100 Favorite Dishes: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top

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No. 85 Crispy spare ribs at Table Top 2230 Oneida Street 720-542-9035

Table Top has only been open a few weeks in the quaint Oneida Park shopping center in Park Hill, but chef Brady Marcotte has already dialed in the flavors of what he calls "smokehouse-inspired new American cooking" to a level that belies the restaurant's young age. Of particular note is an appetizer plate featuring a few crisscrossed, meaty pork rib bones crowned with a translucent halo of thin-sliced pickled watermelon rind.

See also: 100 Favorite Dishes of 2014

The presentation also features cilantro, celery, slivers of candied ginger, and a light but savory broth that adds the barest hint of sweetness and tang to the dish. The meat itself, smoked low and slow in an outdoor wood smoker, hides layers of toothsome pork beneath a mahogany lacquer.

Kansas native Marcotte uses KC-style barbecue as his inspiration, but doesn't hide the spare ribs beneath a heavy crust of spices or a sticky-sweet sauce. Instead, the meat is the focus of the dish, infused with but not overwhelmed by smoke. A touch of bitter and sour from the melon rind adds to the addictive quality of the dish, while hits of ginger and cilantro add surprising counterpoints to the richness of the pork.

Despite ingredients that could skew the dish toward a train wreck of Asian-American fusion, the flavors come together with remarkable sophistication for a seemingly humble appetizer, which Marcotte says is Table Top's equivalent to chicken wings. It's a meaty, chewy starter with a slap of flavor to get the taste buds revved up for coming courses, and if you can banish the idea of eating only those spare ribs all night -- washed down with a beer from Table Top's list of food-compatible beers -- the rest of the menu reads with just as much intelligence and smoke-house savvy.

In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're already loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next nine months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at cafe@westword.com.

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch No 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's No 94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co. No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia

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