In spring, some young restaurateurs' thoughts turn to fancy creations they can make out of asparagus and baby peas. But the sophisticated 240 Union doesn't stop there. Chef Matthew Franklin pulls from his extensive experience to create elaborate combinations that not only showcase what's fresh and readily available, but also celebrate the season.
And Franklin does this not just in spring, but every time the seasons change. As a result, 240 Union, now in its twelfth year, remains one of the area's best restaurants -- and a real revelation for its hometown of Lakewood. Part-owner Franklin's ever-changing menu boasts a plethora of tasty dishes that are interesting, well-conceived and well-executed. And both the service staff and wine list, the responsibility of general manager Michael Coughlin, another part-owner, are hand-picked, lively and get the job done.
Another 240 Union partner is Noel Cunningham, the legendary Denver foodie/philanthropist who also happens to own Strings, another top restaurant. But 240 Union is really about Franklin and Coughlin, who keep the dining room packed night after night, even on weekdays. Like the menu, that snazzy (and often chaotic) room has been kept up-to-date; curvy partitions have turned down the noise, and fresh flowers tone down the starkness of some of the modern fixtures.
240 Union Boulevard, Lakewood
Hours: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 5-10:30 p.m. Friday; 5-10:30 p.m. Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday
But the food served in there is so good that you wouldn't notice if you were eating it in a hovel. The description of the blue crab and pepper jack spring roll ($12) made me momentarily wonder what had been going on inside Franklin's head -- but those brilliant thoughts became clear at first bite. The combination of sweet crabmeat and mildly spicy cheese inside a paper-thin, crackly shell make perfect sense, especially when tied together with a rich, creamy avocado sauce. And while everyone is doing asparagus right now, no one else is offering a dish ($8) that tops mixed greens with wire-thin spears and a delicately poached egg that, when broken, oozes into the lemon-sparked, bacon-salty brown butter, virtually turning it into a funky hollandaise sauce on the spot.
Off-the-wall salads have always been popular at 240 Union, but the kitchen does well by the classics, too. Its Caesar ($7) remains one of my favorites, with a zesty, garlic-heavy dressing; the spinach salad ($7) featured baby spinach leaves coated in a sweetened balsamic vinaigrette, then lovingly layered with radicchio, Gorgonzola and prosciutto for a perfect balance of sweet and salty.
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Balance is Franklin's forte, and he proves it with his bizarre but beautiful pizzas. Smoked salmon, avocado, tomatoes, red onions, capers and sour cream ($13) sounded like another unlikely combo, particularly for a thin, crispy-crust pie, but the mix proved addictive. We also ate every bite of a vegetarian's delight, the simple but delicious wood-oven-roasted portabello ($12) enriched with feta cheese and punched up with an olive-packed salsa. For our meat course, we sank our teeth into a heavenly half chicken ($14), its crunchy, lemon-scented skin and a side of Yukon Gold potatoes both coated in butter.
Compared to that, the Manila clams ($9) in lemon, white wine and garlic broth tasted no more than insipid, and the sizzling shrimp with garlic-pumped Creole butter ($12) were on the limp side. At most other restaurants, however, these dishes would have been star attractions. But we've come to expect so much more from 240 Union. Fortunately, more often than not, we get it.
This restaurant is always in season.