The Bite

One of the reasons this town doesn't have more kosher eateries like East Side Kosher Deli is that maintaining a commercial kosher kitchen is a big pain in the tuches. Just ask Jeff Auerbach, who's had lots of trouble keeping his kosher Jeff's Diner (731 Quebec Street) up and running. "Open, closed, open, closed," Auerbach says. "I know, I know -- it's been driving me crazy." The main problem is maintaining kosher supervision in the kitchen, which requires inspections by an authorized rabbi. "I think I finally have someone," he adds. "So once I feel pretty confident of that, I plan to open for lunch, too."

Since Auerbach also owns a kosher meatpacking plant in Commerce City, Auerbach's Lyco Meat Co., he has no trouble getting top-quality kosher meat for his funky diner. As a result, the burgers -- no cheese, of course -- are fabulous, and so is the chicken soup with kreplach, which overflows with chickeny goodness. With fare like that, it's no surprise that Jeff's Diner is usually filled with families, including mine; we've become addicted to the homemade chunky applesauce. But on Monday nights, the eatery is all about SpeedDating, during which single Jews get seven minutes to meet and greet each potential date.

Kosher diners looking for dairy and vegetarian dishes -- rather than meat and mates -- should head for the Mediterranean Health Cafe (2817 East Third Avenue), a little spot that's often overlooked because it's tucked away below street level in Cherry Creek North. Bustling and fairly bursting with healthy options, the Med is a favorite with ladies who like to lunch on heart-happy Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus and spicy chickpea nuggets in pita. The vegetarian versions of lasagne and chile are worthy, too.

For an all-kosher pizza -- yes, there is such a thing, and it's not bad -- try Pete's Pizza (5600 East Cedar Avenue).

The only other truly kosher spot I'm aware of is in the same neighborhood as the East Side: The Bagel Store (942 South Monaco Parkway), which is considered parve (neither meat nor dairy).

The area also has a handful of "kosher-style" eateries, including the thirty-year-old Bagel Deli (6439 East Hampden Avenue), which has been run by the Kaplan family since it opened in the Mayfair neighborhood back in 1969. (It moved to southeast Denver a few years ago.) Although the Bagel Deli offers pre-packaged kosher foods year-round, at Passover time the place overflows with unbelievable food, including homemade matzoh balls and a killer kugel.

Down the road, the New York Deli News (7105 East Hampden Avenue) comes as close to noisy N.Y. deli life as you get here in Denver. While some of the food has been inconsistent -- the last time I was there, the latkes were nearly burnt and the chicken noodle soup contained vegetables so soggy that the soup seemed a year old -- the corned beef is unbeatable in these parts. The town's best chopped liver is at the Plaza Delicatessen (2456 South Colorado Boulevard), still going strong since Karen Weiss took over in May 2000. Her son, Jarrett Land, now runs the place and has upgraded the pastrami and corned beef -- but he wouldn't mess with the liver recipe for any amount of money. "Oh, no, that's never going to change," he says. "We have too many regulars who love it."

Since it opened back in 1992, Zaidy's Deli (121 Adams Street) has been a favorite among former New Yorkers transplanted to Cherry Creek. It's also the best place for a Jewish-style breakfast, complete with lox and bagels, blintzes, chopped liver and the most delicious latkes going: almost mashed inside, crispy and golden-greasy outside, with a faint onion flavor and a little black pepper for bite.

I may not be a kosher expert, but as an Irish Catholic, I know from potatoes.

More deli news: After 23 years in the food wholesale and retail business, Jim Katsaros finally decided to simplify his life. A few weeks ago, he sold his Economy Greek Market, at 1035 Lincoln Street, to Vic and Diana Katopodis, well known in these parts as the owners of VIC's Yankee Dollar (1531 Champa Street), a 23-year-old downtown institution that closed abruptly in March 2000 when the landlord gave the Katopodises a month's notice that their lease would not be renewed. (Before the Yankee Dollar, they'd had another eatery for fourteen years.)

Katsaros is going to put all of his energy into his wholesale business, according to his sister, Christine Schillereff, one of the many friendly faces greeting customers who rely on the Economy for their weekly gyros fix (several Westword staffers among them). "It just felt like time," Schillereff says. "At some point, it's too much work, and you have to do what makes you happy." Selling Greek foods and ingredients to area restaurants is what her brother really enjoys, she says, and she's hoping that he'll be able to relax a little now. "Life's too short to work day and night," she adds. "I think we're all learning that these days."

The Katopodises have renamed the place Diana's Greek Market and Deli and changed the hours to 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. They'll keep most of the dishes from Economy's menu, but also add a lot more. "We still have all our equipment from the Yankee Dollar," Diana explains. "When we get all of that put in, like the broiler and the big freezer and the malt machine, we'll be doing some of the same things we did there."

And that means fabulous chocolate milkshakes -- a long-ago Best of Denver award winner -- as well as what was one of the best Mexican-style hamburgers in town, smothered in a good green. "We'll have to take it slow with the hamburgers, though," Diana says. "We're afraid the neighborhood might not like the smoke and smell, and we want to be good friends with our neighbors."

They haven't made any decision about adding a liquor license (the Yankee Dollar had a great bar), but Diana's thinking about putting in a cappuccino machine, although she's "worried that it might be more trouble than it's worth." Even if she doesn't, however, breakfast promises to be bigger and better. "Once the grill area is extended, we're going to do biscuits and gravy and breakfast burritos," she says. "I really want to make this a destination in the morning, with some really down-home and inexpensive breakfasts."

Big, bigger, biggest: Billy Bob's Riverside Saloon (3100 Arkins Court), home of the truly amazing Big Ass Burger ("The Next Big Thing," August 2), not to mention $12 buckets of Corona, is about to get bigger. Perhaps as early as this week, Billy Bob's will be opening a second outlet, Billy Bob's on Broadway, just off Alameda Avenue, in the former home of Club Stud. Sounds about right for Billy Bob's, which is not exactly your average grill next door.

Bottoms up.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner