Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tom’s Diner

Located at 601 East Colfax Avenue, Tom’s Diner is a throwback to the golden age of diners. While other similar establishments have closed their doors over time, competing against the likes of Perkins and Village Inn, Tom’s, which I remember initially as the Rainbow Diner when I moved here in 1998, has been serving standard short-order-cook fare for approximately the last decade. Insulated from the chain pressures that inhabit interstate exits and the American suburban and exurban landscape, Tom’s location on a yet another rough and tumble corner of Colfax limits competition. There is little doubt that a Denny’s franchisee would not want the unpredictably of Colfax Avenue and Pearl Street.

The place is all windows, so before you even step through the doors, you know a long wrap around lunch counter, yellow and red formica booths and horseshoe shaped purple naugehyde tables await. Mid-morning sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating the soft yellow walls as any lingering melatonin is chased from your system, as you pass from Colfax Avenue and into the retro-chic bosom of Tom’s Diner.



The repetitive efficiency of lessons long learned are evident throughout, and include the exact same collection of condiments spaced ~4 feet along the lunch counter. A geodesic dome of creamer that would do Buckminster Fuller proud, flanked by salt and pepper and sugar.


And behind the counter, cereal. Two bowls for a few bucks, all economy sizes, none of those single serving boxes from childhood.


The menu, like any 24 hour diner, is extensive. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu is multi-page affair, spanning full five pages, and brimming with the expected diner classics: blue plate specials, milkshakes (made on an ancient mint green milkshake machine), club sandwiches and dinner entrees such as chicken fried steak, that come with your choice of two sides.

The coffee is hot, offered fast, refilled often, and in the tradition of diners across the nation, fairly weak. This seems to be a universal truth, whether dining on Colfax or rural Route 29 in Virginia, or anywhere in between. The coffee will be watery, but what it lacks in boldness, it will redeem itself in sheer quantity.


The huevos rancheros featured a full plate that oozed a hansel and gretel drip of green chili from the kitchen to our table. It was what you expect from a diner, a large portion of food, all hot, some of it originating from a can, but completely serviceable.


Eggs and bacon! A staple of the American diet and staple of breakfast menus across the land (Watercourse withstanding).


The omelet was standard three egg affair that elicits alarm at its size, but then is inevitably finished and laying waste to any to-do list motivation for the next few hours. The toast comes heavily buttered and the hash browns a mix of crispy bits and soggy potato, unsurprising given the size of the pile placed on the griddle.


Tom’s Diner offers up classic diner fare in a vibrant environment. Catering to anyone and everyone, the mood changes with the time of day. Quiet mornings were inevitably preceded by a last-call lush rush just a few hours prior, with loud conversations and tipsy excitement evident. If you like food off a griddle you will find something at Tom’s to satiate your appetite.

Other reviews of Tom’s run the gamut, as to be expected, from great to awful. The negative reviews whined about the low quality of the food, but I have never considered diners to be on the forefront of the dining experience. Diners are known for uninspired food that will offend few, not for applewood smoked bacon and buckwheat pancakes. One should approach a diner expecting to hand out a “C” if asked to grade the meal. One should approach a diner expected to be fed for a low cost. If expectations are higher, then one should skip Tom’s Diner, and any other diner for that matter, and make room eaters with more realistic expectations, who will undoubtedly enjoy Tom’s Diner.

Tom's Diner on Urbanspoon

Wolfe's Barbeque

Wolfe's is the first stop in one of my favorite food categories -- BBQ.  I grew up in Kansas City so I've had plenty of exposure to the tangy, spicy good stuff.  I got the sliced brisket sandwich with spicy sauce and  beans, Sandy got the pork with sweeter sauce.

The barbecue was pretty good, the sauce was thick and not too vinegary, just like I like it, and the meat had the requisite pink smoke ring that lets you know it was cooked low and slow.  The atmosphere was perfect for barbecue, very casual, with vinyl tablecloths and food served on paper plates.

