The words "sports" and "gourmet" aren't normally used in the same sentence, so it seemed an odd pairing when Radek Cerny, chef/owner of the highfalutin Papillon and Radex, took over the space that had been Jimmy's Grille (320 South Birch Street, just off Leetsdale in Glendale), renamed it the Boathouse -- and left it as a sports bar. But that may not last.
"We are still in the research phase," Cerny says of the venture he entered into six months ago. "If we don't have enough business from sporting events, maybe we'll just scrap it all and do a big fish house or something." He and his Boathouse partner, Bucky Parker, who's also part-owner of Radex, think they'll know about halfway through this year's football and hockey seasons if the concept is going to fly. "If it doesn't, we'll have two options," Cerny adds. "We'll either downscale the food and make it just a bar, or we'll make the bar a lesser part of the deal and go for a regular menu of fish and stuff."
Fish have already landed on the eatery's decor. The huge, popular patio now has a nautical theme, and inside, an enormous fake fish -- somebody actually makes a living creating these -- hangs from the ceiling, dominating the television-filled, barn-like room. Seafood has also made an appearance on the menu roster, which is executed by chef Mark Kubiac.
Most of the dishes work swimmingly. In the starter category, cutely titled "First Cast -- Bait and Hooks," the cornmeal-battered oysters ($7.95) arrived hot but not overcooked, alongside two housemade dippers: a sharp cocktail sauce and a not-too-creamy remoulade. (Both sauces also made a nice dressing for the cheater filler of shredded lettuce lying at the bottom of the basket, to make the oyster portion look larger.) Another housemade dip -- this one a sharp tomato sauce -- was just the thing to complement the fried calamari ($7.95), golden rings of squid lightly dusted with Cerny's trademark salty seasoning. And while the steamed mussels ($6.95) certainly weren't anything the average Avalanche fan would be looking for, they were fresh and tasty in a concentrated, garlic-spiked white-wine broth.
Beer-battered fish and chips are a pub-grub mainstay -- but not at $13.95, which didn't even buy competent preparation. The pieces of fish were too heavily battered, then overfried until the crust turned dark, dark brown and took on a bitterness that was no fun to eat. The fish cakes ($11.95), on the other hand, were a well-conceived mishmash of shredded fish and teeny bits of vegetables, formed into two patties and fried until they were a perfect golden brown on the outside, and hot all the way through. The cakes sat in a delectable lemon-butter sauce that also worked smashed into an order of mashed potatoes ($1.95). But even on their own, these were great spuds: soft, rich and just-like-grandma's. Our entrees also came with a top-quality slaw: your choice of Cajun or honey mustard, although each tasted like it could fit either label.
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So the food was fine, and the setting appropriately recreational. But with so many other sports bars in the area, it'll be interesting to see if Denver's fans think this one's a keeper.