Goin' to the Roadhouse: There's no drink at Spanky's Roadhouse (1800 East Evans Avenue) called the "Spanky Swank Me," but the fifteen-year-old perennial DU hangout still serves one of the best milkshakes ($3.25) in town--Oreo fans will appreciate the cookie version--along with a great burger and the excellent bonus of green or red (or half-and-half) jalapeno pepper poppers ($5.25).
Spanky's is one of the few spots I can say I frequent, partly because of its central location--it's not too far from Wash Park when I'm headed home down I-25--and partly because of its ultra-casual atmosphere, which means I can arrive all sweaty from biking and no one's going to care. They're pretty good to kids, too, even offering a PB&J sandwich ($1.95) and a respectable cheddar-filled grilled cheese on buttery toast ($2.10). But the main draw is still the burger ($3.95), a third of a pound of lean ground beef charbroiled and served on a white or wheat bun, which you can then top with one of ten items or "run it through the garden."
The handful of televisions are always parked on different stations--usually focusing on news and sports--and the crowd is as diverse as you'd expect in a college neighborhood. The rumor is that they're trying to go bigger with the concept, but I couldn't get anyone at the eatery to confirm that. If they do, I'm hoping they steer away from the dingy hole-in-the-wall look, and they should reconsider the tables that fall over if you lean on them.
I never know what to expect at Wazoo's (1819 Wazee Street). This spacious LoDo pool-and-a-brewski space is, like Spanky's, owned by Boulder Concepts, which also owns the Giggling Grizzly--would someone please explain to me how that has survived?--the Bella Ristorantes in LoDo and Park Meadows, and Cucina Leone. Sometimes Wazoo's is packed, sometimes it's empty, but it still plods along, serving a more expanded menu than Spanky's but with the same excellent burger and shakes. In an area slathered with competition, this is one of those places whose continued existence is puzzling.
Open-and-shut cases: No surprise that the two-year-old Brasserie Z (815 17th Street) has closed, though. The snazzy space just wasn't bringing them in like it did at first, and so owner Kevin Taylor is shutting it down--he says it's because of the construction, but a lot of people had lousy food there, although I never did--and bringing back Zenith American Grill. He'd closed Zenith two years ago after a ten-year run because it was "too Eighties" (at least, that's what he said back then) and because he'd wanted to do something different.
I, for one, am delighted, and I think there are a lot of people who agree it was a loss when Taylor closed Zenith. This time around, he promises to drop the ultra-expensive dishes and retain such faves as that fabulous smoked sweet corn soup, but why he's carpeting the beautiful marble floor in that old bank building, I do not know. Longtime Taylor companion Sean Yontz will now be a managing partner, and he'll also do the cooking.
A few blocks away, Beacon Grill (303 16th Street) is gone, replaced by Mestizo. Same owners, but instead of steaks, the menu will focus on the cuisine of its namesake people--a combination of Spanish and American Indian backgrounds. Expect paella.
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Over in Cherry Creek, the word on the street is that Sfuzzi, at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, is out, and Napa Cafe, part of the chain that also owns California Cafe at Park Meadows, is in. California Cafe Company marketing director Suzanne Edwards did not return my phone calls to comfirm or deny this, and it was a surprise to the folks at Sfuzzi.
The complaint department: It's been a while since I've heard from Mr. Grumpy, but the Best of Denver issue always seems to get his goat. This time he took exception to my choices of Kay Shang (95 South Sheridan Boulevard in Lakewood) and the Tree House Cafe (2043 South University Boulevard). "As far as Kay Shang goes, I don't know what you were thinking," Mr. Grumpy said via voice mail. "You must live in Lakewood." Well, no, I don't, but I fell in love with Kay Shang because it reminded me of the Chinese restaurants we used to go to when I was younger: friendly and cheap, with big portions and lots of flavor.
Mr. Grumpy disagreed, and he also thought the Tree House's sandwiches "sucked," an assessment I vehemently oppose. He suggests the two Salvaggio's in Boulder (1100 28th Avenue and 2655 Pearl Street), and I agree that it's a good choice, mainly because of the prime rib sandwich and the breads. But the Tree House is a winner for its breads, too--the owners chose different bakeries for each of the breads because they wanted them to best complement specific sandwiches--as well as the innovative combinations. I stand by them both.