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I know what you're thinking: Cook's Fresh Market (see page 69) sounds like a pretty interesting place, but you'd rather have gum surgery than drive to the Denver Tech Center during rush hour (which runs from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. on every day ending with a Y). Fortunately, Denver is slowly but surely sprouting a growing group of markets and shops that cater to the adventurous eater and finicky foodie.

In the heart of the city is Marczyk's Fine Foods (770 East 17th Street), which is getting into the holiday spirit with those seasonal candies your grandmother always offered come Thanksgiving time: lavender-and-honey nougats from France, ribbon candy, handmade Italian cocoa torrone. Peter Marczyk, owner and all-around friend of the picky eater, says the market also just got in twenty cases of Newtown (or Newton) Pippin apples, some of the best baking apples out there. They're tart and sweet, hold their shape well, and don't easily surrender their flavor, even in the lava-like heat of a baking pie. These are heirloom fruits, scarce and becoming more so because so many of the trees have been ripped out of orchards in the Northwest.

While at Marczyk's, you can also pick up some of the artisan butters so intrinsic to making that perfect pie crust. Any cook who's earned his whites in a real restaurant kitchen knows enough to use the rich, ultra-high-fat European-style sauté butter in everything he touches -- particularly pastries. I'm still throwing my weight behind Plugrá as king of them all, but Danish, French, English and American farmhouse varieties are now in stock, too. Marczyk's also carries an excellent selection of fresh, seasonal produce; Niman Ranch meats cut to order by an in-house butcher; and plenty of gourmet necessities like live lobsters, small-batch olive oils and cheeses by the dozen.

Oliver's Meat Market (1312 East Sixth Avenue) is another must-stop for dedicated carnivores. The Oliver family has been doing business in Denver since 1923 -- and since 1939, they've been butchering, aging and doing charcuterie at their Sixth Avenue location. "It's a family business," Rich Oliver says with a dry laugh. "We've just been getting to know the neighborhood."

Most quote/unquote "aged" beef you get these days is wet-aged in a sealed, moisture-proof cryovac bag for a few days during its transit from slaughterhouse to supermarket, but Oliver's dry-ages its meat at the store, hanging cuts for up to three weeks for a deeper, richer flavor and more tender texture. This is a time-consuming, delicate and seriously old-school process requiring strict attention to temperature and humidity levels, and Oliver's is one of the few places in town still doing it for the retail market. Taste the meat once and you'll appreciate the difference. Try it twice and you'll be hooked for life. Oliver's also has a nice selection of handmade stocks and demi's, plenty of holiday specials on prime meats and poultry, and foie gras from the Israeli Goose Foie Gras USA that's supposed to be some of the best on the market.

If you need more than food to fill out your holiday gift list, consider kitchen equipment. I'm not a gadget kind of guy: Give me my mixed set of Wustoffs and Sabatiers, a rock-maple cutting board, a set of Japanese water stones and maybe a Robo-coupe (the pro's version of that sissy Cuisinart you have in your home kitchen), and I'm a happy guy. But I know others who crave a $500 retro-chrome toaster or espresso machine that can connect to the Internet, and for them, there's Cook's Mart (3000 East Third Avenue). The store has a good array of All Clad and Calphalon cookware, Henckel series knives, about a million different kinds of whisks that all seem to have been designed by NASA for whisking roux in outer space, and more gadgets, doodads, thingamajigs and whatsis than you can shake a pickle fork at. Prices tend to be a bit steep, but if you don't have some tattooed, grinning, multiple felon working next to you in the kitchen who can get you anything from an illegal handgun to a Lecreuset omelette pan with just one phone call and twenty bucks, this may be the place for you.

Baby, it's cold outside: As far as Hisashi Takimoto is concerned, the secret is in the soup. "If you are sick, you should eat miso soup," he told Westword last year. "If you smoke or drink too much, you should eat miso soup. If you are having female problems, you should eat miso soup. Really, there is no time you should not be eating miso soup."

Takimoto is the owner of Taki's (341 East Colfax Avenue), a favorite haunt of Japanese rice-bowl fans and also the prime pusher of "the flu shot in a bowl," a special, spicy miso soup full of ginger and garlic. Invented over a decade ago to cure an ailing employee, the "flu shot in a bowl" is now one of the town's most popular nostrums -- and a bargain at $2.58 for sixteen ounces.

