Cafe Society

Mouthing Off

Another opening, another chow: After a lull of, oh, about a minute, restaurants are popping up in LoDo faster than fly balls in nearby Coors Field. Last Thursday Redfish Seafood Kitchen opened in the Union Station space previously occupied by TGIFriday (and thank God that one's gone); even though this is a link in a small, Chicago-based chain, Redfish's large, casual look goes with the old train terminal quite swimmingly. And the menu, full of Cajun cooking and down-home specials (chicken-fried chicken--be still, my cholesterol-clogged heart!), should prove a welcome addition to the downtown dining scene.

Which is more than you can say for Walker's Sports Grill, which took over the spot on the other side of Union Station that previously was home to Flat Pennies. Although Flat Pennies' food was uneven, the place looked great. But at last week's opening bash under the new, Larry Walker-fronted ownership, that same space looked nothing more than way too crowded. Groupies and baseball fans were crammed into every corner hoping to get a look at Walker's teammates; alas, Rockies were in even shorter supply than the free drinks. Given that LoDo is already jammed with sports bars serving the usual sports-bar food, Walker will have to work hard to hit this one out of the park.

The odds look better for Vesta Dipping Grill, set to open July 21 at 1822 Blake Street. Unlike Walker's joint, Vesta promises to bring something new to the area: fun food. At Vesta, most of it will arrive on skewers, loaded with exotic combinations ranging from Mediterranean (lamb or swordfish, shiitake mushrooms and veggies) to Jamaican (chicken, bananas and assorted peppers) sided with equally exotic dipping sauces. The rest of the menu runs to unusual starters (grape leaves, anyone?), salads and an entree roster heavy on grilling but light on burgers. And like Redfish, which debuted with a benefit party for Denver CASA (a court-appointed-advocate program), Vesta is showing its good taste by introducing itself to the community with several fundraisers, including a charitable evening for Work Options for Women.

Miles away, but in an area almost as hot as LoDo--Park Meadows--the Walnut Brewery debuted last week with a series of benefits, upping the number of brewpubs in the mall to precisely two. This is the second Walnut Brewery--the first is in Boulder, where its Buffalo Gold Premium Ale is already a big hit--but hardly the second venture of the owners, Rock Bottom Restaurants. The homegrown, Louisville-based company now runs dozens of restaurants, including forty Old Chicagos and twenty Rock Bottoms. At Park Meadows, though, they wanted something a bit more PG-rated.

Close call: Going to janleone's for the Best Tiramisu in town? No, it's not in the middle of the Denver Country Club, as the address in the Best of Denver 1997 indicated--it's actually just off Colfax Avenue at 1505 Marion Street. Both Palmetto Grilles--the original at 8090 East Quincy Avenue (a rare bastion of interesting, adventurous cuisine in the Denver Tech Center) and a second location at 151 West Mineral Avenue in Littleton--have shut their doors. But so far, it's too early to say arrivederci to Ciao! Baby, 7400 East Hampden Avenue. The restaurant has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but hopes to keep going. "After Noel Cunningham split with his partner, Pat Minicuci, we ran into some hard times financially," says general manager Suzi Brooks. "Pat had some personal things going on, and between the summer months and all the chains that moved into the southeast area, we've been struggling." They're not ready to throw in the kitchen towel just yet, though, and are looking for a new investor. "We're adding a piano bar to offer some entertainment to this part of Denver, which really doesn't have anything."

We'll drink to that.

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.