Sunday, December 18, 2011

Leaving the House Without Kids: Fast Times at Euclid Hall

When I sat down to start writing about Euclid Hall, it hardly seemed worth it--not because I didn't like it--but rather because I spent all of thirty-five minutes inside its retrofitted Larimer-Square-worthy space. You see my wife and I, in another rare evening out without babies, visited a few weeks ago before catching a film at this year's Denver Film Festival. By the time we finally got out of the house, down to the Auraria Campus and had picked up our tickets we had exactly 45 minutes before show time. We decided to make the most of our time and made a mad dash to the closest restaurant that we could find.

On 14th St just across Cherry Creek, Euclid Hall's glowing, giant-sized beer-tap-sign appeared like a beacon (again, excuse the photo quality, I'm in the market for a new camera). We hesitated for a moment before heading in, briefly contemplating whether or not it was possible to dine so quickly in one of the Jasinski Empire restaurants. It crossed our minds that we might have better luck with our quick meal at the media-mogul-owned-burger-factory next door. But this was once-a-month-at-best date night and we had been wanting to try Euclid Hall for a while--so we crossed our fingers and headed in.

I checked my phone for the time as we leaped up the entrance stairs: Just about 40 minutes until the lights would dim and the film would start. I interrupted the hostess as politely as I could to exaplin our time crunch as she started her welcome shpeal. (Yes, I was going to be that guy tonight.) She took it wonderfully in stride and steered us away from the Chef's table at the entrance to the bar upstairs where she thought it would be faster.

After hustling up the stairs we sidled up to the bar and were greeted by a barkeep with a museum-worthy handlebar mustache. He started another shpeal that I could tell was going to be much, much longer than the hostess' as he began flipping through pages of drinks and food. When I cut him off (and this time apologized for being that guy) and asked him, "Do you think you can get us fed and out of here in 30 minutes?" He closed the menus, stepped back, and without missing a beat or seeming annoyed in the least he confidently told me that yes, he could--and maybe sensing the troubled decision-maker that I am, he added that it would, of course, "Depend on how fast I could decide what to order."

"Touche, young barman," I thought to myself. If I had a dueling glove and we both had ten-gallon cowboy hats to match his mustache (and I could grow facial hair) we could have had faced off like true gentlemen at ten paces. I glanced the menu over and in a decision-making out-of-body-experience I rattled off: "Mushroom poutine, sausage sampler and the pickle plate." Outside of ordering a hot-dog from a hot-dog stand, that was the fastest ordering I have ever done.

We then got a couple beers from the relatively pretentious but well-endowed beer menu, toasted to our efficiency up until now and took big, satisfying sips--then a quick breath, a few laughs and suddenly our food started rolling out.

All ribbing aside, our barman was a consummate professional. He checked in just enough to make us feel looked after, but without interrupting or being bothersome. He thoughtfully made the point of putting our orders in separately so that each item would be delivered when ready. When all the clutter of our meal arrived and we were about to dig in hastily, he took a minute to arrange the plates and drinks in a much more ascetically pleasing way. "Even in a hurry," he was telling us wordlessly, "take the time to enjoy it the right way." After our plates were just right, we took another breath--our second or third of the night I believe--and went to work.

The pickled vegetable platter was full of a variety of house-pickled foodstuffs. There were of course pickled cucumbers of at least two kinds, as well as nice fat cauliflower and carrots.

The sausages were the star of our back-bar dining night. The veal sausage was light and was spiced with orange or another citrus. The subtle sweetness and delicate veal flavor was a good place to start. The Kielbasa was much heavier. It was a great version of this Eastern European classic: bold, simple and meaty. The bratwurst was stuffed with cheddar, which I normally don't love--I prefer my brats straight-up, so to speak, but it was still a worthy brat.

The best of the best hands down was the blood sausage. This dark, slightly sweet, richly flavored tube of meat was absolutely fantastic. If I make it back to Euclid Hall I will skip all the other sausages and double-up on this congealed wonder. It was that good.

I forgot to mention that when each dish was served to us it was done with the obligatory Euclid Hall shpeal. Our poutine was no exception, and after her relatively lengthy and formal explanation (remember, this is poutine we are talking about) our server almost bowed in retreat as she backed away from the bar. I bet in Canada they would never believe that this much formality could be given to their ubiquitous hangover-curing poutine.

