October is a month of transition -- change defines the weather, the length of the days, the leaves in the trees. October is the month to dress a little warmer, grab a bigger beer and indulge in some hearty, traditional food. German food and beer seem appropriate even if Oktoberfest in Munich officially begins while the calendar still shows summer.
In Denver, German restaurants are scarce, but certain dishes follow culinary paths that cross international borders. For the next month (plus this last day of September), I'll be looking for schnitzel in its various forms. Many of the Slavic and German restaurants that serve variations on schnitzel populate the periphery of the city, but I'm starting near the center, at Sobo 151 Czech Bar and Grill, where the breaded cutlet also goes by its Czech name rízek.
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Sobo 151 has a little of everything: karaoke two nights a week, live music on other nights, billiards, sports -- especially hockey -- on TV, a reasonably sized list of Czech specialties on the menu. But there are also wings and green chile and quesadillas. Oh, and you can also get breakfast burritos and something called a dumpling scramble and a few other breakfast items on weekdays and a full brunch on weekends.
If you sit at the bar, the bartender may tell you about the daily specials, but don't look at the board when he's talking or he'll tell you to look at him when he's talking. I'm not here for the specials or the Den-Mex, though; I'm here for schnitzel and something foamy to wash it down. The kitchen offers a choice of pork or chicken; pork seems the obvious choice. I also throw in an order of potato pancakes, another international staple called bramboráky where Czech is spoken, but which are also served throughout German and Slavic countries. Sobo 151 serves them thin and soft, without much exterior crunch but with a ton of flavor from grated onion and garlic in the mix.
The schnitzel is big and filling and doesn't aspire to be more than breaded and fried pork. The tenderized cutlet could be a little more tender, the breading a little more evenly cooked. But it has good crunch and stands up well to the generous pour of Krusovice Cerne, a Czech dark lager (everything in the Czech Republic is a lager), which the the bartender says we can have for the happy-hour price if we can pronounce the name correctly. (It's happy hour, anyway, so he's not too particular.) He also strongly suggests to another customer to look happy during happy hour.
I can't quite decide if Sobo 151 qualifies as a dive bar, but it definitely has marks in its favor. It has that odd lighting that feels too dim and too bright at the same time; it has solo regulars who seem permanent as statues; it has a mishmash of decor accumulated over a couple of decades. Amy suggests letting the state of the bathrooms be the final arbiter, but I never venture in.
Sobo 151 is these things for sure: a sports bar, a music bar and an ethnic eatery. The space is comfortable enough for a grandmother treating her two grown sons to dinner, for a single woman to have a drink at the bar, for a bartender to half-jokingly correct a patron's etiquette. Another $4 pour of Krusovice Cerne will help me decide. It gets easier to pronounce after the first one, too.
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For more from our tour of Denver's cultural, regional and international restaurant scene, check out our entire Ethniche archive.