Wolfe's is our first casualty, as it closed on Christmas day after 25 years.  From this article it sounds like it is closing by choice, but still too bad to see a long time Colfax restaurant close its doors.  Here was the line on the Wolfe's last day.

Also, as I was leaving Wolfe's, I came upon a sight that you might only see on Colfax -- 3 bicyclists, one wearing a leapord costume, the next with a stuffed fish hat, and the last with a bear hooded cape.  Sadly, I didn't get my camera out in time to get a picture.

Wolfe's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cheeky Monk

The Cheeky Monk, at 534 East Colfax Avenue, serves up enough variety of Belgian beer to satisfy the most discerning Flemish fetishist, and if you venture across the expansive dark wood dining room and peruse the menu, you will find a menu that ventures well beyond Belgian staples (waffles and fries!).
The Cheeky Monk stakes it name on its wide selection of Belgian beer, offering a choice that is likely unmatched in the state. With exclusivity comes cost, with beers ranging from $4.50 to a soon-to-arrive specialty brew that will sell for $60. Most draft beers though are in the $5-$10 range, and unless you are connoisseur, you will likely be trying something new, with a name likely to flummox your American-English speaking sensibilities, such as the following: Blanch de Bruxelles, La Chouffe, Affligem, Kwak, and Koningshoeven.
I am a pale ale drinker, which is not in the repertoire of Belgian brewers, so I am not the person to offer up much of an opinion on the beer.  Everything I have had there has been drinkable, but I never found it necessary to order the same thing twice. Of course, Belgian beer lovers, and really anyone whose tastes go beyond hoppiness, will find something they like. Also, and I am unsure of the reasoning, but it may have to do with a distribution agreement, each beer comes in a signature glass. Order a Kwak, you will get a Kwak glass, etc. If they run short of glassware, you will be told to wait, or more interesting, given a beer after giving the server explicit permission that it is OK.
I have had sandwiches, croquettes, and frites over the course of several visits and have had mixed luck. The frites are always good. The croquettes, delicious, as fried cheese should be, but have been let down by the sandwiches. This time around we tested our luck by avoiding sandwiches.
The bangers and mash was good. It is hard to make a bad sausage, but the surprising thing, the sausages were overshadowed by the sauerkraut. The sauerkraut was spiked with carrots and had a roasted quality to it, not the biting flavor you get from hot dog vendors. This was all tied together with a garlic leek stoemp, which are, essentially, lightly mashed potatoes.
The fish and chips were…fish and chips. A little heavy on the breading, but was perched atop frites, which is a saving grace for nearly any food.
The three cheese penne in a cream sauce and topped with bread crumbs, was a wonderful marriage of texture and flavor. Think about what a three cheese cream sauce should taste and feel like and they nail it.
I would not consider the Cheeky Monk to be great, but it is a safe bet for drinks and a meal. And coming off the heels of the Great Wall and a drink at the Roslyn Bar and Grill, it is a shining star.

Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great Wall

The gauzy Great Wall website does little to prepare for the real life color of this restaurant, located at 440 East Colfax Avenue. Prior to even reaching the door, patrons run a gauntlet of one of Colfax’s more interesting corners. An on-again, off-again area for crack dealing, it is also situated across the street from the Rosslyn Bar and Grill, a rough and tumble bar that fills plenty of bar stools, whether it is 7:30 AM or 7:30 PM.
Yet, the intention is food, and not the environment as it exists beyond the walls of the restaurant. Unfortunately, life inside does not differ significantly from life outside. Upon entry one is immediately confronted with the counter, with a full view of the kitchen and the myriad of ways that food can be fried.
The service is brisk, efficient, and will not be mistaken for friendly. Sodas, well as one would expect, they are not free, but I can only assume given the crowd that gravitates towards the corner at its entrance, this must stated, as well as the cost of refills.
The seating area is small and an amusing mash up of formica, padded booths and tables for two. Simple fluorescent light does little to hide the lack of cleanliness and fan blades lazily spin beneath the weight of their dusty exterior.
Back to the food, which sadly lacked the degree of flavor of either the location or the service. The chicken lo mein, usually a safe choice, was an oily pile of noodles with a minimal amount of protein or vegetables. The shrimp rolls, possessing a single shrimp amidst a bed of greasy cabbage, were not worth finishing. In search of the silver lining? The food was served fast and was cheap, meaning I did not wait long to be disappointed, nor was it costly.
This place has many fans, my friends among them, but when confronted with a food that soy sauce cannot save, I do not envision a return trip.

