Into the mouths of babes: You'd be surprised at how many places around here welcome your kids with a smile. While Joe's Crab Shack (see above review) is one of the better ones, my kids have other favorites--spots that not only greet them with open arms, but also serve food I can stand to eat.
For casual fare with better burgers and fries than McDonald's and oldies playing in the background, try Annie's Cafe (4012 East Eighth Avenue). The atmosphere is retro diner, the milkshakes are killer, and it's also good for breakfast. Another diner-style place that's tolerant of kids and their crumbs is the Breakfast Inn, Dinner Too (6135 East Evans Avenue), which smoking parents will particularly appreciate, since there's a huge smoking section on one side of the eatery. For those with other vices, the peach pancakes are unbelievable, topped with enough whipped cream to send you into insulin shock. The peach cobbler at Bayou Bob's (1635 Glenarm Place and 5650 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard in Greenwood Village) is a favorite with kids of all ages; the rest of Bob's fare is Southern-style and Louisiana-oriented, similar to that offered at Joe's. If you're looking for lots of leftovers, try the Rocky Mountain Diner (800 18th Street), where the booths are comfy, the food's not stuffy--and the portions are enormous.
Fast and cheap is why everyone takes their kids to McDonald's, but if yours are more adventurous, head to Chef's Noodle House, a remodeled Taco Bell at 10400 East Sixth Avenue in Aurora. Chef/owner Billy Lam is an extraordinary cook who stirs up noodle bowls on the quick for five bucks each. What kid doesn't love noodles? And I haven't heard a complaint yet when I've taken out-of-town kids for Sunday dim sum at Golden Plate (7180 East Hampden Avenue). The kids can't resist the little tidbits that look like packages, and nothing inside is too exotic (I'm partial to the cheese-filled shrimp rolls myself). The staff loves kids, too.
If yours won't touch anything that looks remotely un-American, hit a Healthy Habits (four metro locations, so there's got to be one near you). These eateries always feature a huge selection of pizzas, pastas and baked goods as well as a staggeringly large salad bar, so everyone in the family should find something they like. The quality is up there, too, and the price is right: Adults pay $6.99 for all you can eat at lunch and $7.99 for dinner; under-twelves pay half that, and those under two eat free. And don't forget My Brother's Bar (2376 15th Street) and the Wazee Supper Club (1600 15th Street), both of which benefit from being noisy and kind of dark, so no one will hear your kids or notice the mess they make on the floor, and you can go the burgers-or-pizza route without settling for frozen patties or cardboard crusts.
Uncle Sam's (5946 South Holly Street in Greenwood Village) serves more sophisticated food family-style (portions that feed at least two, but more often three, people for about $15), and Uncle Sam actually means it when he says he wants you to bring your family to this bright, fun place. I've had the motherly ladies who wait tables at Emil-Lene's Sirloin House (16000 Smith Road in Aurora) fawn all over my kids, and that bowl of crunchy veggies on ice with blue-cheese and ranch dressing for dipping is a great way to fill 'em up before they try to wrestle a steak.
For upscale one-on-one lunches, I take my tots to Mel's Bar and Grill (235 Fillmore Street) or Ellyngton's (321 17th Street). The beautiful atmosphere at both of these places leaves kids a little awestruck, and a meal at either is a great opportunity to teach some manners (staffers seem willing to tolerate the lesson plans, too). And The Fourth Story (2955 East First Avenue) always keeps a shelf full of kids' books on hand to entertain smaller diners until the escargots with wild mushrooms arrive; the extensive by-the-glass wine list should help larger diners get through it all.
If your kids haven't eaten out at anything other than Mickey D's, you may need that liquid courage. Still, it's not impossible to enjoy a restaurant with your kids--and also ensure that those eating near you enjoy the restaurant, too. When we dine out as a family, customers and staffers alike often stop by after the meal's over to comment on how well-behaved our kids are. My secret? I've been taking them out to eat since they were three days old. I don't think kids know how to act in restaurants unless they're taken to them regularly, and eventually, it's just not a big deal.
Don't be afraid, and your kids won't be, either.
Only fools rush in: One of the weirder requests I've received lately involved a big-boy version of a venerable kid food--peanut butter. Two guys from Philadelphia who are filming the Bruce Willis flick The Sixth Sense called to track down the Colorado restaurant where Elvis once enjoyed a $49.95 peanut butter sandwich.
"You could just say we're big Elvis fans," says Thomas "Doc" Boguski, the movie's production coordinator, who shares his obsession with production assistant Carl Davis. "A year ago, Carl told me about this sandwich, and we wanted to try it, and finally we decided to see if we could find out about it. We called the Colorado Film Commission to help us out, but they took forever to write us back and suggested we call you."
We thank the commission for its vote of confidence, but the King passed away before Westword was born. The producers would have been better off calling the Rocky Mountain News, since current columnist Michael Balfe Howard was the editor of the News back then and often frequented the same infamous Glendale restaurant. It was the Colorado Mine Company, run by Buck and Cindy Scott, beloved of athletes, businessmen, power brokers...and Elvis, who gave Cadillacs to several of the restaurant's regulars. The Scotts, who closed up the Mine Company years ago and moved to Charlevoix, Michigan, put the sandwich on the menu just for Elvis, who sometimes sent his plane to Denver for takeout.
We found a recipe for the enormous sandwich (it serves one Elvis or eight to ten normal people) on the Web, at http://www.torget.se/users/e/eilert/food.htm. If you, too, want to die early like the King, follow this formula and then wash down the results with some phenobarbital:
Fool's Gold Loaf
2 Tbsp. butter
1 loaf Italian bread
1 pound lean bacon
1 large jar Skippy smooth peanut butter
1 large jar Smuckers grape jelly
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread butter generously over all sides of the loaf. Place on a baking sheet and bake until evenly browned (approximately 15 minutes). Meanwhile, fry up the bacon until crisp and drain thoroughly on paper towels. Slit the loaf lengthwise and hollow it out, then fill it with as much peanut butter and jelly as you dare. Pile on the bacon or layer between the peanut butter and jelly. Put the two sides together and serve.
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