Old-fashioned Goodness

Denver has several diner-style eateries at which the triumvirate of Mexican, American and breakfast foods reigns supreme. For starters, there's the other Armatas joint, Newbarry's, at 2995 West Jewell Avenue, where from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, diners can scarf down some of the same foods found at Sam's No. 3 (see this week's review) in a slightly scruffier setting. At any hour, the soups are always good, as are the pancakes.

Some of the best hotcakes around, though, can be found at Breakfast Inn Dinner Too, at 6135 East Evans Avenue, where a half-foot-high platter of peach 'cakes comes smothered in whipped cream; the rest of the menu continues the cardiologist's-worst-nightmare theme. In fact, when looking for diner food in any major city, it's worth snooping around the hospitals: Both Annie's Cafe (4012 East Eighth Avenue) and Hot Cakes (1400 East 18th Avenue) are good choices for breakfast and lunch. Annie's does dinner, too, frying up some of the best burgers and spuds going. Like Sam's, Pete's Kitchen (1962 East Colfax Avenue) does the classic triumvirate plus one: Greek. Try the scrambled eggs and gyros in a pita for something different.

While all of these spots have been around for some time, a new place that opened this past year is ideal for folks on their way to or from DIA. The Moonlight Diner (6250 Tower Road) is that gleaming silver building tucked in among the hotels near the airport; the sparklingly clean diner offers the usual roster done in a less greasy, more gourmet manner, and the heavenly chicken-fried steak, which comes with a side of the butteriest mashed potatoes you'll ever see, was worthy of a 1999 Best of Denver award.

Another favorite diner in an offbeat location, Divine Temptations, at 5820 Ogden Street, was also a Best of Denver winner; owner Tammy Davis cooked up to-die-for chicken-fried chicken and Swedish meatballs. But after ten years, she's sold her catering and restaurant business to Mark Fortuna, who keeps the place cooking with a breakfast and lunch menu that changes daily (new hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, but he still offers full-service catering). In the meantime, Davis plans to open a coffee shop downtown. Although the location has yet to be set, you can count on it serving her scrumptious homemade chocolates and desserts.

Late-breaking news: With the exception of Pete's and Moonlight, though, none of the above offers late-night dining. (The Kitchen's kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. weekdays and 24 hours on weekends -- and just try getting in at 3 a.m., when the crowd hoping to prevent a hangover forms a line out the door.)

But local restaurateurs are beginning to recognize that there's an underserved market of diners desperate for more upscale late-night options. The biggest bargain in town remains the second happy hour at McCormick's Fish House and Bar (1659 Wazee Street), which serves an assortment of cheap eats ($1.95 each, but you must also order a drink) from 9 to 11 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. to midnight on the weekends. For more exotic fare, another winner of a 1999 Best of Denver award and still the chomp is Radex (100 East Ninth Avenue), where chef/owner Radek Cerny cooks up a roster of $7 small plates (shrimp cakes with a heavenly balsamic beurre blanc, or a burger and pommes frites) until 1 a.m. Although the crowd can be spotty on weeknights, the joint is really jumping on weekends; in addition to live jazz, Radex now features a cabaret, with Mike Daniels playing piano and a half-dozen singers joining in. "It's turning into quite a party," promises one enthusiastic employee.

Just a block away, at 846 Broadway, Basil Ristorante (see 2nd Helping, page 66) is introducing a weekend late-night buffet (the feed starts at 10 p.m.), with live piano music helping to create a lounge feel. And while Jeff Cleary, co-owner of Cafe Bohemia (1729 East Evans Avenue), has always been entertaining, starting September 1, he and partner Pascal Trompeau added live music and late hours (until 2 a.m.) on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, complete with a late-night menu of dishes ranging from $7 to $14.

Experience necessary: Savor a wide variety of flavors at the first Lower Downtown Food and Wine Experience, which starts Thursday, September 16, at 5:30 p.m. and runs through Sunday (call 303-628-5428 for tickets). Billed as a "Taste of LoDo," the event starts with a tasting the first night, which allows participants to nibble at restaurants throughout the area for a $20 ticket ($18 in advance); beverages are not included, but some places will do "short pours" or drink specials. On Friday, Dick's Last Resort (1909 Blake Street) will host a "Brews, Blues and Barbecue" pig roast, also $20 per person ($18 in advance); Saturday's agenda includes assorted seminars, tastings and demos. The Sunday finale, also at Dick's, combines celebrities flipping pancakes with Bloody Marys and hallelujah gospel.

Would that be a Hail Mary brunch?

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner