As we reach the heart of summer and the dangers of COVID linger on, restaurants — with the help of the city — have gotten ever more creative at protecting their customers while offering additional space to dine out. Some areas, like Larimer Square, have entire blocks devoted to pedestrians. Other streets see eateries converting parking lots and sidewalks into patios. But most interesting to me are the little “road verge restaurants" like the grassy urban picnic block assembled by Leven Deli on East 12th Avenue.
In case you, like me, had no idea what a road verge is, it’s that strip of space between the sidewalk and the road. Often relegated to dog traffic, these verges can also be a place for wild or cultivated flowers, raised-bed veggie gardens or the odd and welcome shade tree. On 12th Avenue from Broadway to Bannock Street, including in front of Leven Deli, there's a gorgeously grassy but mostly ignored strip that has been taken over by the two-year-old deli with several well-spaced picnic tables.
On a recent Tuesday evening, my brother, my roommate and I took advantage of the quiet evening and opted for one of Leven’s more unique table locations, on the section of lawn in front of artist Dan Ostermiller’s enormous "Scottish Angus Cow and Calf" sculpture. Despite our proximity to downtown and busy Broadway, the block is relatively quiet and offers views of the Kirkland Museum, the Denver Art Museum and, in our case, the bovine statues’ pasture in Hindery Family Park (the small patch of greenery behind the DAM). Combine all that with Leven’s “Grillin' n’ Chillin'” happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. and you've found yourself a pop-up urban haven.
Leven’s happy hour menu is short and simple for the times, and also fits with the outdoor-picnic feel. At the front of my mind were the half-priced bottles of wine, of which our server was knowledgeable, recommending a white that she was infectiously excited about. From the grill, you can get a set of chicken kabobs ($12) served with tahini yogurt and a side. This paired well with a nosh kit (also $12) that includes any four "accoutrement" from a fourteen-item list. Our little party zeroed in on the whipped feta, bread-and-butter cauliflower pickles, and roasted tomatoes and herbs, while my roommate won the battle of dolmas over grilled and marinated artichokes. An order of grilled sourdough with burrata and marinated peppers rounded out our choices.
The wine arrived in a quaint watering can filled with ice water, along with three plastic cups. Next came the tasty chicken kebabs, neither too dry nor particularly moist, accompanied by a grilled lemon and tahini dipping sauce. We shouldn't have been surprised to see everything arrive in paper boats and plastic containers; we realized that we were trading style for safety — and it also makes it more feasible to grab everything to go should you want your picnic at home.
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My roommate couldn't get enough of the dolmas, while I focused on the divine bread-and-butter cauliflower pickles — an original way to serve the vegetable. And the whipped feta and burrata were both a real treat on Leven's house-baked sourdough bread.
The plastic nosh kit container came in handy after all; when we were ready to go, we simply snapped on the lid and took our leftovers with us on a jaunt down the verge for a cocktail at Cuba Cuba just two blocks away.
Leven Deli is located at 123 West 12th Avenue, and is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m to 4 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour is served every day but Sunday and can be ordered in person or online for takeout.