Lechuga's Italian Restaurant & Lounge
Courtesy of Lechuga's
Lechuga's is such an authentic red-sauce joint, you expect to see Frank and the boys lounging around a table covered with a red-checked cloth, sharing a laugh and a bottle of Chianti. But if Ol' Blue Eyes were still with us, he'd probably get right in line with everyone else, peering into the heated display case next to the cash register, gazing in amazement at the stacks of dough-wrapped meat sitting there -- and drooling. "Devils" have been a Lechuga's tradition from the start, and with good reason. The kitchen takes good-quality Italian meats -- mild sausage, spicy sausage and big, fat meatballs -- and wraps them in sweet dough before baking them into giant puffballs. Not so hungry? Tell 'em the "mini devil" made you do it.
Three Sons is another north Denver landmark, an Italian eatery whose slick, busy dining room is decorated with Roman busts and softly colored lights. The fried chicken is one of the specialties here; if you can't resist ordering it, you'll still want to add a side of spaghetti. Even a side here is a hefty helping, a mound of perfectly cooked noodles blanketed by a gravy-like red sauce. We go all the way, though, because that red possesses an addictive flavor that hints of vegetables and herbs, puréed into a thick, ruddy consistency that holds to the pasta like an Italian mama to her babies. Don't forget to splurge for a meatball.
Panzano
Linnea Covington
If a squat green bottle covered with straw is your only Chianti experience, it's time to take a trip to Tuscany. And you won't need to go any farther than 17th Street, to Panzano, a lovely restaurant named after a village in the Chianti Classico region of Italy. Yes, in that country, Chianti is a classic. In this country, it's a joke, one of the stereotyped trappings of an Italian restaurant straight out of Disney's Lady and the Tramp. But in reality, Chianti is a lush, rich wine, capable of holding its own against the likes of Montepulciano and Barolo. And in celebrating its namesake area, Panzano offers nearly three dozen Chiantis for in-the-know diners, including the esteemed Fontodi and La Massa, all picked by sommelier Scott Tallman. Of course, every one of those wines is perfetto with chef Jennifer Jasinkski's superb fare.
Looking for the perfect bottle of wine? Reserve some time at Reservelist, an astounding collection of small-batch, hard-to-find wines from around the world. Owner Chris Farnum, a sommelier well on his way to earning his master certification, has built a store that is literally a wine cellar, temperature-controlled and humidity-injected, where the wines are arranged by locale, variety and order of consumption, from aperitif to digestif. Farnum's philosophy is to find wines that are going places, bottles from new, exciting vineyards that are destined to produce the next big thing, but not necessarily at the next big price. Farnum will offer a $200 bottle if it's a great bottle, but more often he's selling things like Sineann's Zinfandel, a Washington State wine that costs $34 a bottle even though only seventy cases are made each year, or the 1999 Mas Doix from Spain, a $60 wine that tastes like $300. And when price is really an issue, Reservelist offers a rotating roster of twenty wines each under $20. But here's the real reason to pop the cork: This groovy store is simply a cool place to visit, with a lounge and tiny coffee bar out front where patrons can research wines over a handy computer or using a small library of wine books. We have no reservations about this one.
Corks
Tired of cooler-than-thou wine stores? Try Corks, a warm, very drinker-friendly store with a completely down-to-earth approach. Owners Glenn Ehrlich and Pam Glynn, former advertising folks who decided one day that it would be neat to own a wine shop, have assembled around 300 wines, 90 percent of which cost less than $15 a bottle. The shop is divided into categories that describe the body of the grapes within and make it easier to find what you like: "Sensuous" means medium-bodied reds, "lush" means full-bodied whites. And wine novices and veteran winos alike will appreciate the fact that next to each bin is a placard explaining the characteristics of the wine and offering comments from wine writers. Ehrlich and Glynn subscribe to wine magazines from around the globe and have a database of about 16,000 wines they think are worth tracking down, and they're bringing them to Denver as fast as they can. Uncork this baby and enjoy.

Restaurants looking to make their wine lists more accessible to diners should take a page from the Fourth Story and offer a variety of grapes and styles from a variety of locations, with enough rarities thrown in here and there to keep more serious wine enthusiasts interested. (No need to try to impress people with a 300-page roster that would take six mealtimes to read, let alone comprehend.) Above all, have fun, as the Fourth Story does with its Tasting Challenge: flights of wine, each with three two-ounce samplings, designed to give diners the opportunity to discern differences and find favorites. Put it all together, and it's no wonder the Fourth Story's wine list is a perennial bestseller.

Despite its name, the Wine Company carries as much great beer as it does wine. And while many beer vendors slap the goods on the shelves and leave it to the customers to figure out what to drink, the staff here drinks -- and thinks about -- its beery inventory. As a result, burgeoning beer geeks can get great advice with their selections, all of which are kept in top condition.
Redstone Meadery
Drinkers wanting the latest buzz get their kicks with the honey wines made by David Myers at his Redstone Meadery. Once an at-home mead maker, Myers has turned his avocation into a vocation. His not-too-sweet bottled and draft meads are making the elixir accessible to the masses while turning Myers into the area's newest brewing revolutionary. Beowulf would be proud.
Finally, a local brew for the wimpy Mexican beer drinkers among us! The H.C. Berger Brewing Co., usually known for its German-style beers, recently turned its eyes south and came up with Federales Export Cervesa Pils-ner. The beer's even poured into clear, longneck twelve-ounce bottles -- the better to grab all those folks who usually reach for a Corona or Pacifico. While still a little heavier, and definitely hoppier, than those Mexican beers, Federales is a good homegrown alternative.

When Peter Coors visited the town in Germany whence the original Adolph Coors sprang, he liked the local lager. So he brought some back to Golden and gave it to the boys in the lab. "Can we make this?" he asked. Turned out they could -- and the result is Barmen, a very rare brew available in only a handful of places (among them the Brown Palace, the Bull & Bush and 240 Union) -- and only on tap. Since the brew isn't advertised, you have to ask for it by name; you'll also need to be patient, since it's a seven-minute pour. Real men drink Barmen.

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