The Real Relleno
The smiling man in the photograph on the wall at the Brewery Bar II is one George Goldberg, and the reason he's smiling is that on January 7, 1994, he ate thirteen bowls of the local green chile for lunch. That amounts to five quarts of this time-honored saloon's fiery, chunky green. If anyone has challenged George's record in the intervening years, they're not talking. Or posing for pictures. Probably still at the gastroenterologist's while braying loudly for a return to Kalamath Street.
That's the brand of loyalty the Brewery Bar II inspires. Some regulars have been eating burritos and tamales and bowls of chile in this spotless, tan stucco outpost beneath the Rio Grande grain elevators since the Nixon administration. Not only that, but we are personally acquainted with a number of San Franciscans and New Yorkers who, upon visiting Denver, rush straight to the Brewery II with the urgency of strung-out junkies.
The great attraction, as far as we are concerned, has always been the crispy chile relleno. Smothered in the Brewery's uncanny mixture of red and green chiles ("half 'n' half," in the argot of the place) and smeared with a dollop of sour cream, it is, in our view, the single finest example of the dish in the metro area--crunchy and cheesy and tear-inducing all at once. Order a Tiny Tim--32 ounces of draft beer--to wash down your rellenos, and paradise is near.
Just don't expect any bargains. Years ago, former owner Abe Schur posted a notice in the gloom of the place that read: "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."
Translation: A plate of three chile rellenos will set you back $11.75--a princely $13.50 if you order them "special"--topped with lettuce and more cheese, as well as chile. Rumor has it that the price is about to rise again.
As an alternative, try the "Best of Denver" special--one smothered relleno and a fat burrito (beef and bean or chicken) for $7.50.
Whatever you choose, every bite is worth the price, as the Brewery's loud, teeming lunch crowds will attest. In 1996, a wall placard informs them, the management ladled out 6,000 gallons of green. In 1997 that increased to 7,250 gallons, and last year the figure rose to 8,175--a number that would likely make George Goldberg, seated before his thirteen bowls, flush with pride. So arrive early--lunch can be a madhouse--or call for a reservation if your party numbers four or more.
Notable fans? Assorted Colorado Avs fuel up in here, and there are--count 'em--three huge, autographed photos of Vegas crooner Wayne Newton on the wall, along with one of a movie-starrish Native American in luxurious feathered headdress. We've asked no questions about this and don't intend to.
A word on origins: The Brewery Bar II is so named not because it's a feeding-trough adjunct to one of those newfangled "brewpubs"; rather, until the early 1970s it was located in the now-defunct Tivoli Brewery (part and parcel of the Auraria campus) and moved to its present location more than 25 years ago, gaining a roman numeral in the process. Little matter. Virtually nothing has changed back in the kitchen in thirty years--not the luscious huevos rancheros, not the copyrighted "cornito" (a corn tortilla wrapped around beef, lettuce and cheese), certainly not the transcendent rellenos--for which we've set out, hangovers raging, on many a snow-and-ice-caked Saturday afternoon.
One word of advice: Pass on the $1.40 cheese sandwich unless you want to invoke George Goldberg's eternal wrath.
Brewery Bar II, 150 Kalamath Street, 303-893-0971. Hours: Monday through Thursday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday: 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Denver is full of great joints--neighborhood spots that will never rate a Zagat mention but always add flavor to a city. We'll be serving up looks at some of the town's true joints on a semi-regular basis; if you have suggestions for places we should visit, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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