The Bite

All decks on hand: Now that spring is here, patios and decks are springing up at eateries all over town.

Pearl Street Grill (1477 South Pearl Street) has been serving on its backyard patio for weeks -- and when a pair of restaurateurs on a scouting mission dropped by recently to find out what makes that patio so appealing, a trio of bossy, mid-afternoon imbibers spilled all manner of opinions. The intimate surroundings. The mature plantings. The immature customers. The tolerant waiters.

"It's the most perfect patio in Denver," sighs John Hickenlooper, whose interest was purely aesthetic until he wound up buying the South Pearl mainstay last year. And Hickenlooper and his partners are hoping that some of their other eateries can benefit from the Pearl Street Grill's outdoor savvy: They've enlisted Rich Shanks, one of the fellows they bought the restaurant from, to consult on patio projects at the Wynkoop Brewing Co. (1621 18th Street) and the Cherry Cricket (2641 East Second Avenue).

The Wynkoop already has outdoor seating along Wynkoop Street, and it's had a patio before: The dining space overlooking the alley was once a deck (referred to as the "Poop Deck" by denizens of a then-much-dirtier LoDo). While that area was enclosed long ago for year-round eating, the Wynkoop still owns twelve feet of space stretching to the alley -- space that will now become a new deck, with room to seat thirty people.

If the neighbors agree, that is. Hickenlooper has already talked to the people living above the brewpub, and "all the residents think it's great," he says. That's partly because the Wynkoop has promised to keep the alley clean; not offer live music on the deck; and make sure it's cleared by 11 p.m. on weekends. "Assuming the regulatory bodies favor us," he adds, "it should be open by the end of June."

Plans at the Cherry Cricket are moving even faster. The restaurant is converting a parking area behind the always-jammed burger joint into an enclosed patio, with seating for thirty as well as a drink rail where people can wait for tables. "It will also be a cool place for people just coming in to have a beer," Hickenlooper points out, crediting general manager Leslie Felts with recognizing that drinkers deserve a breath of fresh air, too.

High walls will surround the patio, which will also sport a water feature -- "after the drought's gone," Hickenlooper hastens to add. "Do I look like a capitalist?"

He won't after the restaurants install some of the greenery he's purchased for the patios: thirty hops plants.

Although you shouldn't look for a patio at Hickenlooper's Wazee Supper Club (1600 15th Street), Goosetown Tavern (3242 East Colfax Avenue) or Appaloosa Grill (535 16th Street) anytime soon, things are already looking up at his newest venture, the Red Room (320 East Colfax Avenue). Make that way up: Hickenlooper's hoping to put a patio on the roof later this year.

Flour power: For fifteen years, Maria's Bakery (3705 Shoshone Street) has been a garden of earthly -- and earthy -- delights. At the town's most eclectic outdoor cafe, you could sit in the shade of an old Victorian house, enjoying both the exuberant plantings and the hearty fare coming out of the garage, which had been converted into a kitchen/takeout counter.

Over the winter, though, Maria's did a little pruning. And when the place reopened on April 26, gone were the hearty sandwiches, the intimate seating areas. In fact, most of the garden itself was gone.

Now renamed Maria's I Love Highland Bakery and Plants, Maria's is focusing on baked goods and plants to go, from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays through Sundays only. "I wanted to do something different," explains owner Maria Neumann. "I want to be a neighborhood place."

So now neighbors can pop into Maria's greenhouse -- a jungle of lush greenery, colorful paintings and unbelievably good smells -- to pick up a geranium plant (scented or unscented, and in a hand-decorated pot) and some of Neumann's all-natural, just-baked rolls (60 cents each), cookies (80 cents), breads and cakes.

Although she initially thought about offering takeout seafood platters, that proved too complicated. But Neumann has already surrendered to longtime customers' cravings for some of her old specialties: This week, Maria's hot turkey sandwiches and potato soup will rejoin the to-go roster.

The northwest-side story continues at Highland's Garden Cafe (3927 West 32nd Avenue), where Pat Perry's place is almost back in full bloom.

Last October, Perry announced that she was changing the format of her popular seven-year-old eatery, converting the gorgeous rooms in the two connected Victorian homes that make up the restaurant into private dining areas that could be booked for parties; the restaurant would be open to the general public only once a month.

"I think people are really looking to entertain more, but in a smaller context," Perry said at the time. "We just weren't able to accommodate all of the calls we had for small, intimate, private parties, and that got me wondering if there was a market for that."

And there was. "The private dining facility and custom menus -- that part's actually working," says spokesman John Imbergamo. But Perry also found herself missing her regular restaurant clientele -- and they missed her. And so next Sunday -- Mother's Day, conveniently enough -- Highland's Garden Cafe will be open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m. (reservations suggested, 303-458-5920). And two days later, on May 14, the restaurant will again start serving dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, also from 5 to 9 p.m.

While some rooms will still be reserved for private parties, seating in the glorious gardens will be open to all.

Momo mia! We're going to attempt to untangle the big snarl of spaghetti left in this space last week, with some help from longtime restaurateur Venanzio Momo. The former Pizza Colore Cafe in Writer Square is now Cafe Colore (1512 Larimer Street), a licensed store of T2 Ventures (a company owned by the Momo family); Keith Arnold is Cafe Colore's proprietor, and he's continuing the shift in emphasis from pizzas to more upscale pastas. There's still a Pizza Colore at 1336 Pearl Street in Boulder; it, too, is a licensed store of T2 Ventures, and Dan Shaffer is the proprietor. Also in Boulder, at 1124 13th Street, is Teresa's Pizza Colore, a licensed store of -- you guessed it -- T2 Ventures. The Pizzeria Colore Express at 1647 Court Place, just off the 16th Street Mall in Denver, is owned by Caroline Momo-Torres (and remains a great place to grab a pie at lunch). Meanwhile, it's business as usual at Cucina Colore (3041 East Third Avenue), the Momo family's flagship in Cherry Creek.

For a more complicated restaurant lineage, you'd have to look to the Chubby's empire, which began when Stella Cordova took over Chubby Burger Drive-In (1231 West 38th Avenue) in 1967 and turned it into a Mexican-food mecca. Between offspring and casual franchise agreements, the Chubby's chain grew across the city; it's since contracted until Chubby Burger (which bills itself as "The Original Chubby's Mexican Food") is really the only pure Chubby's remaining. It's certainly the only one that stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends, or draws such a crowd at lunchtime on weekdays that a to-go order can take half an hour -- and that's with the kitchen working fast on the twenty orders that got in ahead of you. Right now, though, to-go is your only option at Chubby's; the expansion project that started almost two years ago has stalled midway through, and it's still in limbo. "We're waiting for permits from the city," explains a Chubby's employee.

There are still El Chubby's and Chubby's and numbered Chubby's restaurants scattered around town, but they're at best distant relations -- and so is their green chile. For example, at Chubasco Mexican Food, the renamed Chubby's #7 (801 Santa Fe Drive), a smothered beef-and-bean burrito is as big and gloppy as what you find at the Original Chubby's, and it's the same price ($3.20). But the meat inside isn't nearly as spicy, and the green, while it does bear some resemblance to the Original's, isn't nearly as mean. The one-and-only Chubby's green chile is a sense-singeing explosion of flavors, an addictive, molten salt lick that will cure almost anything that ails you -- except dehydration.

Chubasco's burrito does have at least one advantage, though: It arrives in about twenty seconds.

Please note that this Bite has been an entirely Campo de Fiori-free zone.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun