The Bite

What's in a name? The fact that Denver already had a Keg -- Ron and Dan's Keg Lounge, a classic dive at 1851 West 38th Avenue, was apparently no obstacle to the Canada-based chain opening a Keg Steakhouse & Bar in town (see story above). And truthfully, there's not much similarity between the two -- although both give drinkers their due.

Nor did the Hard Rock Cafe chain hesitate to set up an outpost at the Denver Pavilions (500 16th Street) several years ago -- even though the mountain town of Empire, an hour's drive up I-70, has boasted a modest eatery named the Hard Rock Cafe for decades. Although that Hard Rock closed after a fire damaged the century-old building, which is owned by the Town of Empire, the structure has since been repaired, and Empire hopes to soon reopen its Hard Rock restaurant under a new management team.

In the meantime, Empire officials continue to ignore the occasional threatening letter sent from corporate Hard Rock headquarters.

The recent closing of the Old Country Restaurant (134 Union Boulevard, Lakewood) could help another chain that's been caught between a rock and a hard place for years. When what's known as the Old Country Buffet in other states entered Colorado, with at least eight outlets in the metro area alone, it called itself Country Buffet to avoid any trademark issues.

Bonanza! Red-meat-loving Barry Fey will probably never set foot inside the Blue Sky Grill (1000 Chopper Circle), the expansive, Western-themed eatery that turned a few Pepsi Center offices into a replica of the Ponderosa. That's because the restaurant is owned by a competitor: Ranch-life-loving Stan Kroenke's Kroenke Sports has partnered with Clear Channel not just in booking concerts at the Pepsi Center, but also at CityLights Pavilion, the tented outdoor concert venue in the facility's parking lot.

But snubbing the place is Fey's loss. Now open every night for dinner -- whether or not there are events at the Pepsi Center -- Blue Sky grills up hearty, meaty fare. Chef Leo Dominguez (what, you were expecting Hop Sing?) offers excellent burgers, salads, even elk quesadillas. But the real prize is the tender, flavorful buffalo ribeye that arrives on the bone -- a bone so long that you feel like Fred Flintstone as you wave it around.

Hey, Barry: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.

Blocks away from the Pepsi Center, the patio outside of the Keg (the LoDo Keg, not the 38th Avenue Keg), affords an excellent view of the former home of Anita's Crab Shack (and, before that, Cucina!Cucina!), still empty at the Icehouse (1801 Wynkoop Street). Also empty is the spot once occupied by DeLorenzo's Deli, the market that had been operated by the folks behind Sevilla and sold a great roasted chicken. But while the market didn't move with Sevilla to its new location at the Denver Pavilions (500 16th Street) this past February, DeLorenzo's Delicacy Shop now offers catering and delivery deals out of Sevilla, including a $6.95 Italian Specialty Menu at lunch. Hmm, must be a coincidence that Maggiano's Little Italy, also located in the Pavilions, is touting its new downtown lunch-delivery service.

Shirt story: The bar at Dave & Buster's (1940 South Colorado Boulevard) isn't exactly your average neighborhood watering hole -- but it's a pleasant place to imbibe a few beverages after a movie. Particularly if you're properly dressed.

Last Wednesday night, just as one fellow at the bar was about to bite into his burger, a D&B employee came up and politely pointed out that he was in violation of the dress code. Was it his skull-patterned bandanna? His Colorado Avalanche tattoo? No -- but the fact that the large tattoo was clearly visible on his upper arm was definitely a problem, since under D&B's "gentleman's dress code policy," all male patrons "must have sleeves."

The policy is essentially designed to prohibit muscle shirts -- especially on men who have no muscles, but plenty of untidy flesh they'd be flashing to other patrons as they raised their arms to push buttons and pull levers on D&B's numerous games. In keeping with D&B's eatertainment emphasis, though, the employees are pretty sporting about violations. When a man who's not in compliance with the policy walks in, says manager Jill Maertens, D&B's offers him a free shirt to wear for the duration.

And certainly our bar buddy took no offense, even though his sleeveless T-shirt had escaped notice long enough for him to reach the bar and order that burger.

But then, maybe he wanted to make sure he'd be welcomed back for Dave & Buster's new Sunday-brunch lineup, introduced a month ago at both the southeast Denver and Westminster (10667 Westminster Boulevard) addresses. The à la carte brunch, which runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., features not only four types of eggs Benedict and numerous omelettes, but an impressive Bloody Mary deal, as well. Just $3.10 buys you a glass filled with ice and the house vodka -- and a trip to the dining room's Bloody Mary bar, where you can add V-8 or tomato juice, along with an assortment of spices, olives, celery and just about anything else you can imagine from the "veggie bar," Maertens says.

That's one salad, on the rocks.

Champps Americana Restaurant also offers an eye-opening Bloody Mary bar, and you can now imbibe at two locations, since a second Champps recently opened at 7301 South Santa Fe Drive in Littleton. (The original Colorado outpost debuted in late 1996 at 8325 Park Meadows Center Drive, also in Littleton.) Champps' Bloody Mary bar has more expansive hours (Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), but also a more expensive tab: $4.25 for the glass and vodka, with another $2.25 for a trip to the table with all of the trimmings.

Chef and tell: As promised last week, the Fourth Story (2955 East First Avenue) has a new chef -- but one with a familiar name. Tyler Wiard wowed diners years ago at Napa Cafe (2033 East Colfax Avenue), an ambitious Cliff Young eatery; from there, he went to Mel's Restaurant and Bar (235 Fillmore Street), where he and Frank Bonanno gave the kitchen a real one-two punch. But Wiard left and wound up in California last year, with his own venture outside of San Luis Obispo; Bonanno departed Mel's a few weeks later and ultimately opened his own place, Mizuna (225 East Seventh Avenue), with fellow Mel's veteran Doug Fleischmann.

What goes around comes around, however: Former Mizuna sous chef Jeffrey Saudo is now head chef at Mel's, replacing Ben Davison; Alex DeRosier of Vail's Sweet Basil takes Saudo's spot at Mizuna. He made the switch just in time for the Mizuna staff's trip to the Napa Valley -- and to make that trip possible, Mizuna will be closed June 30 through July 10. Also closed from July 1 through July 10 for a staff trip to Italy is Blair Taylor's Barolo Grill (3030 East Sixth Avenue).

And now Wiard has ended his culinary wandering and returned to Denver. While he hasn't worked at the Fourth Story before, he once shared the Napa Cafe kitchen with pastry chef Jess Roybal, who went on to become a beloved fixture at the Fourth Story before he was killed by lightning five years ago next month.

Book cooks: Chipotle, the homegrown chain that made such a success of burritos the size of your head that it went into business with McDonald's a few years ago, hosts the "Size Matters Singles Mixer" at two downtown locations -- 1480 16th Street and 1600 California Street -- from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, June 28. The offerings includes giant margs, also known as Fire Extinguishers, and two-for-one beer specials, as well as free guac, chips and salsas. On Saturday, June 29, from 2 to 6 p.m., the 1600 block of the alley between Wazee and Wynkoop streets (that's by the LoDo Tattered Cover) will feature live jazz, a book sale, wine tastings (compliments of Wines Off Wynkoop) and a book signing with Alta and Brad Smith, authors of The Guide to Colorado Wineries. The Smiths will also be signing their book from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 30, at Creekside Cellars (28036 Highway 74 in Evergreen). And yes, wine will be served.

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