Cunningstuff

A new life, for an old man.

Category: Reviews – Restaurants

Sliceworks – A Review

I must admit, I am a bit of a food snob. Now if you know me personally this will come as no surprise, but for those who don’t, I am a big guy and it usually takes people by surprise. I grew up very poor, so I never argue against sustenance, the act of eating for survival. I do however, find it very hard to be pleased in this decidedly anti-food town. Denver is like a child who never grew up when it comes to food here. Trendy places will always have trendy people, but there is just too much meat and potatoes blandness here to be wished away by anything coming close to reality with good food. I love variety, I love farm fresh, I love home cooking, but the ability to get that in Denver is limited, and usually protected by a fierce army of regulars. That being said, I have found great food, fairly easy to access, and if you look, fairly close to places in downtown.

I finally got lucky though, it finally happened. A damned great pizza joint finally opened. Sliceworks on 700 East Colfax is just about as good as it gets, in any city, anywhere in the US.  I work very close by, so I even met the guys before they opened the joint up, and I was impressed by their friendly candor and open demeanor from the first meeting. I watched them basically break ground, and I have been hungry ever since.

First of all, this is not your average crappy I am gonna copy a cheap NYC pizza joint pizza by the slice restaurant. Slice works endeavors to be different from the get go, and they serve up amazing slices. I eat them all, and I only want to wash a slice down with another slice. I will start at the beginning though, you have to try all the slices available.  And that is only a third of the menu. Cheese slice is perfect, a thin layer of mozzarella with a thin layer of tasty but with just the right peppering of heat sauce, on a crust that is basically perfect. These are thin crust east coast style, and no one does them like these guys. I have had horrible crust all over Denver, everyone claiming they have their favorite, but it takes something special for me to lay down a little table salt and enjoy just the crust.

I have just started though. Buffalo chicken slice, creamy, spicy, perfection in every bite.  It is definitely something that has been tried, but never has it actually worked, until you have this one.  The Vodka slice is amazing, you have to try the Bacon Cheeseburger slice, if you didn’t try the Grandma’s slice you have just missed out. As a matter of fact, you could come by here everyday for two weeks and get a different gourmand slice of pizza. I have been eating here at least twice a week ever since January, and I am still coming back to get more! Then try it plain with your favorite toppings. I really love the pesto and tomato slice with pepperoni added extra.

The whole pies are just as good, you can get the standards here, and they are all based off the basic cheese Neapolitan, and all the ingredients are fresh and prepared daily. I have to mention the chicken rolls, because I have never had anything this good since I was in Houston and my favorite bakery made sausage rolls, almost the same way.

Let me get off the baked goods for a second here. Obviously, the place has good pizza, but the rest must be murder right? We are in Denver right? We are on Colfax right? Well, you would be absolutely wrong. They make their own meatballs, a guarded family secret, and each one is the size of my fist. And order of two meatballs will set anyone with an appetite right, and if you remember to get some garlic bread with it, you have just established heaven on earth. The salads are again, testament to the ability of this restaurant to produce their menu with aplomb. The house salad is alone different and unique from most places, and they do not let up from such ravage rancor to allow any part of the menu to suffer.  Vodka cream sauce does not only find its way onto a slice, but it gets into the pasta menu. It tastes like home as well, if home was in grandma’s kitchen in the 1920’s.  Finally, the Prosciutto di parma sub. I am drooling even thinking about it, a sub that was made in Italy by a small humble shop and then especially sent to Sliceworks just for me, I have ever wanted to eat one forever and ever.

They even cook french fries right here. I once ordered some with a side of meatballs, cause I felt like fries, and thought, heh, they can’t do fries right I bet. I will have to say, I was wrong, as I am always wrong about anything they have ever tried to foist off my constant reluctance and tiresome tirade of hey, make some good food here why don’t cha. I am constantly in awe of them, and they can actually have my paychecks signed over to them, just let me sleep in the walk in cooler during closed hours.