Great Wall Chinese on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 26, 2010

China Kitchen

China Kitchen, located at 406 East Colfax Avenue, is an a la carte feast where Chinese food collides with cafeteria style delivery. All entrees, of which there are many, sit in a long steam table, behind a surprisingly spotless glass partition, awaiting selection.
At a $1.35 per scoop (up recently from a $1.25) the adventurous eater simply walks along and points. Options include the following:
  • Fried rice
  • Beef and broccoli
  • Lo mein
  • General Tso’s chicken
  • Egg rolls
  • Whole fried fish
  • Wontons
The portions are large. A scoop actually means two heaping scoops. Ordering two scoops of fried rice elicits a chuckle and a shaking of the head from the guy behind the counter, and then he proceeds to mound rice in a pile that is 8” across and 2” deep. Combined with two scoops of General Tso’s Chicken, suddenly there is food for three meals, for $5.40.
The food is Americanized, salty as Lot’s wife, and given the cost and setting, surprisingly good. This is not a ringing endorsement, it is an all things considered endorsement. All the entrees that were tried were within a B+ - C range, using an the American school grading system, and the temperatures varied across the entrees, and in one case, within a single entrée.
The space itself is cozy, read small, worn, but not dirty, and the air is filled with the singular smell that is omnipresent in Chinese restaurants across the States, which is that of frying oil. For the cost and convenience, I would brave the crowds always waiting for the 15, whose stop is directly out the door, and step in, expecting to be satiated, while spending $4 or less.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Joey’s Pizza

Located at 329 East Colfax Avenue, Joeys offers up the closest slice of NY Pizza to lawmakers at the Capitol, as well as legion of hungry workers in the nearby State buildings. Thrifty lunch specials, a slice, salad and drink for less than $6, keeps the lunch crowds coming.
The interior is no nonsense. Small tables, topped with checked vinyl tablecloths, napkins, crushed pepper and parmesan cheese. By putting everything you need close at hand, it makes a simple platform for a quick meal.
The pizza is as expected. Thin crust, simple red sauce and the standard collection of toppings. After a quick reheat in the wide mouthed oven the crust is crispy, yet pliable enough to fold and eat taco style.
This pizza has a bit of fan base on Yelp, but I ultimately found it perched atop the bell curve. Nothing about this slice will offend a diner, but in the same sense, it does little, if anything, to excite one. The cost is hard to beat, and the owner is great, willing to talk your ear off about a wide range of subjects or leave you alone to your thoughts, but there is better pizza in town. There is a host of other items on the menu, including stromboli and calzones, but when I walk into a place with pizza prominently featured in the name, I am only ordering pizza, and in this case, I will likely go elsewhere.