The Euclid Hall version was good. It is, after all, gravy and cheese on top of fries. The mushrooms did add a nice earthy flavor that complimented the rich gravy and starchy fries very well.

I settled our tab, left what I hope was considered a generous gratuity and we rushed out the door. In sum: good food and phenomenal service. We still had to jog a little to make it back to our film in time. (Note: jogging--much less after eating poutine-- is not something I recommend.) Sadly, this was the only film we were able to see at Film Fest. It was a stirring, bittersweet story; a nice film for our night out made all the better with a full stomach of sausage, potatoes, pickles and gravy thanks to the professionals working at Euclid Hall.

Euclid Hall on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Going Out With Babies: Ernie's Bar and Pizza

As those of you with kids know, having them completely changes the way you do certain things--and has you doing things you have never done before. For example: I regularly wake up at 5am, I spend endless hours and copious amounts of money in stores that I barely even knew existed a year ago, and when trying to make the crying stop (theirs not mine) I find myself jumping up and down like a chimpanzee. One thing, however, that my wife and I have tried hard not to change is going out to eat.

If I were writing a blog about Denver's hippest and fanciest dining, I would have long ago shut down (not just because the public would have demanded it) because I wouldn't feel right rolling into a new opening (not that I would be invited anyway) with two infants that at any moment could scream bloody murder.

Luckily, however, the places my wife and I tend to frequent serve food from cultures where, for lack of a better phrase, babies rule. Take for example the many Mexican taquerias that we patronize: One couldn't feel more welcome with two babies in his arms. In fact, when was the last time you went to a crowded taqueria and didn't have some being under three years old screaming and/or running and/or crying and/or causing general mayhem?

So when I received a text from a few of our baby-less friends one Saturday afternoon asking if we would be joining them at Ernie's Bar. I was hesitant. I had never been to this somewhat new establishment that replaced Three Son's on Federal and 44th so I wasn't sure how welcoming they would be of two 10-month old infants who though generally quite well-behaved have been known to, well, act like 10-month old babies. But we were out that evening anyway so decided to drive by and check it out.

Immediately the hostess and staff made us feel extremely welcome. They hurried to rearrange chairs and tables so that we could fit at our friends' table. They asked over and over again if we were comfortable and if we needed anything for the boys. We settled in as comfortably as you can "settle in" with infant twins, and it was only then that I looked around I noticed that despite the "Bar" in the name "Ernie's Bar", this was very much a family place.

And the food? It almost doesn't matter, because to be in a restaurant with table service, big screen TVs and a full bar was pleasure enough for us. To sip on a freshly pulled draught beer from a cold pint glass while hearing the din of bar-room conversations in the background was a very good feeling. I could see a sporting event on the television from where I sat. I was ecstatic.

It is with this considerable bias that I say that I really enjoyed the food. We started with buffalo wings. They were well-cooked and spicy. The sauce was classic.

The pizza special for that night was a white clam pie. I had already sampled a friend's chicken and caramelized onion pizza with Fontina cheese. The crust was incredibly thin, but didn't fall apart or flop around as you might expect. It was crispy but with enough heft to have a little softness to it. The edges were light and fluffy without being dry. I remember thinking that it was excellent. The toppings were fine, but I didn't love this particular combination.

When I got my white clam pizza I was equally as smitten with the crust, but also just as neutral on the toppings. I did like it, but I guess I prefer pizza toppings like basil, tomato sauce and the like. (Again, the bliss of this bar-experience was clouding my judgment.) I will withhold final take on Ernie's until I am able to go back and try a more simple and traditional pizza, but based solely on this crust I would expect very good things.

This review of mine was clearly clouded by my I'm-back-in-a-bar glasses, but from what I could tell Ernie's Bar serves solid pizza and wings. I don't want to dissuade those without kids from going to Ernie's either. I bet after eight or nine some good old adult drinking goes on in there, and being on the corner of 44th and Federal means that you just never know what excitement might be awaiting you.

Ernie's Bar and Pizza on Urbanspoon


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