In the realm of desserts, pie is about as humble as it gets. There are no towers made of pie, like bakers craft out of macarons, none of those shocking flavor combinations — wasabi, curry — that come scooped on a cone. So it's not surprising that the best pie in town comes not from a high-end bakery hawking elaborate delicacies, but from bang!, a homey restaurant that's been churning out plates of fried chicken, meatloaf and mashed potatoes for more than seventeen years. The coconut cream pie is filled with as much down-home goodness as the entrees, with a hand-crimped crust and a thick layer of custard amped up with shredded coconut for a more intense flavor. Topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted coconut, the pie deserves the spotlight that's long been given to the gingerbread, another of co-owner Cissy Olderman's creations.
Clay Carlton is on a roll. The Denver native, who opened his first barber shop in Winter Park 38 years ago, today is a master cigar-roller (he studied under a Cuban master for six months) and proprietor not just of Palma Cigars, but of Bar Las Palmas Wine Bar, offering cigars, coffee, wine, haircuts and lots of character to the Ballpark neighborhood. In order to attract more customers of the female persuasion, Carlton has cut back on the hair-cutting — there's just one barber chair now, in the back — and expanded his roster of Colorado wines. But the real draw remains the cigars, with a walk-in humidor filled with hard-to-find, reasonably priced stogies from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Denver native Montgomery Knott spent many years in New York perfecting the Monkey Town experience, during which guests dined on fine food and paired wines inside a video-installation cube. Now he's back in his home town, testing a touring version of his visual/gastronomic spectacle in a RiNo warehouse for a three-month run that ends June 1 before he takes off for similar short-term spells in other cities. Turns out we're very lucky guinea pigs: Monkey Town 4 is a vivid evening of impeccably conceived and prepared dishes from trendy local chefs paired with perfect wines, while fascinating sounds and visuals unfold all around you. The people-watching is fantastic (and unavoidable, since you're all sitting around the perimeter of the cube), and for added experimentation, there's the option of a weed-stuffed appetizer that's not advertised on the menu.
Nectar House, a sly little restaurant nestled inside Kindness Yoga, is an organic nosher's paradise that features a simple menu of enticing superfood salads, smoothies and creamy desserts. The "Rawben" Sandwich — a very loose take on a Reuben — is the signature entree, piling avocado, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and more on raw onion bread. But the spot's selection of non-alcoholic, handcrafted elixirs are the real draw; popular items include the "Shaktini," an effervescent herbal refreshment, and kombucha infused with a choice of energetic tonics and highlighted by the flavors of goji berries and fresh-squeezed juice. After yoga class, seat yourself at the cafe's bar or sneak off to the "nook," a pillow-laden hideaway, to enjoy a one-of-a-kind beverage or some veggie-friendly, feel-good food.
Although it's all too easy to spend a fortune on good food, you don't have to at twelve. Chef-owner Jeff Osaka's Monday-through-Wednesday prix fixe menu, which changes monthly, is the bargain board to beat. Osaka, who's renowned as the benevolent Denver chef-ambassador who just keeps on giving, fully extends that generosity to his guests, presenting them with the unusual luxury of choosing any starter, main dish and dessert from his full menu, all for the price of just $38 per person. On the March menu, for example, you could choose gnocchi with wild mushrooms, puffed rice, smoked egg and Parmesan to start, followed by steelhead trout with guanciale and mustard caviar, and to finish, a trio of chocolate desserts. But no matter what you order, every dish at twelve unleashes countless captivating flavors.
Raw bars are washing up all over Denver these days, and while there's no oceanic panorama beyond the toe-to-top windows that rim the perimeter of the Kitchen Denver, a splendid sea of brawny bivalves, Littleneck clams, lobster, Alaskan king crab legs, caviar and smoked mussels glistens behind the glass barrier that shields this raw bar. The oysters, of which there are several varieties, are the dominant mothershuckers of the lineup, and while we prefer them naked, they arrive with lemon wedges, mignonette, cocktail sauce and aioli. Gorgeously presented seafood towers — the largest of which showcases a whole Maine lobster, a dozen oysters, a half-dozen clams, king crab legs and eighteen mussels — showboat specimens from Maine-based diver Ingrid Bengis, who's renowned for netting seafood that seriously tastes like swigs of the ocean. As a bonus, this raw bar also peddles pickled sardines.