Fascinating Histories of ‘Lost’ Denver Eateries

Book revisits Mile High City restaurants of the past.

LostRestaurantsDenver-coverA lifetime ago and two time zones away, I co-authored a book called Pennsylvania’s Historic Restaurants & Their Recipes. The premise was that the buildings in which the restaurants were located (though not necessarily the restaurants themselves) had to be at least 50 years old, which is no trick at all in one the country’s original 13 states. I traveled all the Keystone State, interviewed restaurant owners and chefs — and then vetted and tested recipes.

Robert and Kristen Autobee, the husband-and-wife team who co-authored Lost Restaurants of Denver, gave themselves a different mandate. Their restaurants they covered were ones that had closed, some decades ago and some within Robert’s memory. As a native Coloradan, he wrote that he “probably ate at all the places mentioned from the fourth chapter onward to the book’s conclusion.” They are both interested in food and are history nerds with both the personal passion and professional skills to delve into libraries, archives and even museum resources, as well as personal interviews with individuals who made or observed recent Denver restaurant history.

The result is a fascinating journey into the past of Denver’s hospitality business. They wrote about food in frontier boarding houses and as Denver grew up, glamorous haunts in facy hotels, 19th-century oyster houses in the middle of the country, modest lunch counters, burger joints and ethnic restaurants where the foods of various old countries were served. Sometimes, the “old” country was Mexico. There were, of course, growing pains. The authors therefore included the good, the bad and the ugly of the local dining scene. What would today be considered gender discrimination was seen a way of protecting “respectable” ladies a century or so ago.

In 1909, for instance, an order was passed “forbidding women unaccompanied by escort to enter restaurants serving liquor after 8:00 p.m.” Then there was also overt racial and ethnic discrimination without the guise or protecting any group. Therefore, the authors also wrote about the unfortunate times when hospitality was not always extended to African-Americans, Asians and other immigrants of various stripes. The book is in many way a sociological history of Denver within the enticing wrapper of restaurants that used to be.

The book was published by American Palate, a division of The History Press. Its 160 pages include photographs, menus, promotional items and documents. In case you want your bookstore to special-order it if it is not in stock, tell them that the ISBN number is 9781626197152. Click here to order directly from the publisher. (And if WordPress has added a strike-through, click anyway, and you should get to the publisher’s online store.) The cover price is $19.99.

 

Hearty Breakfast in Breck Standby

Gold Pan is more than a vintage saloon. It serves espresso drinks!

T-shirtBreckenridge‘s Gold Pan Saloon & Restaurant has been around since 1879, surviving the booms and busts that characterize Colorado’s historic mining towns. The current boom, which shows no signs of ebbing, is skiing coupled with robust summer tourism.  According to local lore, Long’s Saloon opened in 1860 in a tent structure where the Gold Pan building was put up around 1879.  now stands. It was one of some 18 saloons in Breckenridge at that time. The current Gold Pan is considered, according to the website, to be “the oldest operating bar in Summit County and one of Colorado’s Oldest & Finest.” Historic photos and assorted “old stuff” on the walls underscore the saloon’s longevity.

Well-worn barstools and an ornate, mirrored mahogany back bar live up to the "saloon" moniker.

Well-worn barstools and an ornate, mirrored mahogany back bar live up to the “saloon” moniker. The flat-screen TV is a 21st-century intrusion into authenticity — but patrons would flee without it.

In the afternoon and evening, the Pan rocks with folks passing through the swinging doors and vying for well-worn barstools or at vintage tables around the old potbelly stove in the front room The back room (actually, the room to the right of the “front” room) has a pool table — and according to an overheard conversation, might eventually have two. The Pan may look like a dive bar, but in truth, the town has become too upscale for a rally ratty one — and as well as the availability espresso drinks plus clean, modern restrooms underscore the (welcome) gentrification. Still family-owned, it succeeds in balancing the picturesque old with the requisite new.

Ancient woodstove is still in use.

Ancient woodstove is still in use.

Continue reading “Hearty Breakfast in Breck Standby”

Crepes at Cameez

Fourth time’s the charm for Frisco breakfast.

011Staying in Breckenridge so Frisco is a natural breakfast stop before sliding on to I-70. Butterhorn Bakery is my Main Street favorite — and everyone else’s too. The line was out door. Bread + Salt across the street was almost as mobbed. The Breakfast Deli on the next block seemed to have just pre-made, foil-wrapped burritos, some granola and a few baked goods — and no espresso maker in evidence. What to do? We turned back to Highway 9, and in a strip shopping center we saw Cameez and the promise of crepes.

Cameez dheerful retro color scheme of hot pink and apple green.

Cameez’s cheerful retro color scheme of hot pink and apple green and a touch of purple.

Continue reading “Crepes at Cameez”

First-Rate Fare at Frisco’s FoodHedz

Eclectic menu filled with shiningly good items.

P1000800 Whenever I am within striking distance of Frisco at meal time, I stop at FoodHedz World Cafe– except on Sundays and Mondays when the café is closed. It’s open on Saturday, so when I went over to the open kitchen to say hello to owner/chef David Welch, he remarked, “We go back a long way.” And so we do.

I first met David when he was part of a particularly gifted group of chefs heading Keystone Resort’s best restaurants. At the resorts four top restaurants, three had executive chefs named Chris and one at The Ranch named David. On one evening, he was assigned to create a beer pairing dinner at Ski Tip Lodge — the first beer pairing I’d ever been to — or even heard of. I wrote a feature about it for the Denver Post food section, and some years later, when he left Keystone and launched FoodHedz with is wife Patti, I wrote a short item for Sunset.

