Neighborhood seafood joints are tough to find in Denver; most seafood specialists in town run on the pricier, special-occasion side. Chowder Room was an exception, offering good value in a cozy, relaxed setting for three years until closing in January. Mario Vega, a veteran of big-name national fish houses, saw the promise of the space and decided to make a go of it, opening Mario's Ocean Club last week at 560 South Broadway.
Vega hasn't done much to the interior; the nautical theme is still there, only in a deeper blue and with slightly different decorations (for example, the big trophy fish above the bar is gone). But the owner says he also discovered brick walls beneath the plaster and so exposed the brick on one side, adding a touch of warmth to the dining room.
On the food side of things, he hired chef Brendon Flood, late of Bistro Vendôme and Vine Street Pub, to run the kitchen. The theme is sustainable, American-catch seafood, domestic ingredients and Colorado produce and meats, including local striped bass, lamb, chicken and beef. Flood is a native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, so he knows his seafood. "I wasn't sure if I would be able to find a chef of his caliber, and was prepared to hire a kitchen manager and be hands-on in the kitchen," Vega notes.
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The menu is divided into several sections: raw bar, "chowdas," vegetables and salads, sandwiches (including a lobster roll and Colorado trout tacos), seafood, and meat and poultry. The bar, too, is Colorado-driven, with Denver beers and ciders and cocktails made using spirits from the Family Jones, Mile High Spirits, Golden Moon, Breckenridge Distillery and others. The wine list boasts mostly California labels but goes deep, with nearly twenty pours by the glass and more than sixty by the bottle.
After giving neighbors a week to reacquaint themselves with the place, Mario's launched happy hour on May 29; it now runs all night every Tuesday and from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Mario's Ocean Club is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 4 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Call 303-777-3474 (FISH) for more information, or visit the restaurant's website for menus and reservations.