Denver's dining scene is making a big comeback — and we're hungering to go out. With so many new ventures and old favorites to visit after two years of shutdowns and restrictions, the choices can be overwhelming. So we're serving up Short Stop, with recommendations for things that should definitely be on your culinary short list. This week, head to Columbine Steak House, a staple on Federal Boulevard since 1961.
Columbine Steak House & Lounge
300 Federal Boulevard
Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more info:
About the place:
An image of a steak and a martini glass tops the bright-yellow sign on Federal Boulevard where Columbine Steak House has been serving up cuts of beef, burgers and fries for 61 years — since 1961. And not much has changed since then at this no-frills joint — a fact confirmed by Erik, a stranger in line turned tablemate on a recent visit. His first visit to Columbine was decades earlier, when his dad took him out for a steak dinner after he purchased his first car at a dealership that used to be across the street.
We met at lunch on a weekday, when the place was packed. Nearly every table in the back lounge area, where full service is available, was filled, as was the main dining room, where orders are placed in front of the flaming grill, short-order style.
The process is simple: Grab some silverware and a tray, tell the grill cook which cut you'd like and how you'd like it cooked, choose a salad dressing and a drink, then pay up — cash only. Unless, of course, you totally spaced the fact that checks and credit cards are no good here and forgot to bring cash. Then, perhaps, another kind stranger in line behind you will step up and offer to pay with a casual "I've got hers." Thanks, Brad, I owe you one.
What you're eating:
Steak. There are other a few other things on the menu — fish, shrimp, burgers and corn dogs among them — but you're here for what Columbine does best: a full steak meal for well under $30. The most expensive cut on offer is the porterhouse, for $26; all the others are around $20. I opted for the $18 sirloin.
Every meal comes with the same setup. First the salad, which is handed to you when you pay, ladled with one of several standard dressing options. Piles of salads are stacked in a refrigerator next to the grill so that each bite of the mix of iceberg, cabbage and shredded carrot is cold and crunchy.
Orders are called by cut and temperature. A few bites into my salad I heard, "Sirloin, medium!" and went up to grab my haul: the steak plus a slice of grilled, buttery Texas toast and a baked potato with a heaping scoop of butter melting on top.
Though it's not thick, the sirloin was indeed cooked to a perfectly pale-pink medium, with grill marks seared onto each side. It was more tender than I expected given the price, and I happily noshed on bite after bite interspersed with scoops of buttery potato and pieces of toast that I dragged through the juices on my plate.
As I neared the end, Brad (my steak-meal savior) walked by. "Enjoy the rest of your day," he said.
"I will, because of you. Thanks again," I replied.
I also said goodbye to Erik — who, it turns out, dabbles in photography and other artistic endeavors. He emailed over his photos from the meal shortly after.
There are no white tablecloths, truffle butter or big-name chefs to be found at Columbine. But what is there is so much more than just a cheap steak dinner. This is a place where you can bond with strangers over good, simple food that's supremely satisfying.
Never change, Columbine. Here's to another 61 years serving Denver the good stuff at a good price.