Joey's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pete’s Steakhouse

Pete’s Steakhouse, also known as Pete’s Café, is a diner-esque space tucked into the center of a block that features the Cheeky Monk, Martha’s Beauty Supply, a panaderia (Mexican Bakery) and a Rent-a-Center. The typical incongruous commercial uses that makes Colfax such a unique strip of concrete and asphalt.
Pete’s is likely best known for the sign in its window…EAT HERE OR WE WILL BOTH STARVE! With this admonition in mind, it is a treat to walk into a small space filled with formica tables, immediately hear the sizzle of breakfast on the griddle, which is within 5 feet of the door, and give yourself over to the family that has been serving breakfast, with an emphasis on protein, at this location for more than 3 decades.
In true diner form, the water arrives fast and while one is asked if they would like coffee, the answer is assumed to be yes. The coffee has likely not changed since opening day. It is served in a classic 8oz mug and saucer combo, and a bit watery, unaffected by the march of venti sizes and increasing strength that have become the hallmark of modern coffee.
059While the coffee may be small, the breakfast portions are immense, $5 will get you huevos rancheros or a gyro omelet, as well as other innumerable “specials,” all of which come with hash browns. The hash browns, which are normally not something worth mentioning and normally arrive in a large bag, frozen and stamped with Sysco on the side, are fresh made. As in, whole potatoes are ground up in the rear of the restaurant and then transported 30 feet to become part of that morning’s breakfast menu.
060The huevos were good, not great, but if you need your sinuses cleared they will do the trick. Made with ground beef, instead of pork, they carry a spicy kick that will make you appreciate the attention paid to the level of your water glass. The gyro omelet was a solid performer, exactly as one would suspect a combination of eggs and gyro to be. The pita and side of tzatziki was a pleasant surprise.
If you are seeking a breakfast spot in which to be seen, skip Pete’s. If you are looking for trendy selection, a la Snooze, skip Pete’s. If you are looking for a solid blue collar meal, at blue collar wages, cooked and served in a warm environment by the men and women who own the place, then go to Pete’s.

Pete's Steak House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Emilio’s Super-Chef

Another restaurant and another website gone awry, Maybe one day they will reclaim their URL, but until then enjoy the perpetually young college girl who is symbolic of cyber-squatting.
Emilio’s is several years old and a restaurant I frequently pass on my walk to work. Located at the corner of Colfax and Logan, they heavily advertise cheap margaritas and good breakfast burritos, fortunately at different times of the day.

Aaron001I love breakfast burritos. It is the perfect mix of savory, heat, serving size and value to start the day. Unfortunately, Emilio’s opens at 8 AM, at which point I have been at my desk for the better part of an hour, so Emilio’s has always been the shuttered place that evidently serves breakfast burritos. When Aaron and I went I was pleasantly surprised to learn they serve breakfast all day, and even happier when Aaron said he was in the mood for one. In an effort to taste as much food as possible, he and I have taking to sharing our orders. We look like a long-married couple, picking at one another’s plates, but convention be damned as there is a lot of food to be eaten along Colfax!
The "Emilio's Breakfast Burrito" was huge, featuring several eggs, a few strips of bacon, potatoes, cheese and slabs of chorizo sausage. Aaron opted for smothered, which had the burrito swimming in green chile. While costing more than the $2 burrito I am used to from the street vendors downtown, this was cheaper when viewed by the pound, and there are also smaller breakfast burritos on the menu.

When the recipe calls for combing savory breakfast meats with eggs, cheese and green chile, it is hard to go wrong, and this item did not. I would argue that it is oversized for breakfast, as it is likely to leave you comatose for an hour or two. But if you find yourself in the need of a meal that will power you through your day, assuming you are not sitting behind a desk, then tuck into this.
I opted for soft tacos, one pork and one carne asada (beef) wrapped in two corn tortillas, served with salsa verde on the side. While they did not outdo some of Denver’s better tacos, Tacos y Salsas, Tacos Pinche, or Tacos de Mexico, for $2.50 each they were worth the money, generously filled with meat and topped with diced tomato. The only obvious oversight was a lime wedge.  

As for the guacamole tostada, it was what one would expect, a tortilla with guacamole and iceberg lettuce. If you want to judge the restaurant, this is not the item to order as they seem to be the same place to place.
Sitting on the patio we were only asked for money only once by a passerby, which we politely declined. The gentleman next to us noted that the money surely would have gone to buy crack. I am not sure where such insight came from, but possibly the 32oz soda and sopapillas he was enjoying.
We did not try their $1.75 margaritas, which seems to be quite the selling point, but did take advantage of $2 happy hour beers. All in all, we put down two tacos, a huge breakfast burrito, a tostada and a 3 beers for ~$22. There is better Mexican food to be had in Denver, but given the value and the service we received, Emilio’s is a restaurant I would visit again, if they only opened earlier...
ADDENDUM: Stopped by the next day and ordered nachos and the now $3.75 margarita. Neither are worth recommending. The margarita was heavy on the mix, so quite sour. The nachos we covered in the classic “nacho cheese”. You could go to 7-11 and double up on an order of their nachos, have chili included and get an equivalent, if not better, product. Other reviews had mentioned the hit or miss nature of the food and service, and I am afraid this was encountered with only two visits.So do go, and if you have a good experience don’t go back,

