Steve Langer spent thirty years in the catering business, with twenty of that in event hosting, but he'd had enough when two separate fathers-of-the-bride requested their money back in the same week, one complaining that the grass outside his event space was too high, and the other complaining that it was too low. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Langer recalls.
So he switched gears and closed the catering business and two event spaces he ran with his late business partner, Ernie Oetter, to get into the restaurant and taphouse biz. "I told Ernie, I would sooner sell my venues and catering business than host another wedding.”
So the business partners launched Two Penguins Tap & Grill at 13065 East Briarwood Avenue in Centennial (Oetter passed away shortly after the opening). The name is a nod to the tuxedoes the two frequently donned as part of their business serving guests at high-end events. Taking a more relaxed approach these days, Langer has ditched the penguin suit, and his 8,500-square-foot bar and grill is casual and comfortable. He's still hosting events, since Two Penguins has plenty of space and can be sectioned off to accommodate restaurant guests while also hosting retirement parties, birthdays, religious celebrations and even weddings and wedding receptions. But Langer makes one thing clear on his brochures: He doesn’t host fancy, over-the-top weddings.
“Our bride is the casual bride,” Langer explains. “If you want a big space for friends and family to gather, sip local beer and spirits and eat good food, then our taphouse is the perfect place for you. But, if you’re looking for chair covers and a Brown Palace-type experience, we probably aren’t the venue for you.”
The taphouse only serves beer and spirits made by smaller Colorado companies, with 34 rotating draft beers and two year-round offerings: Bierstadt Slow Pour Pils and Telluride Bridal Veil Rye Pale Ale, since the kitchen uses that one in its queso and fish and chips recipes. There's also always at least one Colorado cider on tap. Guests can sample four-ounce pours of any beer on the menu for $2 to $4. While Langer believes that his selection of local spirits offers a better product and an interesting experience for customers, he still keeps Jack Daniel’s as his sole out-of-state product. On top of locally made booze, nearly everything served at the restaurant is made from scratch or brought in from local bakeries, including the Stranahan’s whiskey barbecue sauce that's slathered on the pulled-pork sandwich, and the locally baked potato buns that hold custom-ground hamburgers.
One thing on the menu that's not local is the secret recipe for Al’s fried chicken, which can comes in individual and family-sized portions. The recipe was given to Langer by his former banquet chef of fifteen years, Al Washington, a Louisiana native who spent years perfecting his technique. The chicken takes 25 minutes from start to finish because it’s hand-battered and fried to order, so if you know you want fried chicken, put in your order the minute you sit down so that it arrives with the rest of your group's food. "Damn, it is good," the menu states, and we agree. The chicken is worth the wait, dripping with juice after each bite and imbued with seasonings in the crunchy, crumbly coating.
The salad game is strong at Two Penguins as well. The calamari salad makes a refreshing summer repast on its own, brightened with fresh greens and housemade balsamic vinaigrette. Italian flavors predominate, with a briny pickled-veggie and olive mixture, sweetness from the dressing, and savory goodness from the hand-breaded calamari and marinara sauce. If you’re in the mood for a heartier feast, the pulled-pork burrito offers shredded pork that’s been slow-roasted for twelve hours, then wrapped up into a potato-flour tortilla and smothered with smoky green chile worthy of the region.
Snacks and appetizers cover a variety of upscale bar foods that harmonize with the craft beers while you relax on the patio and listen to live music, belly up to the bar inside the restaurant space, or clink pints at a casual wedding reception. (Just don't complain about the lawn.)
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“I wanted to offer suburban customers a LoDo, Highland or RiNo eating and drinking experience without them having to travel all the way downtown to get it," Langer explains. "I think our customers appreciate our laid-back atmosphere and standards for quality, Colorado-made food and drink.”
The atmosphere definitely delivers a hip, craft-brewery vibe without the accompanying man-buns or bridezillas out for bachelorette-party fun found in trendy downtown neighborhoods, while keeping Uber and Lyft prices down for Centennial residents.
Two Penguins Tap & Grill is located at 13065 East Briarwood Avenue in Centennial and is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., keeping Sunday free for private events. Call 303-792-0310 for details about hosting an event, or visit the venue's website for more information.