I’ve found myself in Denver for an extended stay with a friend. While I’ve always used the Mile High City as a jumping point from the airport to straight to the mountains of Summit County (or somewhere in that vicinity…) This week, I’m staying put. Working from home during the day and enjoying my friends in the evening. So what do you do when you’re stuck in a town you’re not really familiar with? Eat.
In my opinion, the best way to get to know a place is by the pulse of its restaurant scene. Where are the top spots? How are the chefs making a statement in what they do? Who frequents the different areas of town? These are questions I’d like to get to the bottom of. Fortunately, my husband and friends are around to oblige me in helping me on my quest… as well as 5280 magazine—Denver’s longtime city lifestyle rag known for its coverage of food, style, city politics, state issues, PLUS, it has a handful of Medill Graduates on staff (whoop!)
Almost fresh off the plane, I stopped at King Sooper’s (Safeway) for some staple items and nabbed a 5280 off the newsstand. Just my luck their cover story is the “25 Best Restaurants in Denver.” Looks like food editor Amanda Faison had already narrowed down some of the top prospects for me – PERFECT. (Plus, I have a little help from some of my local Denver friends.)
Since I’m here for a while, I figure the best way to share the experience is a couple of restaurants at a time…
Steuben’s: (Friday night my friend and I headed west on Sante Fe (I’m staying in Littleton) towards 17th Avenue in Uptown, a hip little strip near downtown featuring a row of hip new restaurants and bars. It sort of reminded me of the Greenville Avenue area of Dallas, only a little more revitalized.
Originally the goal was to nab a table at the petite chic dining room of Olivéa, one of the 5280 top 25… But our hopes were soon dashed when we skirted through the velvet curtain at the entrance to find a near 2-hour wait. (What were thinking? Squeezing into a hip little spot like this on a Friday night… and on the tail end of Denver’s restaurant week as well!)
According to 5280, Olivéa is a place that “challenges and educates with each bite.” The menu reveals a blissful blend of Spanish, Italian, and French flavors featuring anything from duck meatballs on creamy polenta to pork belly with tangerine glaze and lentils. Alas, it was clear we would neither be challenged or educated at this restaurant for the evening.
We strolled down 17th Avenue to another popular neighborhood spot that, although lower on the elegance scale, was equally as dynamic in vibe and character. Steuben’s is the spt for down home cooking in a 1950s-retro atmosphere. But you won’t find a cream-of-mushroom-based casserole or aluminum tray TV dinners here. We’re talking mac-n-cheese and fried chicken.
With a short, but varied menu, it seems regardless of what part of country you come from, Steuben’s has got that special home-cooked vice you’ve been craving. From Memphis-style barbeque ribs and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, to Chicago-style hot dogs, Louisiana etoufée, and barbecue beef brisket with cole slaw and Texas toast. They even have a curious side order option of sugar-coated hush puppies—sort of the best of both worlds between donuts and a fried catfish dinner. I enjoyed a classic roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Simple, yes. But also tender and juicy and perfect for quenching that comfort-food craving.
The wide expansive bar is great for after work drinks and the heated patio is a great addition allowing diners to spill onto the active 17th Avenue streetside. With an eclectic mix of jukebox tunes ranging from Patsy Cline to Spoon, Steuben’s is great for families, and even better for a casual date or a night out with friends.
Next up… Drinks at Beatrice & Woodsley on South Broadway and a fantastic feast at Table 6.