Emilio's Super Chef on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shish Kabob Grill

Located at the corner of Colfax and Grant, this intersection is home to used books, rent assisted living for the elderly, the coldest beer on the Hill and arguably some of the best middle eastern food in central Denver. The Shish Kabob Grill, whose food is thankfully better than their web design, features your typical menu of hummus, falafel, gyros and shawarma. While the menu hold no surprises, during our visits there, admittedly a statistically insignificant two, no item has disappointed.

The gyro, which is large enough for two, is ensconced in a warm pita smeared with a yogurt sauce, layered with lettuce and spiked with tomato. It is a mix of beef and lamb and carved off the spinning tube of chopped and formed meat that is the hallmark of the gyro.

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The hummus had come highly recommended and did not disappoint. A very creamy texture with a hint of tahini, it is sold in to go containers and I left with 32 oz. The parsley though, while a nice garnish, does not really match the flavor. And since there is nothing offensive about a mixture of chick peas, garlic and tahini, the post meal breath freshener is completely unnecessary.
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The last item we sampled was the fava beans. Not the boldest choice on the menu, I cannot not recommend it, as it was tasty, but it lacked the depth of flavor of their other dishes. I would urge going for something with more spice, more complexity, something simply imbued with more "middle eastern" than this particular dish.

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If you are to believe Yelp, this place serves great food, but treats their employees horribly. As a nation I do not believe we are known for conscientious consumption, which applies to food as well, so go try it out.

Shish Kabob Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Uptown Brewing Company

We stopped by here and had a beer, but they don't yet have their brewing license, so it doesn't feel fair to try them until they're all the way up and running.  Even then, the place felt more like a bar than a restaurant, so I may skip it.


Well, one restaurant in and I've already messed up the plan.  We walked right by Shish Kabob Grill and didn't notice it until after dinner.  So I'll have to come back for that next time. 

What we did try was City Grille, located between Grant and Logan on east Colfax, right near the Capitol Building.  They have a small patio overlooking a parking lot in back, but it was full, so we sat inside.  Their sign on the building and menu claim the best burger in Denver, as well as "best in Denver" green chili.  I'm a big green chili fan, but it was just too hot to eat something so soup-like.  It was pretty much burgers all around, though Ted had an Elk burger, which he said was pretty good.  The burgers were greasy and delicious, but probably not the best in town.  Coming up soon, we have the previously mentioned Shish Kabob Grill, Joey's New York Pizza, and Wolfe's Barbeque, as well as a look to the west.

Citygrille on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Blog about Colfax

Colfax Avenue in Denver has been called the longest street in America.  I'm not sure if that is true, but I do know that it is one of the most varied, eclectic streets I've been on.  It started in the 1800s as the main thoroughfare from the east into Denver and on to Golden, but once the Interstates were built, it has taken on a life of its own.  Years of changing demographics, demolition, reconstruction, and (frankly) poverty brought Colfax from its heyday to the depth of the 80s, when it was known for drug dealers, prostitutes, and the destitute.  It has rebounded a bit since then, but still has a reputation that is hard to shake.

(Note:  I am addicted to wikipedia)

As you travel down Colfax, you'll see many things.  You'll see thrift stores, seedy motels, the Denver Mint, and lots and lots of restaurants.  Not just any restaurants, either.  Colfax and its character has drawn the kinds of restaurants that are hard to find in the rest of Denver.  There are easily half a dozen Ethiopian restaurants, for example, in a 5 mile stretch.

My goal with this blog is to learn about Colfax by eating at the restaurants that line it.  I hope that by eating my way from Broadway out, I'll not only get a lot of good meals and opportunities to try new foods, but hopefully I'll also find that there is more to Colfax than there seems.