The Bite

Ch-ch-ch-changes: It's a testament to the Mercury Cafe's unending appeal that it can keep on keeping on while the rest of the Denver restaurant scene continues to explode. According to the latest statistics released by the National Restaurant Association, Colorado will rank second in the nation in restaurant sales growth in 2001. And how much will Coloradans spend on food away from home? A staggering $19.2 million per day.

That's a lot of Chipotle burritos, my friend.

Among the local restaurants enjoying growth spurts is one of my favorite Mexican joints, La Cocina de Marcos, which recently moved from its teeny, liquorless location at 2260 South Quebec Street to a bigger site at 2680 South Havana Street in Aurora. But while we've gained better surroundings in which to enjoy great, clean-tasting green chile and chiles rellenos -- now with wine and beer, too! -- we've lost the wonderful We're Smokin' Barbecue, which previously occupied this address and appears to have vanished. Also gone is the kabob-serving former occupant of 1 Broadway -- but in its place is a second branch of a great Indian restaurant, Star of India. The original Star, at 3102 South Parker Road in Aurora, earned last year's Best Indian Restaurant award in the Best of Denver 2000 with its superb, multi-layered Indian fare and warm, welcoming atmosphere.

After Boulder Concepts Restaurant Group (which owns both Bella Ristorantes, Cucina Leone and Spanky's Roadhouse) bought the Denver Buffalo Company (1190 Lincoln Street) late last year, manager Jeff Ouderkirk moved -- and now chef David Oliveri has followed suit. Ouderkirk was replaced by Phill Kayhill, who had managed The Fort (19192 Highway 8, Morrison) for four years and then Gabriel's (5450 North Highway 67, Sedalia) for a short time; the Buffalo Company's new top toque is Dan Barnes, who most recently ran the kitchen at Cucina Leone. Barnes is now in the process of overhauling the menu, jazzing up some of the recipes to give them a New American bent that will still fit into the restaurant's Old West theme. Meanwhile, word is that Oliveri, who did wonders with Basil Ristorante (846 Broadway) a few years ago and had kept the Buffalo Company on a more than even keel, is looking to open his own place.

Before he does, he might want to consider the tight labor market. Because of a shortage of help, restaurants continue to lop off hours -- although Adde Bjorklund also cites erratic business as part of the reason he's stopped doing Saturday lunches at Bistro Adde Brewster (250 Steele Street). "One week it's booming, the next it's dead," he says. "So not only is it difficult from an economic standpoint, it's tough on the staff."

Have a heart: Of the restaurants listed above, Bistro Adde Brewster, the two Bellas (1939 Blake Street and 8770 East Arapahoe Road in Englewood) and Basil are all on the list of 170 restaurants participating in the seventh-annual Dining Out for Life event March 8, which benefits Project Angel Heart, a nonprofit that provides meals for people living with HIV/AIDS. Eat at your favorite participating restaurant that day, and it will donate 25 percent of the food sales to this truly good cause. For the complete list of eateries involved in the project, check out on the Web or call 303-830-0202.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner