Mile Highs and Lows: Ganja Gourmet

As Colorado's medical-marijuana industry grows, marijuana dispensaries of all types and sizes are proliferating around the state. Some resemble swanky bars or sterile dentist offices; others feel like a dope dealer's college dorm room. To help keep them all straight, Westword will be offering a no-holds-barred look at what goes on behind these unusual operations' locked doors in "Mile Highs and Lows," a regular online review of dispensaries around the metro area and beyond. (You can also search Westword's directory of dispensaries for one near you.)

This week: William Breathes reviews Ganja Gourmet.

The Ganja Gourmet 1810 South Broadway Denver 80210 303-282-9333 (WEED) Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily Owner: Steve Horowitz Owner's statement: "To fulfill each patient's medical needs by providing the largest selection of the best-quality strains to heal what ails them. To put an emphasis on our edibles departments. To have a fabulous selection of decadent, low-fat, diabetic entrees and desserts. To become locally recognized and world-renowned for our delicious homemade edibles. To make all of our customers' and employees' lives better, by providing them with a cool place to chill, feel comfortable and meet new people." Opened: November 2009 Price range: herb $20 per gram/$50-$60 per eighth; pizza slices and lasagna $12 per slice/piece; brownies and cakes start around $10. Also salad dressing, hummus and granola bars. Other types of medicine: tinctures, hash, pre-rolled joints

Our take: When I drove past the freshly painted sign of the then-unopened Ganja Gourmet, billed as Denver's first medical marijuana restaurant, part of me thought the place would be a hip, pot-chic eatery that thrives on the culinary brilliance (and madness) of some young and talented chef throwing down in a hash-scented kitchen. The other part expected a dispensary serving nuked frozen French bread pizza from Costco with bud shake sprinkled on top of it.

What actually opened last month is something between the two, served with a bowl of pot. The Ganja Gourmet is not so much a restaurant as a dispensary where you can hang out, smoke pot and eat some pot food that, in turn, gives you the munchies so that you order more ganja food and hang out and smoke more pot and get the munchies so you get the point.

The place feels more like a tiny Broadway watering hole than either a restaurant or a dispensary. But behind a massive bar complete with bar stools, the shelves are stocked with more than a dozen jars of herb, including Jack Herer, Trainwreck, Skunk and some Sour Diesel hybrids; the shop relies on two local growers for its supply. Across from the bar is a single dining table with chairs and a pair of leather couches positioned around a volcano vaporizer. According to the bud-tender, Ganja Gourmet was designed as a spot where people could congregate with friends over a doobie and food. Pot smoking is encouraged, and the staff didn't seem to mind my hanging out for an hour. I felt very comfortable here, even if the tie-dyed T-shirts were a bit too pot-smoker cliché for my taste.

There's no kitchen here; cooks work off-site in a professional kitchen, and the food is reheated when you order -- which makes it seem more like bar chow than restaurant fare. Still, the Ganja Gourmet has a much wider edibles selection than many other dispensaries, which mostly carry variations on the classic pot brownies. Aside from several cavities' worth of sweets, the menu includes three THC entrees: pot oil vinaigrette salad; spinach and feta cheese pizza with pot oil; and herb-based lasagna. I ordered a $12 slice of the pizza, which had a slight organic taste from the ganja oil that went very well with the feta. Unfortunately, it was a reheated slice from the day before, so the wheat crust was a bit dry. I capped my meal with a delicious (and fresh) ganja chocolate granola bar. Although neither item came with an explanation of dosage, other sweets in a glass refrigerator by the bar -- including a coffee bean bar, cheesecake slices and assorted brownies and cookies -- were labeled with ingredients and with the approximate dosage.

Despite the slice being old, my lunch mellowed me out quite well over the next few hours, without sending me upstairs for a nap or downstairs to quietly freak out while listening to music -- so I didn't feel too bad about spending more on one slice of pizza than I pay for an entire pie elsewhere. As for the herbs, I'd been directed to some wispy (and somewhat premature) Jack Herer that I rolled up into a tangy and slightly tart joint that had a nice, easy head high but still left me functional. There was also some pretty good outdoor Thunderfuck that had a dull smell and almost waxy, thick smoke, but a very good, strong brain buzz for the first bit.

Being able to puff in the place was cool for more casual patients like myself, but I didn't see much thought given to the medically critical patient, the timid newcomer to the pot scene or the discerning privacy buff. While smoking is both allowed and encouraged at the center, the staff wasn't as diligent about wiping down pipes and vaporizer bags as at other clinics. And with the pot counter out in the open in the main room, it might be tough to discreetly discuss your ailment. But the Ganja Gourmet has bigger issues to worry about. The proposed ordinance going before Denver City Council early in January would ban the on-site consumption of medical pot at dispensaries. Owner Steve Horowitz has said that he'll turn his place into a takeout-only joint if that happens. For now, though, it's very cool to be able to sit back in a restaurant and enjoy a buzz while waiting on your food to arrive -- particularly since you're whetting your appetite with warm pot smoke and not a cold beer. -- William Breathes

William Breathes and the Wildflower Seed are the pot pen names of our two alternating medical marijuana dispensary reviewers. Read their bios here.