Burgers are big business in Denver, whether they're cooked up by outposts of national chains like Shake Shack, Bad Daddy's Burger Bar and Five Guys, or local favorites Park Burger and Highland Tap & Burger, both of which have expanded in recent years. (The Tap & Burger group will open its third locaition in the Belleview Station development this summer.)
But the godfather of grilling in this city remains the Cherry Cricket, which has been serving no-frills, blue-collar grub in Cherry Creek since 1945, rising to national burger-bar prominence in the 1980s and remaining a lowdown landmark even as the neighborhood around it becomes posher.
The Cricket had been a solo operation for more than seventy years, so when current owner Breckenridge Wynkoop Holdings announced it would open a second location at 2220 Blake Street in the Ballpark neighborhood (in a onetime Breckenridge Brewery), we wondered if the mojo of the burgers would survive the move. Perhaps the original Cricket burger was so seasoned with nostalgia that, served outside of its legendary digs, it would seem simply pedestrian.
Turns out we didn't need to worry.
Shake Shack's new Green Chile CheddarShack, a regional item only available at the RiNo location that opened in late March, proved a tasty, if odd, combination of local flavors when we tried it a few weeks ago, but it lacked that hit of pure roasted green chile that denizens of the Southwest appreciate. Ten blocks away, though, this new Cherry Cricket gives green chiles the respect they deserve.
The Cricket Burger itself is a massive, juicy half-pound patty barely contained by its bun; the demure Little Cricket Burger weighs in at a more manageable quarter-pound, a reasonable size and price at lunch: $6.75 for a plain hamburger with lettuce, pickles and tomato. Toppings ring in at a buck each, so our green chile burger with American cheese (what else?) came in at $8.75, compared to Shake Shack's $6.49 for roughly the same setup. (The half-pound Cricket burger with the same toppings comes in closer to Shake Shack's $9.29 double, at $10.50.)
The Cherry Cricket does two things right with its burger: It char-grills the patties to add a little extra flavor as the fat drips down and flames lick up at the beef, and it asks what temperature you want the beef cooked to. So our request for medium came out with just the right amount of pink in the middle, making for a juicy, flavorful sandwich — a real trick with a thin, four-ounce patty.
As at the original Cricket, the green chile here comes as a single roasted-and-peeled slab, nearly as big as the patty itself and with a heat level that's as warm as Rocky Mountain springtime sunshine. This is no fast-food burger; it's a sizzling slab of Denver history.
And it's even easier to grab one in the Ballpark neighborhood than it is in Cherry Creek. The new outpost has a takeout counter where you can have a Cricket Burger wrapped to go for for a baseball game at Coors Field, or packaged up as hangover prevention as late as 2:30 a.m. weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
The new Cherry Cricket is located at 2220 Blake Street and is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 303-297-3644 or visit the restaurant's website for more information.