Second Helpings

Max Gill & Grill

People are always trying to bring a taste of somewhere else to whatever place they now call home. Immigrant cuisine, nativist cuisine, fusion cuisine, recipes passed down through generations -- they're all attempts at preserving across time and distance memories that are tied up in food. This is a noble pursuit, but sometimes it can go too far. And while Max Gill & Grill hasn't crossed that line, it's definitely smudging it with the toe of its Topsider.

For years, this comfortable, broken-in space on Old South Gaylord was home to Hemingway's Key West Grill -- a paean to all things salty and tropical, a hideaway that claimed to bring a little bit of Key West to the Mile High City, which never made much sense to me. The two are diametrically opposed in both attitude and geography: Denver has the mountains and all that goes with that, Key West has the beach -- and Hemingway's Key West Grill never had much of anything that interested me.

Last year, though, Ernest Hemingway's estate forced a name change on the decades-old restaurant. Hemingway's became Max Gill & Grille, took on some additional partners (courtesy of a buy-in from the Wash Park Grille just down the street) and tweaked its concept. Now, rather than owing its allegiance to a literary icon or tourist-bedeviled island, Max is simply a seafood restaurant. The decor is still a classed-up version of every Crow's Nest/Rusty Scupper seafood shanty on either coast, the service casual, the room warm and inviting provided you're willing to drop fifty bucks on lunch for two. And to a certain degree, the food has been improved by daily deliveries, oyster and fish specials, and a kitchen crew that can sometimes let a protein speak for itself. I've had surprisingly good ribs here; crabcakes gunked up with too many spices, vegetables and fillers, but still thoughtfully mounted on a mound of plain lump crabmeat; swordfish tacos; a lobster roll presented plainly with just a dab of lemon and mayo but screwed up by a less-than-delicious young Maine lobster; and a generous cioppino fit for a Gourmet magazine centerfold.

Granted, Max is still a seafood restaurant one mile above sea level and a thousand from the nearest ocean, but that kind of geographic conundrum can be solved by a good contract with FedEx. Transplanting Key West to Denver, though? That was never going to happen.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan