The Bite

More open-and-shut cases: For every restaurant that closes, another one is born. Belly-up is Fins Fish House (550 Broadway), which floundered for a while before its death notice was finally posted on the front door last month, declaring the place closed for non-payment of taxes. This fall, Fins owner Anthony Barone -- who also owns the still-thriving seafood wholesaler Reel Fresh Fish Company -- had hired three staffmembers away from Roy's of Cherry Creek (3000 East First Avenue), including a head chef and a manager. But apparently they weren't enough to save Fins from going under.

Barone should take heart from the fact that tax problems haven't kept Roland Canino from resurfacing, this time at the new Bambino's (1135 Bannock Street). Now open for lunch and dinner, Bambino's serves a menu similar to that of the longtime Denver restaurateur's last venture, Canino's Trattoria (its old home at 2390 South Downing now houses Santino's on Downing). The Trattoria was seized for non-payment of taxes last August, and at the time, Canino swore that it was going to be his last restaurant.

Never say never, eh?

I'd sworn that I'd never eat in an Irish pub around here again, but I, too, may have to renege on that vow. When I heard that the spot at 2700 East Third Avenue recently abandoned by Petra's, a fine Cajun place, would become The Squealing Pig, another Irish pub, I snorted. (Petra's was wooed into taking over a restaurant space at 2500 York Street in the City Park Golf Course; the owners have changed the eatery's name to Petra's on the Park and plan to be open sometime this month.) But after talking to Lorri Sinclair, one of the Pig's owners, I'm now thinking that maybe, just maybe, this won't be one of those caricature-type taverns that tries way too hard to replicate the honest, workingman's style of an authentic Irish saloon by sticking cutesy street signs pointing to Dublin or Shannon in the middle of the dining room.

Sinclair and her partners, Philip Donaghy and Don Weaver, vow to keep things tasteful. And they have a proven track record in that area: The trio's primary lines of work have been an architectural-salvage business and designing the interiors of pubs across the United States; they also own Lordon, a pub in County Tyrone on the Emerald Isle. The trio wound up in Colorado when they were hired to decorate the interior of Celtic Crossing (363 Village Square Lane, Castle Pines), one of the few pubs in these parts whose decor I admire. "We were headed for Las Vegas and figured we'd be based out of there," says Sinclair. "But we really fell in love with Colorado. If you've spent any time in Ireland's climate, you'd know why."

Although they have yet to settle on the Pig's chef (they're in negotiations), "We know that we want the menu to be very affordable, in a real casual setup with this great old grocer's counter as the bar," Sinclair says. "We'll do lunch and dinner, and we hope to stay open until midnight during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends. The food will be home cooking, but not just Irish home cooking. We want to do some American foods and some Mexican as well, in a very real pub atmosphere."

Mexican food in a real Irish pub. This I've got to see.

Bars are big again -- we're drinking more, remember? -- and that's prompted two Texas high-school buddies to team up with a Texas nightclub owner this spring to put C Lounge in the space at 2401 15th Street that had been occupied by The Armadillo (and, before that, Maxfield and Friends). The concept is a New York-style club, which apparently means sofas and groovy end tables; the lounge will also offer appetizers and DJ-inspired dancing for "the beautiful people."

In the meantime, us uglies should head to the new Tony's, which recently took over the home of the Flying Dog Brewery and Tavern (2401 Blake Street), one of my favorite brewpubs and a Best of Denver winner as such last year. Tony's part-owner John Dickinson was head chef at the Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th Street) for six years, and he and some other investors from brewpubs past -- who are still technically in the process of buying out the Dog -- have teamed up to combine Flying Dog's beers, all still on tap, with their vision of a neighborhood bar and eatery.

That vision includes an odd menu with such interesting tidbits as deep-fried cheese curds and Frito pie, along with burgers, salads and sandwiches. "All we have here is a flat-top griddle, a deep fryer and a steam table," Dickinson explains. One of the partners is from Wisconsin (hence the cheese curds), so there's also a Schlitz special: a can of the venerable brew with fish and chips for just ten cents more than unaccompanied fish and chips. The fish itself is walleye, that fighting favorite from Lake Michigan.

"We really do want to be known as the locals' hangout," says Dickinson, even as he acknowledges that the locals' scene will change when the lofts across the street are finished. "I always hate to categorize it as 'bar food,' because the first four letters there are barf, you know? But we're doing some quality bar food, and we want to see punk rockers sitting next to businessmen sitting next to people from Westword at the bar."

Not if we see those Westword people first.

You might also see me slurping noodles at the new Chopstick and Bowls, at 5926 South Kipling in Littleton. I'll be there because it's owned by the same family who brought us one of the best Thai eateries in the area, Thai Bistro, which sits just three doors away, at 5924 South Kipling. Brothers Lek and Noi Promthong are sharing cooking responsibilities at the two spots, with Lek hanging out more at the Bistro and Noi noodlin' around. The Chopstick menu is small for now -- Lek says they hope to put in a sushi bar, of all things -- and involves really enormous bowls of noodle soup, as well as raw-carrot and apple juices. It sounds fabulously healthy, and it's cheap, too: Most of the bowls cost $5.50.

I panicked when I found out that Restaurant on the Ridge at Meadow Ridge Club (1 East Meadow Mile in Fraser) is being turned into a coin-operated laundry and weight-lifting room for the resort, but then I heard that chef Marvin Bronstein, who regaled us years ago with the marvelous Marvin Gardens (2223 South Monaco Parkway), is now cooking at the High Mountain Lodge (5001 County Road 425 in Fraser). "That's just until I find my own space," says Bronstein, who had made Restaurant on the Ridge one of the best things to happen to Winter Park since Mary Jane.

Bronstein says that Meadow Ridge realized it hadn't been looking ahead when it let him turn the space into a restaurant, and finally asked for it back. "That's okay," Bronstein says. "It got me motivated to check out my options." Those options include two possible locations for an eatery that would again have the name "Marvin" in it; Bronstein hopes to get his new place open by the end of spring. Meanwhile, Bruno's Italian Bistro, the delightful eatery that has Marvin Gardens' old address, is heading into its fourth-annual February Ravioli Festival.

Fry me to the moon: The most interesting item at last week's WestEx convention -- the annual trade event sponsored by the Colorado Restaurant Association that features everything from bartending contests and cooking competitions to anything that can be frozen and deep-fried or smoked and sliced -- was without a doubt the machine from FryWorks. After you pour teeny little dried flakes of potato into the hopper of this large metal box, they're reconstituted and shaped by the machine, then fried and shot out of the side.

Leila Zold, vice president of marketing and sales for FryWorks, told us that the resulting bucket of fries contains only 16 grams of fat, compared with a slightly smaller offering from McDonald's, which, she said, has 60 grams. Not true, says the chain: According to its Web site, a large order of McDonald's fries has 22 grams of fat. Still, the lower-fat fries were pretty darned tasty.

Now the question is, when can I get that with a dehydrated, reconstituted, low-fat Big Mac?

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner