Small Bites

If you're wondering what to do with those two hours before a table opens up at Lola (see review, page 67), Jamey Fader's yuppie-dense Mexican fish shack, here's a suggestion: Head to Hanson's Grill and Tavern, just down the road to 1301 South Pearl Street. Like Lola, Hanson's opened this past summer, in a space that last held the Margarita Bay Club (and before that, the Oak Alley Inn), and it's one of the most comfortable, relaxing and mellow places I've encountered in quite a while. With its deep, snug booths and dark wood tables, its rough brick work and exposed pipes, Hanson's reminds me of an idealized post-grad hangout in a silver-screen college town, where everyone is a character and it's always the middle of November, three days before homecoming. There's a nice, mirror-backed bar on the first floor that already looks well aged after only six months in business; a lounge upstairs kitted out with comfy couches and tables; and a cozy warren of dining rooms perfect for a quick bite, a long night with the guys or a full-on family dinner.

On a Saturday night, Hanson's draws families with children in tow, as well as couples making googly eyes at each other over plates of po' boys. You see more blue jeans than business suits, more ski parkas than leather, and there's more than enough space to stretch out and be comfortable without having to worry about knocking off someone's beret or mussing a perfectly frosted 'do.

And you know what? I'd put Hanson's rock shrimp ceviche with citrus-edged tomato-and-onion salsa ($7) up against Lola's lime-and-mango version any day. In fact, Hanson's serves a surprising range of fare. I was expecting burgers, brats and beer, but instead found po' boys, herb-seared salmon fillets and hot pancetta sandwiches. An appetizer order of skewers ($8, and dinner size is available, too) brought satay-style chicken with an awful, bland sauce that tasted like peanut butter and Elmer's glue, a half-dozen impaled shrimp with sweet mango chutney, and two sticks of tenderloin accompanied by a dark, pointed hoisin.

Stopping back in for lunch and a couple of cold ones under an ugly, bruised sky a few days later, I joined half the neighborhood taking shelter at Hanson's. There were construction workers and corporate types; University of Denver frat boys sucking down screwdrivers at two in the afternoon and making up dirty answers for the Trivial Pursuit genius-edition cards stacked up on every table in the bar; drunken poets; professors on hiatus; and neighborhood ladies all dolled up for their regular Thursday feed. I tried a good, spicy pulled-chicken barbecue sandwich on a kaiser roll with black-bean soup ($8) that was more like a meaty Texas chili, watched the bad news on the TV above the bar, and relaxed for an hour -- thankful that there are still some places happy to be neighborhood joints and not aspiring to be anything else.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan