 8101 East Bellevue Avenue, which officially opens on July 27. Keep an eye on her--I think she's one of the best pastry chefs we have in Denver--and also on this place, which has been brought to us by the same trio who've had the Great Northern Tavern and Brewery for the past two years in Keystone. The concept is a good one: It's based on the fact that managing partner Bill Ferguson's great-great grandfather worked for the Great Northern Railroad, whose dining car would pick up fresh food from whatever region it was going through at the time--storage space was at a premium--so passengers were treated to quite a variety of foods during a cross-country trip, and diners at this restaurant will be, too. The other owners of both Great Northerns are Donna Crown and Buck Warfield, and if this spot's as good as I've heard the one in Keystone is, we should thank all three for choosing the vast dining wasteland of the Denver Tech Center.
Two other Best of Denver awards have taken a beating. The Best Taco went to Benny's Restaurante & Cantina (301 East Seventh Avenue), which has been doing a fried-chicken taco on the sly for years (you had to know about it and ask for it, because it wasn't on the menu). The two times I tried it, the in-the-know person I was with asked for the fried chicken to be on flour tortillas. Now Benny's has actually put the taco on the menu--it's at the bottom, with the word "new" beside it--but it comes on corn tortillas, and people who've been asking for flour have been turned down. Also, I'd had the chicken deep-fried, but they're not doing that, either; it's grilled. Guess my dining companion was a bit of a VIP. It's still a great taco.
The other glitch came with the barbecued-goat dish at El Tejado (2651 South Broadway). The birria de chivo is offered only occasionally as a special, so call ahead. Or go for the carne asada, which is done exceptionally well, too.
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We've also completely lost one of the award winners. Cornucopia Unlimited, at 2780 South Colorado Boulevard, closed just as the issue was coming out.
See ya: Hey, talk about your quick exits. One day Cucina! Cucina! in the Ice House at 1801 Wynkoop Street was there, and the next day the signs had been torn down and the place was pretty much gutted. The rumor that the other location, at 8334 South Willow in Littleton, was closing is supposedly wrong--Dawn Allan at Cucina's corporate headquarters says that outpost of the chain is going strong. "The market at the Ice House location just didn't support us," Allan says. Well, we had, because we're right across the street and the happy hour was decent. I hope something cool and local--with an even better happy hour--takes its place.