Aurora's Havana Street is awash with some of the most diverse ethnic cuisine in the Denver metro area; the cultural landscape is primed with every kind experience, from fine-ish dining to lovable dives to mom and pop eateries from almost every nationality and culture: Ethiopian, Vietnamese pho, dollar-a-scoop Chinese, Mexican seafood, Cuban bakeries, and barbecue startup trucks. This stretch of semi-urban street makes for some colorful dining, so I'll be giving you my fitty-cent tour every week, complete with all the color, flavor and commentary of my ‘hood.
StevO’s Pizza & Ribs
is a lot like James Franco: For years Franco has been poised to be a terrific actor, except he can’t seem to get out of his own way long enough to really break out. StevO’s, owned and operated by Steve Wieand since 2008, appears to be on the cusp of something good, with a fun restaurant concept, a decent location and a sassy menu — but the establishment has a few menu kinks that should be eased out sooner rather than later.
You can't help but notice and love the Mohawk-adorned delivery hearse out front; the interior of StevO’s reveals more of the same darkly artful taste. The place is a mish-mashed adult playground with vintage drive-in movie speakers used as paper towel holders on the tables, Mason jar hanging lights, churchy wooden pews for benches, red drapes tied with gold-hued chains, an arcade game, a jukebox, and a skeleton in the corner sporting another Mohawk. There's plenty to look at here, but the huge, back-lit menu was the first stop to place a to-go order. I ordered ribs, a cheese pizza and a brisket sammie with sides from an employee who was above average in the friendly department and was also apparently the cook, because she high-tailed it to the kitchen after taking my order.
The menu at StevO's encompasses barbecue, Mexican items, sandwiches, appetizers, a few desserts and pizzas of the craft-your-own variety, with some inventive topping options like hot links, pickles, sweet corn, peanuts, PB&J, whole eggs, mandarin oranges, macaroni and cheese, clams, broccoli, sauerkraut, Spam, tuna and peanut M&Ms — that’s some severe stoner creativity. I went with a plain-Jane cheese pizza, but imagined the possibility of ordering a pie covered with mac & cheese, Spam, pickles and corn. I also noticed a few intriguing menu challenges daring customers to consume certain menu items for prizes and cash. Ten ghost pepper and habanero-sauced wings in ten minutes will garner you a free tee-shirt; a 28-inch pizza eaten in an hour will win you some cash; and scarfing down ten wings, a full rack of ribs, fries, a pulled pork sandwich, brisket and hot links in one hour gets you $100 — and also probably some serious heartburn.
My order took about twenty minutes; while I waited, Friendly Employee gave me the skinny on the newly minted 24-7 delivery, the news that the Mexican restaurant that previously shared the kitchen had moved out (giving StevO's the whole joint to itself), and that Wieand isn't hiring delivery drivers despite the fact that every other place in the area seems to be hurting for employees.
Friendly service and wacky decor, though, won't make up for the fact that the food fell short for me: The ribs were dry, over-smoked and smothered with a too-sweet sauce, the brisket was tough, and the sauce on the pizza — despite a great crust — was also cloyingly sweet. The sides didn't seem house-made, with institutional potato salad and beans probably from a can, which isn't necessarily a crime — as long as those cans are of decent quality (but Jesus Christina, these definitely weren't).
Taking on more than one food style, staying open and offering delivery 24-7, and attempting to maintain a laid-back, eclectic atmosphere means that an eatery needs to organized as hell and run like a Swiss watch to keep all the moving parts from collapsing on each other. Even if StevO's doesn't hit every aspect perfectly every time, getting the food right will go along way to propelling the restaurant to moderate James Franco-style success a la Pineapple Express
while avoiding a horrendous disaster like The Interview