Taste of Thailand (504 East Hampden Avenue) also offers a "flu shot" soup during these sickness-sodden months. Owners Noy and Rick Farrell have brewed up a spicy chicken and wonton creation, heavy on ginger, chile, garlic and a whole bunch of other secret fines herbes guaranteed to knock even the nastiest flu bug out of you.

But nothing will cure the nausea inspired by those warm-and-fuzzy, hug-you-'til-you-puke marketing geniuses who brought the world all those Chicken Soup for the Soul books. And now they've had another brainstorm: Their new book, Chicken Soup's Recipes for Living: Ingredients for Living an Enriched Life, claims it will "not only inspire through terrific stories, but also help readers identify and learn some of the key lessons in life through insight and exercises.

"The stories must leave the reader with some wisdom and make them think a bit," they advise. "The stories should not be preachy or dictate your philosophy. A Chicken Soup story is an inspirational, sometimes emotional, often humorous, true story that opens the heart and rekindles the spirit. It is the personal account of an event, a relationship, a lesson learned or a dream fulfilled that helps the reader discover basic principles they can use in their own lives."

I can think of nothing as terrifying as being forced to read this compilation -- except maybe being forced to edit it. Chicken Soup books could be used as instruments of political torture, now that uptight white conservatives have the American public firmly by the scruff of the neck. All malcontents, commies, leftists, homosexuals, welfare moms, free thinkers, homeless people and Hollywood types could be rounded up and put into camps where the audiobook version of this new masterwork -- as read by John Tesh -- would be played 24 hours a day at maximum volume. Forget car batteries and nipple clamps; forget the cost and mess of lead pipes and branding irons. Five minutes of this and they'd break me: I'd be the first guy in line to cast my vote for a family-values-and-free-guns-for-everyone Bush/Heston ticket in '04.

And guess what? They're still taking submissions. If I were a malicious kind of guy, I'd send in my account of this dishwasher I once had who missed work and left me short-handed on a Saturday night because he'd been arrested that morning for having sex with a live chicken on a five-dollar bet. To me, that's an inspirational, humorous true story, and while it might not open the heart, it does kind of rekindle the spirit, doesn't it? Plus, I would be helping the reader "discover basic principles they can use in their own lives."

Namely, never hire a chicken fucker.

Leftovers: The space at 275 South Logan Street -- the home of Nate's Contemporary American Cafe until a few weeks ago and the D.C. Deli before that -- must be a pretty hot property, because there's already a new restaurant taking root in the ashes of the old. Jeff Cleary, former chef/owner of the much-loved Cafe Bohemia and most recently of the Pinnacle Club, will be opening a new joint there called Intrigue.

"We're shooting for the beginning of December, opening the first or second week," Cleary says. "But we're not sure if that's realistic yet." The menu will be French-influenced contemporary American -- not that Cleary likes labels. "At Cafe Bohemia, we used to change the menus every week, every two weeks, depending on the season and what's available," he explains. "Critics always called the menus something different, because I just do what I feel like doing. I had a couple of good chefs there, and we just liked to create."

Intrigue will offer three menus each season -- one dinner, one vegetarian and a separate bar roster. And Cleary will be bringing Cafe Bohemia veteran James Gilmer back from New York to work the burners alongside his once and future boss.

The much-anticipated (by me, anyway) Irish Hound (575 St. Paul Street) is now open right around the corner from Barolo Grill in the former Fu Lin Cafe space, a welcome addition to what's quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurant neighborhoods. In one of my favorite bar neighborhoods (i.e., it's a few steps from the office), the new Cap City Tavern (1247 Bannock Street) is serving beer and pub food. Sweet Bob's, a barbecue joint, has hung up its shingle in the space at 1 Broadway that's seen at least a half-dozen other small restaurants come and go. Just down the street from Sweet Bob's, Sobo 151 (151 South Broadway) has taken over what apparently was once Clifford's (judging by the cool old painted sign uncovered -- briefly -- during renovations and now obscured by Sobo's cool new facade). As if Margarita Mama's, a recent addition to Denver Pavilions (500 16th Street), weren't enough to satisfy Denver's inner child with alcohol, jalapeño poppers and video games all sharing the same space, Jillian's is now after a piece of the pie with its newest outpost in Colorado Mills, at 14500 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood.

And while we're still waiting for firm dates for the debuts of the much-talked-about Indigo, Luca and Cielo, Harry's (818 17th street), a weird, retro '50s bar/restaurant shoved into the ex-offices of a brokerage firm around the corner from the Magnolia Hotel after the market took a dive, will hold its grand opening on December 5.

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