My Private Colorado
Jun 26, 2019 12:20PM
● By John Lehndorff
At the first bite of the bacon epi, my eyes popped wide open. I was taken by the caramelized crunch, the smoke of the bacon, the salty chewy joy of the yeasty demi loaf. No butter was needed, which is not normal for me to say. You just don’t expect an epiphany when you’re sipping an Italian coffee with a French pastry at a Japanese bakery in a quiet Denver neighborhood.
Yet, there I was, saying “oh wow” to myself during my first visit to Tokyo Premium Bakery on a recent Saturday morning. It’s the kind of place I’d go back to in a heartbeat.
I’ve been writing about food in Colorado for decades, and while I hope I’ll have one of those blissful moments every time I go somewhere new, the truth is that most of them are forgettable, although a handful are memorable because my dining choice was regrettable. The new and the old familiar Colorado spots on the list that follows are the good ones, the worth-the-drive places I recommend to family and friends. They provide a culinary experience I can’t get elsewhere sometimes a single dish, sometimes everything on the menu. If they are also affordable luxuries, then all the better.
Tokyo Premium Bakery
1540 S. Pearl St. // Denver // TOKYOPREMIUMBAKERY.COM
Besides the wheat-stalkshaped demi loaf, this fairly new bakery offers two dozen varieties of sweet and savory pastries using brioche and croissant doughs with a twist. As at Mexican bakeries, you grab a plastic tray and a set of tongs and pick your treat: doughnuts filled with sweet bean, wrapped hot dogs, beef-curry-filled turnovers, matcha cream filled treats, or buttery muffins topped with almond paste and a candied lemon slice.
During my visit, I watched pastries topped with egg salad and ready to eat croque monsieur sandwiches stream out the door. Besides the sheer pastry craftsmanship, I love the Japanese design sensibility of TPB and the highly efficient-yet-giggling counter help.
3800 W. 38th Ave. // Denver // CARLSPIZZA.YOLASITE.COM
The historic neon sign outside tells you that Carl’s Pizza is so old school that school hadn’t even been invented yet when it opened in 1953. Leave your pizzaiolo pretensions at the door of this North Denver icon. For emigrants from the Northeast, settling into one of the worn red vinyl booths feels like a ticket to Rat Pack-era New Jersey or New Haven. Nothing to see here except an Italian roll filled with sausage and sautéed peppers, a juicy Italian beef sandwich, baked stuffed shells with red gravy, and gah-lic bread sold by the half-loaf.
Carl’s is a cranky independent pizzeria turning out simply topped thin, thick, or panfried pizzas not buried under field greens. I opt for thin crust with house-made sausage and meatballs placed on top of the full-milk mozzarella so they get a nice sear. Dessert is the seldom-seen Italian-American delight, frita: small fried pizza dough balls tossed in butter, cinnamon, and sugar. To me, that’s amore.
3258 Larimer St. // Denver // JULEPRINO.COM
Great southern panfried chicken and biscuits are rare finds in the Denver area. You can count the places on the fingers of one hand, and the thumb now belongs to Julep, a hipster bistro near Coors Field that possesses bonafide y’awl roots.
Only served on weekend mornings, Julep’s chicken is thoroughly juicy and flavorful inside, with the classic thin peppery crust surrounding the fall-apart meat. Such goodness takes a long time to cook, so tuck into a fine pecan-crusted pimento cheese ball with Triscuits and order a Hurricane. For the kids, it’s the Kool Aid “flavor of the day.” The baked-to-order round buttermilk biscuits are everything they should be. Crunch gives way to a soft, warm interior in these biscuits that are made for either: a) spreading with butter, housemade marmalade, and sorghum syrup; or b) covering with creamy white sausage gravy. Or, better yet, c) both.
121 Adams St. // Denver // ZAIDYSDELI.COM
Zaidy’s is the same as it ever was. What a relief! I hadn’t stopped by for almost a decade, and the familiar black and white images of Denver’s legendary Jewish community fill the walls above the booths. The soft black and white cookies taste the same, and the menu still boasts egg creams, knishes, two kinds of kugel, and kreplach. You want chopped liver? They’ve got chopped liver.
I went for my usual latke Reuben. Yes, that’s warm pastrami, sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing sandwiched between two potato latkes. I know it’s a tad heavy, but I brought half home. This Cherry Creek deli is about comfort. Who goes there and sees someone else eating the Diet Platter burger, cottage cheese and sliced tomato and says: “I’ll have what
she’s having?” Not me.
Wayne’s Smoke Shack
406 Center Dr. // Superior // WAYNESSMOKESHACK.COM
Superior is an appropriate name for a place that’s home to a shrine to barbecue exceptionalism. Smoked pork belly is the reason devotees of Texas barbecue start lining up before 11 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, regardless of season. I wait with them as licks of smoky incense waft into the suburban shopping center. It’s worth it for a paper-lined tray adorned with exceptionally juicy brisket, pork shoulder, sausages, and ribs so ideal, they make it hard to order ribs elsewhere. The barbecue sauces and sides here are fine, but meat like this needs no accessories. As at all genuine lunch-only barbecue emporia, Wayne’s closes for the day when it runs out of the meats.
Ginger and Baker
359 Linden St. // Fort Collins // GINGERANDBAKER.COM
The relatively new Ginger and Baker is a beacon of tastiness in Northern Colorado that deserves a pilgrimage this summer. The establishment, set in a beautifully rehabbed historic feed store in Old Town Fort Collins, includes a wine-oriented bistro upstairs, a comfort food café, plus a first-class bakery and cooking school. On a summer day on Ginger and Baker’s patio, I was a happy guy, with my iceberg wedge topped with steak, a cup of chilled mint and pea soup, and a blue-ribbon wedge of quadruple coconut cream pie. The menu also features scratch-made dishes ranging from lamb schnitzel with pea-and-carrot spaetzle to green chile cheddar cheese hand pies. In the morning, there is no better spot to indulge in thick-cut country ham with eggs and toast from house-baked loaves.
1010 Main St. // Silver Plume // BREADBARSP.COM
Unlike the faux Disney-esque ski and gambling towns that dot the I-70 mountain corridor, Silver Plume is the real deal. The mountain village with fewer than 200 residents has dirt roads, no sidewalks, junked cars, chipped paint, mining remains, a few shops, and the seriously spooky Windsor Hotel B&B. The lonesome wail of the steam locomotive from the town’s working tourist train periodically echoes through town. And every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the Bread Bar opens up as an odd ex-urban mixology destination beloved by hipsters and old hippies alike. Sipping a local whiskey neat in the cool, 1800s bakery building or on the sunny deck while listening to live music is a quintessentially Colorado experience in good taste. The Bread Bar doesn’t serve bread or any other food, so pick-up a sandwich first in Idaho Springs or Georgetown.
Hovey & Harrison
56 Edwards Village Blvd. // Edwards // HOVEYANDHARRISON.COM
It wasn’t the altitude in Edwards (near Beaver Creek) that made time slow to a stop for a few pristine minutes, but a pretty platter of huevos Yucatecos and a sour cherry turnover at Hovey & Harrison. The farmer-meets-baker venture combines a breakfast and lunch café with a full bar, plus a bakery and market stand with fresh local produce. My brunch bliss consisted of plantains, black beans, and crunchy tortillas topped with eggs, crumbled queso fresco, and salsa. The buttery turnover had only slightly sweetened sour cherries tucked inside. The hit parade includes fresh sourdough bread, soft pretzels, and made to toast English muffins. The building housing H & H also features a great bar (Craftsman) and an artisan ice cream shop (Sundae) along with wine, cheese, and meat shops.