The Diner marks its tenth anniversary this month, so it can rightfully claim that it hit downtown long before the boom did. Office workers whose employers fled their 17th Street digs years ago, because of high rents and parking hassles, remember when the Rocky Mountain Diner was the place to go for happy hour -- when locals would network over draft beer or pick each other up over an enormous slice of chocolate cake.
These days, the friendly, somewhat Western-themed eatery is just as likely to be filled with tourists. "It's been amazing to watch all of this going on around us," says Steve Gjevre, part of a group -- including, Brad Anderson, Jerry Good and majority owner Tom Walls -- that also owns the Trinity Grill and Chompers Sports Bar & Grill in Denver, and the Castle Cafe in Castle Rock. "When we first opened, we were the only place to go, and then all these chains came in, and we'd be lying if we said they haven't affected our business in a big way. But our focus has been to serve real food, and lots of it, for not much money, and since we haven't changed that, the locals have stayed loyal, too."
The folks who picked each other up a half-dozen years ago apparently got married and starting reproducing, because families make up a big part of the Diner's regular clientele. "We're a good place to come to if you don't want to have to duct-tape your child in the corner," Gjevre says. But the Diner also admits to pumping concierges at nearby hotels so full of food that they remember to tell out-of-towners to be sure and visit. "We rely on a lot of business from the Convention Center, the Marriott, the Hyatt," Gjevre adds. "When the fly fishermen are in or Microsoft comes to town, those people are in here eating and drinking."
What they're eating and drinking is another thing the Diner hasn't changed. Although Good serves as corporate chef for all of the company's restaurants, Michael Naumann has been the Diner's on-site chef for the past eight years. He's the man responsible for the buffalo meatloaf, a huge hunk of juicy ground buffalo, well-seasoned with herbs, which arrives alongside a mound of thick, slightly chunky mashed potatoes with a few slips of skin visible here and there; both buff and spuds are blanketed with a medium-thick, onion-scented gravy. This dish was wonderful six years ago when I first checked out the Diner for the 1994 Best of Denver issue, and it was wonderful when I ordered it again last month.
Like other Diner entrees, the meatloaf came with a mélange of fresh vegetables, steamed so that they retained their colors and flavors. Unfortunately, when the veggies cooled, they no longer retained their juices -- which wound up soaking the rest of the food on the plates. The seepage was so excessive that at first we thought our meals had been frozen and then microwaved -- why else would there be water all over the place? Then we noticed that the water tasted suspiciously like carrot juice, which solved the mystery.
Even though the inch-thick slice of white bread on the bottom was a bit damp, the hot roast-turkey sandwich was a marvel -- an enormous pile of moist turkey as good as anything you gobbled on Thanksgiving, smothered in a good turkey gravy. And by the time we eyed our desserts, we'd forgotten all about the carrot juice. The pineapple upside-down cake was all butter-drenched, brown-sugar-sweetened goodness, and only slightly smaller than the massive wedge of whipped-cream-smothered, fruit-packed banana cream pie.
The more downtown changes, the more the Rocky Mountain Diner should stay the same.