Since then FoodHedz — the café and the catering operation — has earned all sorts of accolades. And I couldn’t be more pleased. David remains a hands-on chef, and Patti runs the front of the house. We went there for a late lunch after the World Alpine Ski Championship at Beaver Creek. Between us, we ordered two items on the brown-beige spectrum — everything scratch-made and delicious. Whenever I recommend FoodHedz, I urge people not to be put off by the strip-mall setting. The food is first-rate and the location conveneient when going to or coming from the mountains.

Classic Rueben sandwich made with slow-roasted corned Angus beef with house-made sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on marble rye. The accompanying potato salad is made with Yukon gold potatoes. Large taro root chips and a deep-fried pickle complete the picture.

Classic Rueben sandwich piled high with slow-roasted corned Angus beef with house-made sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on marble rye. The accompanying potato salad is made with Yukon gold potatoes. Large taro root chips and a deep-fried pickle complete the picture.

The special of the day was listed as an "old-fashioned fish fry" with house-made cole slaw and terrific sweet potato hushpuppies.

The special of the day was listed as an “old-fashioned fish fry” with house-made cole slaw and terrific sweet potato hushpuppies.

Price check: At lunch, soups, $4.75 (cup) and $5.75   (bowl); soup and salad, $10.75; other dishes, $11.95-$13.50.

Food Hedz World Cafe on Urbanspoon

Supping at Breckenridge Steakhouse

Generous portions, efficient service and tolerable noise level at Salt Creek.

saltcreek-logoIn Breckenridge for the weekend and hungry, we headed into town for an early dinner, where we went to Salt Creek Steakhouse, where neither of us had eaten. The downstairs restaurant a few steps off Main Street is a low-ceilinged, cozy  place with one long stone wall and a couple of trophy heads.

It’s a space geared to digging into a big steak or other popular items. (Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub upstairs is another story — loud and energetic and one floor but light-years removed from the restaurant.)

This restaurant gets mixed reviews for food and service, but our experience was positive. Our waitress was pleasant and efficient, and even though every table filled while we were there (including quite a number of families with small children who hadn’t quite mastered “inside voices, the noise level was quite tolerable. Our food was quite good — not drop-dead great — but the only Colorado ski towns where “great” can be expected are Vail, Aspen, Telluride and Keystone (top restaurants only, as in any community).

A cup of rich potato, bacon and cheddar soup.

A cup of rich potato, bacon and cheddar soup.

Large salad of mesculun lettuce, red onion, dried cranberries, goat cheese and balsamic glaze.

Large salad of mesculun lettuce, red onion, dried cranberries, goat cheese and balsamic glaze.

Twelve-ounce prime rib. That scoop of mashed potatoes instead of the regulation baked spud costs $1.50 extra -- a steakhouse practice that really bugs me.

Twelve-ounce prime rib with au jus and horseradish sauce. That scoop of mashed potatoes instead of the regulation baked spud costs $1.50 extra — a steakhouse practice that really bugs me. Other types of restaurants don’t do that.

A trio of small crabcakes from the starter menu made for a perfect small entrée. Each crabcake is topped with a dollop of Cajun remolade.

A trio of small crabcakes from the starter menu made for a perfect small entrée. Each crabcake is topped with a dollop of Cajun remolade.

Price check: Starters, $12-$14; soups & salads, $5-$11; Aquatic (seafood), $24-$27; Steaks, Chicken & Pork, $26-$42; BBQ Plates, $19-$22; Sides, $4-$7; desserts. $6-$9.

Salt Creek Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

 

National Shout-Out for Snarf’s

Mini-chain based in Boulder selected as one of nation’s 21 best sandwich shops.

A Snarf sub (Instagram imnage)

A Snarf sub (Instagram imnage)

BuzzFeed.com put out a call on Facebook asking for “best sandwich” suggestions.  One Robert F. Pierce suggested Snarf’s of Boulder, and it made its way onto the site as “21 Sandwich Shops to Eat at Before You Die.” Snarf’s now has four locations in Boulder, one in Lafayette, one in Golden and one in Denver and has branched eastward with one in Chicago and one in St. Louis — and oh yes, the newer Snarfburger with three locations so far (Boulder, Lafayette, Chicago).

“Snarf’s is one of the most famous sandwich shops in Boulder, Colorado. It’s home to extremely delicious toasted sandwiches, like prime rib with provolone cheese, as well as pastrami with Swiss cheese. The best part about this place? All sandwiches come with cheese!”

BuzzFeed seems a bit challenged when it comes to acknowledging small chains. Yellow Deli is cited as the best sandwich shop in Rutland Vermont, but there are currently 11 in the US (including one here in Boulder), Canada and Australia.

Flagstaff House Among America’s ‘Most Romantic’

Boulder classic one of five Colorado restaurants on the romantic list.

Splendid views, exquisite food, fine wines and attentive service make Boulder's Flagstaff House a perfect venue for a Valentine's Day celebration.

Splendid views, exquisite food, fine wines and attentive service make Boulder’s Flagstaff House a perfect venue for a Valentine’s Day celebration.

Boulder’s iconic Flagstaff House Restaurant, which again has been recognized with a AAA Four-Diamond Award as  it has every year since 1989, was also recently named one of the “2014 Most Romantic Restaurant in America” by Open Table. It’s 2015, but who am I too quibble?

Normally only open in the evening, it celebrates Valentine’s Day with extended hours, serving its complete menu, plus some special items “built just for two.”  Hours on Saturday are from 12 noon to 3 p.m and again from 4:30 to 10 p.m. For those who can’t wait until the 14th, the specials ar also available on Friday, February 13, beginning at 5 p.m. I consider that lucky!

Other Colorado restaurants cited by Open Table are Briarhurst Manor in Manitou Springs, the Penrose Room at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, the Palace Arms in Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel and Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone. The only one that I’ve actually dined at on Valentine’s Day was the Flagstaff House, and it was fabulous.