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100 Favorite Dishes: Italian wedding soup from the Squeaky Bean

Last December, we embarked on a culinary sojourn that took us through our favorite dishes in the Mile High City -- one hundred, to be exact -- as a precursor to the Best of Denver issue. Now we're back with round two, counting down (in no particular order) a hundred more of our favorite Denver dishes in a list that, by our imperfect calculations, should be wrapped up by the time the Best of Denver 2011 hits the streets on March 31. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at lori.midson@westword.com.

No. 100: Italian wedding soup from the Squeaky Bean

The Squeaky Bean may very well be Denver's most wickedly irreverent restaurant, which is just one of the reasons that it's such an alluring escape when you need a mood-lifter that's legal. When the space begins to clear out, leaving behind a convivial orchestra of late-night barflies, owner and head bean counter Johnny Ballen ups the '80s dance music; servers carrying trays of cocktails speed-walk around the 'hood in an effort to best their last timed effort; and Ballen, whose wonderfully warped mind has resulted in the erection of a Farrah Fawcett shrine, a bingo billboard and sending helium-filled balloons sailing through the room, ensures that no one walks out in a cloud of bitterness.

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But while all of those things add to the Bean's magnetism, it's exec chef's Max MacKissock's sensational cooking that really seals the deal. A healthy dose of playfulness reigns, in everything from his modernized TV dinners and duo of grilled quail squatting on a Coors Light can to the Italian wedding soup, a menu newcomer prepared so brilliantly that you want to weep. Strutting his creative verve, MacKissock builds the bowl with miniature chicken liver meatballs, forest-hued squares of spinach panna cotta that wiggle and jiggle, Parisian gnocchi and a hot Parmesan mousse that floats across the surface when the poultry broth, made with the most interesting parts from a coop of fowl, is poured over the top. It's an exquisite dish whose only downfall is the absence of a slurping straw.

In late 2009, we embarked on a culinary journey that took us through our favorite dishes in the Mile High City -- one hundred, to be exact -- as a precursor to the Best of Denver issue. Now we're back with round two, counting down (in no particular order) a hundred more of our favorite Denver dishes in a list that, by our imperfect calculations, should be wrapped up by the time the Best of Denver 2011 hits the streets on March 31. 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 lori.midson@westword.com.

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