Cafe Society

Paradise Lost

I'm still in a daze over Heavenly Daze, Denver's latest brewpub, and it's not because my meals there were a slice of heaven. No, I'm dazed and confused as to why an eatery would spend so much money filling a massive warehouse with a mass-production brewery and an eating area jammed with pool tables and metal sculptures of tortured-looking people with bedpans for heads--and then serve such lousy food.

It would have been smarter to put the words "Sports Bar" on the big neon sign that calls out to drivers along I-25. If people were just coming here to watch the game, play pool and drink beer, they'd probably be perfectly content. But everyone who is lured into Heavenly Daze by the word "restaurant," thinking they're going to actually enjoy a meal here, will wind up sorely disappointed.

Over the past six years, the original Heavenly Daze in Steamboat Springs has acquired a good reputation for its food. But with this second location, the owners decided to change the menu. "When we looked at the demographics of this neighborhood, we decided it would be better to skip the pastas and steaks we do in Steamboat and instead concentrate on pizzas and calzones," says Monty George, who serves as general manager of the four-month-old Denver brewpub and is one of four Heavenly Daze partners. (The others are Greg Anderson and brothers Guy and Pete Crider.) "The beer's the same, with Rick Whitehead, who oversees both operations but is here in Denver, as the brewer--but the recipes are different." And how.

When we first arrived for dinner, some confusion about our reservation left six of us standing for fifteen minutes. But the staff did all the right things--and then some. First they apologized, and then they bought us a round of drinks and appetizers. The drinks alone would have sufficed, thank you. They were Heavenly Daze brews, all fairly flavorful, with two achieving heavenly status: the Snakebite Scottish Ale and the Dog's Breath Brown Ale, which fortunately did not live up to its name.

The food, though, rarely lived up to its menu descriptions and was pretty much a bust from beginning to end. For starters, there was the order of twelve hot wings ($4.75) with blue-cheese dressing. Our friendly server had tried to steer us away from the wings. "They're really hot," he warned. "They'll make you sweat behind the eyeballs." But these were one-alarm at most, and that was more heat for heat's sake than a good, chile-induced burn. Maybe the guy who cooked these babies was sweating, but we remained cool to his efforts. Our second appetizer was a respectable if scallion-heavy take on the ubiquitous artichoke dip ($5.25), served with toasted baguette slices. And then there was the "brewchetta" ($5.95): prosciutto, red onions and mozzarella piled on more toasted baguette slices--but all we could taste was the red onion.

Those red onions continued to pop up throughout our meal. The prosciutto Phat Calzone ($6.95) wrapped Heavenly Daze's beer-spiked pizza dough around a few paper-thin slices of the Italian cured ham, as well as fresh garlic (by that, the kitchen means raw), a skimpy sprinkling of roasted red peppers, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses...and red onions. The Daze Deluxe pizza ($13.95 for a medium, about twelve inches) was that same dough--it worked better with a calzone, where it cooked through and gained flavor in the process--topped with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives and mozzarella, all glued on with a tomato-pastey red sauce...and studded with red onions.

More red onions did in the smoked-salmon salad ($6.50 for a large), greens topped by some nicely smoked salmon, romas, capers and a lackluster balsamic vinaigrette that wasn't up to fending off a too-generous helping of red onions. And the kitchen still managed to scrounge up enough onions to also ruin the meatball sub ($5.50). While the meatballs were very good, they couldn't stand up to the house-made, focaccia-inspired sub roll, much less all those onions.

There wasn't an onion to be found in the Bratwurzt ($4.95), but we couldn't find any flavor, either. Four of our group's six menus suggested that we ask our server what "flavor" the brats were that night, but when we did, our server looked at us as though we were insane. Apparently the kitchen had decided to offer no flavor at all. The tasteless brat arrived under a mound of overly drained--meaning dry as straw--sauerkraut and was sided by a bowl of minestrone. The crunchy vegetables appeared to have been put into the soup pot about twelve minutes before our serving was ladled up; fortunately, red onions weren't included in the mix. And while red onions also failed to put in an appearance on the white pizza ($13.95 for a medium) or in the Caesar salad ($5.75 for a large), the "fresh" garlic on the pie was strong enough to kill forty vampires, while the plain mayonnaise goo on the salad was in bad need of some.

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.
Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner