Pulling into the Zig Zag Smokin’ Burger parking lot, which opened at the end of August in the former home of Gunther Toody’s at 9220 East Arapahoe Road, I was surprised to see a completely different restaurant, called Meatball Eatery & Libations, attached to the backside of the building. Confused, I tried to peer in through the windows, but only saw a sign saying it would not be open until September 25. I shrugged and figured that the owners of Zig Zag had decided to divide the building and share the space with another restaurateur, since Gunther Toody's had been quite spacious.
Meatball Eatery, it turns out, is a Prohibition-style speakeasy from the same group as Zig Zag. In fact, the two are connected on the inside and share a kitchen and bathrooms. “We thought It’d be fun for customers to have two totally different dining and drink experiences under one roof,” says co-owner Brock Hopfenspirger of the dual-restaurant concept.
“This way, people can come in for a housemade cocktail and a view of the city on the Zig Zag side, while waiting for a table at Meatball Eatery, or grab an Old Fashioned and a meatball appetizer before having their dinner at Zig Zag,” adds Brock's brother, Cole, the bar manager and co-owner.
The Hopfenspirger group, two sons and a daughter-in-law of the original owners of Gunther Toody's, opened the burger side of the operation on August 28 and have been prepping for the grand opening of Meatball Eatery later this month. “I’m a little nervous to have both restaurants up and running at the same time, but mostly excited to see our ideas that we’ve worked so hard toward come to fruition," Brock explains.
Cole, Brock and Brittany, all Colorado natives, have spent time in other metro Denver restaurants, including the Keg (now closed), Earls and Steuben’s. Cole and Brock also worked for their parents for several years after they opened their Gunther Toody’s locations. “Our parents taught us a lot of what we know, and our combined experience working in restaurants has certainly gotten us to where we are now,” Cole adds.
Having worked under the bar manager at Steuben’s Arvada (which, coincidentally, was also once a Gunther Toody's), Cole oversees both bars and created the signature cocktails on the Zig Zag menu, with a focus on fresh-squeezed juices, handcrafted sodas and unique cocktail combinations. Meatball Eatery will serve his spin on such vintage libations as the Sazerac, Old Fashioned and classic Manhattan. Root beer, cherry-lime, grape-almond, and mango-coconut are a few of the housemade sodas the bar manager developed for both sides of the house; he uses several of them in his boozy creations and to spruce up some of the classic cocktails as well. The cherry-lime soda wasn’t nearly as sweet as I was expecting and had a surprising note of vanilla. I could see how this could be a delicious base for an exciting pre-dinner cocktail.
While Cole is mixing up drinks at the bar, Brock (a graduate of Johnson & Wales University) is in charge of food for both restaurants. Created out of a miscellany of family recipes, items he enjoys ordering when out to eat, and some Gunther Toody’s-inspired techniques, he’s whipped up an eclectic menu for Zig Zag. At first glance, it’s hard to make sense of everything offered, since there are several burgers and sandwiches, as well as seemingly random entrees like Asian crispy sticky chicken, duck hash and Cajun shrimp and fish. “Everyone loves a burger," he notes. "That’s how we pull them in — with the sandwich menu. Then we hope they’ll be intrigued enough to come back for the Asian chicken, pork adobo or duck hash."
There’s even a nod to a Gunther Toody’s breakfast menu item, the #6 special, which was a hearty plate of fried chicken and eggs. The #6 Crispy Chicken Sandwich on the new menu presents a large, hand-breaded piece of chicken breast underneath a sunny-side-up egg and comeback dipping sauce (a traditional Louisiana condiment and a subtle message to Gunther Toody's old customers) on a Kaiser bun with house-made coleslaw. The seasoned flour used for breading the chicken (and other fried items on the menu) is also a Gunther Toody's recipe.
Thought and care have gone into the rest of the eclectic menu. For example, the Smokin' Spicy Chili Burger is doused in classic Colorado roasted green chile sauce, and the Gruyère Mornay sauce on ZZ's Bacon Cheese Fries is a Hopfenspirger family recipe.
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At Meatball Eatery, the meats (all meatballs) and sauces will be the stars, with pastas and starches playing a supporting role. “We started out making meatball subs, and then I said, 'Why not just do a bunch of balls?'” Brock explains.
With six different kinds of "balls" and another six sauces to choose from, there will be plenty of room for experimenting. Mix and match lamb or Southwestern meatballs, for example, with chipotle adobo or tomato gravy. Vegetarians can get in on the fun with the portabella risotto ball and a third-generation marinara recipe. Want to sample all the sauce and ball combinations when the eatery opens? Brock recommends ordering the meatball "charcuterie" platter, which includes all of the signature balls and sauces, plus fresh mozzarella, seared olives and garlic bread, all for $20.
Even if you’re not in the mood for meatballs, there will be sliders, soups and salads and some old-timey cocktails. And if you’re not feeling any of that, you can simply walk next door for a totally different selection of food and drink in the hip new burger joint that aims to satisfy nearly any craving — even a nostalgic one for Gunther Toody’s fare.
Zig Zag Smokin’ Burger and Meatball Eatery & Libations are located at 9220 East Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village. Zig Zag’s hours are currently 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Visit the burger bar's website to view the menu or call 720-459-7530 for more information.