Crook's Palace is a good bet for food -- especially ice cream

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Westword writers headed up the hill last week for this week's cover story, and around noon that day, I found myself having lunch at Crook's Palace, 200 Gregory Street in Black Hawk, the only restaurant in town that's free from the whir of slot machines or the flick of cards on a table.

That alone would have been enough to lure me to this spot, in a building rich with history and signage that indicates it was the first saloon in Colorado (though there's some question as to whether that's actually true). But I also got food about three times better than it needed to be.

Brothers Matt and Mike Casarez took over the lease at Crook's in 2008, after the City of Black Hawk put the place up as a turnkey property, stipulating that any interested restaurateur would need to preserve the historic feel of the place -- and keep gambling out.

Matt Casarez had cooked his way through Denver restaurants before ending up at the Isle of Capri in Black Hawk, where he was the chef de cuisine. He's responsible for the burger above, a thin patty made from beef infused with pork, topped with cheddar, housemade barbecue sauce and house-cured kurobuta bacon on a buttery homemade bun.

And Mike Casarez was responsible for that bun. He's the pastry chef at Crook's, and also turns out chocolate cakes and apple cobbler.

The real dessert standout, though, was the ice cream. The Casarez brothers are trying to break the world record for most flavors of ice cream offered for sale by one business, which officially stands at 521 flavors. They want to double that number, whipping up concoctions made of everything from chocolate and vanilla to foie gras and brandy.

Selections are available by the scoop, as well as atop other desserts on the menu.

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