Denver doesn’t do weird — at least not when it comes to restaurants. While we’re attracted to the new and hip, we’re also fiercely proud of our favorite old joints, like sports fans who stick with the home team through thick or thin. But weird? No.
For goofy, eccentric, off-center or just plain oddball restaurants, Europe and Japan have us beat by a mile. In Switzerland, you can visit the HR Giger Museum Bar and enjoy cocktails while imagining yourself fending off aliens; Spain boasts the Disaster Cafe, which simulates a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in the middle of dinner service; and at a chain of Japanese eateries, you catch your own fish from tanks surrounding the tables (which are shaped like boats, of course).
Here in Denver, though, things don’t get much weirder than the rows of animal heads staring down from the walls at the Buckhorn Exchange, or the dancing gorilla and cliff-diving shows at Casa Bonita. So a sushi bar — especially a sushi bar in an otherwise tame suburb — that’s just a little offbeat is a definite draw for diners looking for something out of the ordinary.
Much of the weirdness at Eeny Meeny Sushi Roll, which opened in December at 3650 South Wadsworth Boulevard, lies in the building itself, which previously housed 285 Landing and before that a Chinese spot called Mu-Lan Landing. It’s owned by chef Joey Zheng, who knows that the place is hard to find, and wanted to make it extra appealing for the Lakewood residents who would other-wise have to drive miles for sushi.
While the exterior of the building, located just south of West Hampden Avenue, doesn’t look much like a restaurant, Eeny Meeny’s bright-yellow sign is clearly visible from the street. Once you enter the parking lot, signs direct you toward the spaces beneath the second-floor restaurant (if you get lost, circle around the back of the building and follow the fence along the south side of the parking lot). From the ground floor, a spiral staircase winds around a pond and fountain and leads to the lobby of the restaurant on the second level. Before arriving at the host station, you’ll walk past glass display cases filled with Japanese arts and crafts, plastic replicas of sushi, plush nigiri with adorable faces, and miniature fairy gardens populated with tiny cartoon animals.
In fact, the whole place is a wonderland of weird decor: hanging terrariums in light fixtures, traditional Japanese garb — including a life-sized suit of samurai armor — and colorful balloons randomly placed as if left over from a child’s birthday party. Despite its second-floor location, the bar at the front of the restaurant feels like a sunken lounge, with an aquarium at one end and what looks like a Southwestern-style adobe fireplace at the other. The rest of the space rises step by step from there. There’s another fireplace, this one a 1970s-era copper model, next to the sushi bar, which is connected by a steep ramp (there are steps, too) to a row of elegant tatami rooms with low-slung seating. But even in this area, the goofiness can’t be contained. Alongside austere wall stencils of cherry trees in blossom and koi leaping from ocean waves, there’s a fisherman’s net filled with what appear to be discarded iPods or cell-phone covers.
The real draw at Eeny Meeny isn’t the charmingly eclectic ambience, though. Instead, it’s the dazzling list of sushi rolls — twenty recognizable combos like spicy tuna, dynamite and California, along with another thirty house specialties — as well as an all-you-can eat sushi deal that costs $17.95 at lunch (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and $32.95 at dinner (from 3 to 10 p.m.). The majority of the menu items are far less eccentric than the decor, staying close to sushi classics and such entrees as seafood tempura and chicken katsu.
But a little lighthearted fun can be found on the long list of rolls. The house Eeny Meeny roll is a relatively tame deep-fried number wrapped in soy paper and stuffed with snow crab, spicy crawfish and cream cheese, and served with a trio of sauces. You can also get a Colorado cowboy or cowgirl, both of which include snow crab and torched filet mignon; the first includes asparagus and five-spice seasoning, while the second pairs the surf-and-turf combo with avocado and spicy mayo. And for truly weird, a daily special, the Mr. Kevin, came filled with tempura banana and shrimp, avocado and a bright-pink wrapper of soy paper.
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You’ll usually find Zheng behind the sushi counter, slicing fish and preparing rice. “I’ve been working as a sushi chef for six years,” he explains.The restaurant-owner gig is new, but he’s adapting fast. “I want it to be family-oriented,” he says of his spot. While customers have been slow to find their way to Eeny Meeny on weekdays, Fridays and Saturdays have become quite busy.
On a recent weekday lunch, a seat at the sushi bar proved a good spot to experience Zheng’s artistry with seafood, as exemplified by the chirashi bowl, which combines seasoned sushi rice with the chef’s pick of very fresh sashimi cuts, including delicate slices of red snapper layered into the shape of a rose. Although sitting here puts your back to the rest of Eeny Meeny’s wonderous surroundings, between dishes you can still peer from side to side and spy a photo of a cat in a traditional kimono, a curtain separating the dining room from the kitchen that displays teddy bears embarking on an adventure, and black-and-white pictures of a retro tire store — possibly the original incarnation of the building.
It’s time to get weird, Denver.
Eeny Meeny Sushi Roll is located at 3650 South Wadsworth Boulevard and is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, staying open until 10:30 on Friday and Saturday, and closing at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. Call 303-988-0870 or visit the restaurant's website for more details.