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.
What: Columbine Steak House & Lounge
Where: 300 Federal Boulevard
When: Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more info: Visit columbinesteakhouseandlounge.com
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.
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.