Down at the Station: Denver is chock-full of odd little neighborhood spots, but sometimes you have to be doing something unusual--like bowling for the first time in nearly a decade--to find them. We stumbled into the Garrison Street Station, at 9199 West Alameda Avenue in Lakewood, for example, after donning pairs of slightly stinky clown shoes and lobbing gutterballs at a neighborhood bowling alley. But, heck, half the regulars at this former roadhouse looked like they'd just done the same thing, although their scores were probably a bit higher.
According to the narrative on the back of the menu, Garrison Street started out as a Texaco station in 1938; the front part of the restaurant, which looks like a grandmother's living room, complete with doily-covered couch and cozy little chairs, is thought to have been the gas station. Al Linke, who also owned Linke Hardware, bought the place and renamed it The Shanty in 1942, the same year the road in front of the building was changed from Smith Road to Garrison Street.
At that point, the Shanty was considered to be a roadhouse, and it was frequented by employees of the nearby Remington Arms plant. Two years later, Al Luino bought the spot and renamed it the Monvue Tavern; in 1948, he sold it to Gregory H. Allen Sr. and Gregory H. Allen Jr., who dubbed it the Mon-Vue Village Nightclub. Another decade later, the Queen City Jazz Band made its debut performance at the Mon-Vue, then wound up playing there for the next fourteen years.
The current owners, Carolyn and Don Macendaffer, bought the place in 1977 and renamed it the Garrison Street Station; although they don't do music anymore, they have continued the tradition of serving American and Mexican dishes. The place is always packed with folks from the area--hence the grandma-like living room, which gives people a place to sit while they wait for a table--who seem to be regulars, like the guy with the huge handlebar mustache who was celebrating his 59th birthday, the fourth birthday in a row he's rung in at Garrison Street, a fact he shared loudly every time he hoisted a toast to himself.
We were simply celebrating surviving two games of bowling without tearing our rotator cuffs--not to mention the fact that we'd found a place to eat in this odd section of Lakewood--and so several rounds of buffalo wings ($5.10 each) were in order. These were pretty good: moderately spicy, slightly buttery, with fairly crispy skins. More kick came with the chips and salsa ($1.25), a chunky, freshly made sauce containing plenty of cilantro and big bits of onion.
Since Garrison Street is a neighborhood joint, pleasing a common denominator of palates is important. And so it was no surprise that the "famous homemade soup of the day" that came with the chicken-fried steak ($8.40) was a rather salty, wallpaper-paste-thick potato version that developed the consistency of a bowling ball as it cooled. The steak itself was the usual well-pounded piece of meat thickly dredged in batter and fried golden brown; unlike many chicken-frieds, though, this beef was tender. The peppery gravy was only slightly less thick than the soup, and it covered everything, including the pile of real mashed potatoes, chunks still in.
Of the two other American entrees we tried, the mushroom cheeseburger ($5.40), listed under "Juicy Burgers," was indeed juicy and well-cooked, and it came with a side of skin-on fries. But the broiled eight-ounce choice top sirloin ($9.10) looked and tasted like something out of a cafeteria, and the baked potato and steamed veggies were more of the same. Our one Mexican choice, the Denver relleno plate ($6.40), was a smooshy pile of egg batter surrounding a few chile shreds and not very much cheese, sided by typical refried beans and a mound of rice. The green chile that covered the plate was thinly flavored and had little bite, but the guacamole was decent.
But since Garrison Street is a neighborhood joint, food isn't the most important offering; a neighborly ambience is. And this place scored a strike in that regard. The service was friendly (our waitress good-naturedly jumped into a discussion about cow-tipping); the low wooden booths were cozy; and the lively atmosphere, made more chaotic by the fact that the tables are about four inches from each other, was noisy and fun. Also, the prices were right and the portions were generous. By the time we got through our meals, we were ready to crawl over to grandma's living room and take a nap.
Giving good guac: While the guacamole at Garrison Street was one of the better things we ate there, it had nothing on the dip served at Goodfriends (see review, previous page). Just the right balance of hand-mashed avocado, onion, cilantro and lemon juice, the Goodfriends version also packed a jalapeno punch. It was begging to have us jam salty, just-fried tortilla chips into it--whenever our hands could put down our margarita glasses, that is. And isn't that what neighborhood dining is all about?
5 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 fresh jalapenos, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Gently mash avocados with a fork and fold in onion, cilantro and jalapenos. Fold in salt, pepper and lemon juice. Chill to meld flavors. Yields 3 to 4 cups.
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