Now take all that in, let it settle, and what can you want for more? How about a second story of a bar, with big huge windows that open out on to the wonderful world of Colfax, with perfect views of the street, the concert venue, and the surrounding neighborhood. Mike is usually up at the bar, that’s Lou’s dad, and he can make a good time out of a can of potted meat and a pile of used dental floss. I would like to vote an Avery beer on tap at the bar, but with a view of the concert crowds coming and going out of the venue next door, I will just have to suck it up and get drunk on the gin and tonics.

Take a moment, even if it’s a quick one, and try these guys out. In a mere 6 months they have become an established neighborhood pizza joint, and the reputation is highly deserved. Sliceworks will get my tithe every payday.

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Fluid Coffee Chillout

It is right on the corner, you can not miss it!

Image courtesy Fluid Coffee Bar

I can not help but want to be loud when I drink coffee. My first encounter with a caffeine high was at a long gone place in Houston.  Run by punkers, they only sold art, pot, coffee, and wine, and in about that order, in between sets from awesome local bands. The pot was pretty much only for those in the know, the wine was horrible but the coffee was fresh, dark, and cheap, and the art was pretty much the best by unknown locals. I would laugh and carouse until I was pretty much a shaky nervous wreck, then go smoke and come back and start again. The not sleeping was probably the worst of the experiences, and a sudden flood wiped the place literally off its foundations. I was in that sort of mood, although I am sober these days, when I found Fluid Coffee Bar. I had a great ride on my bicycle, and I was looking for something to keep going when I got home and sat down to write.

I walked into the coffee-house, a little unsure of what I might find. I am not really an uptown resident, and although the separation between Capitol Hill and Uptown is but four blocks, there is a world of difference. Uptown is snazzy and new, Cap Hill is more rundown, if more diverse. I wanted an espresso or something though, before I headed in for the night, so I figure it would be okay. First thing I noticed on entering was the smell of coffee. I might be a bit snobbish on this, but if I do not like the smell when I walk in, I won’t buy a coffee. I go to some of these places, and it smells like cleaner, or worse, fucking nag champa. Instead I was greeted by what I want to smell, the smell of people ordering, making, and drinking coffee drinks. The music was nondescript but modern and decent, no Muzak console was heard. I took a look around and immediately noticed that this place is a very well equipped internet cafe as well. Found art was displayed prominently on the walls, and I figured, maybe its uptown, but whoever is running the joint has some taste. I walked straight to the counter, and looked up at the drinks. A tall thin man greeted me, told me his name was Brian. I asked for a macciato pulled long and he didn’t even hesitate. We talked coffee for a short bit, and I was very delighted, he is a well-rounded barrista, and proud of his work.

I then asked about the rates for internet rental, and it was cheap. WiFi is free of course, it is just using the shop’s computers where there is a charge. I know I can run over here if I ever need to, in an emergency, and I just need to bring a fiver to be on all night.  The shop is laid out in a large L-shape, but thanks to nice placement of various refrigerators and furniture, there are nooks and crannies where you can have a private conversation.  Aside from the tables and chairs area, and the couch area, there is also a presentation room for gatherings. I really like the layout, it is something you do not see often, a place where you can relax, do business, or just have a game of chess. Plenty of space, and even if it was crowded, there is an outside patio, just so many places to sit. I was rather loud and boisterous, as is my want, and few of the patrons looked like they would rather me not be so loud. From the glances I got I was disturbing them, but to be honest, it’s a freaking caffeine bar, go home for silence, it is not a library. Brian was a font of knowledge, and talked about using NOVO coffee, being sure that I knew it was proper and decent, with humanitarian results for all. We talked about weight loss, and he was glad to hear about how I had changed over the years, and in general, made my evening pleasant, so I ignored the other patrons. I think that in an earlier time of day, this is a great place to hang out, but at night, well yuppies really do think the world should shut down and be quiet so they are not disturbed. I still intend to go often, as I have been made to feel at home by the staff.

If I go south, well, I have another favorite I use, but anytime I am heading north or to downtown, I am stopping here. The coffee bar is well staffed, they have this caramel pecan brownie I have no interest in eating ever again… until I murder someone for the money to buy another… There are vegetarian eats, scones, sandwiches, and my favorite thing was cups of fresh fruit and bananas.  Over all, the entire place is a wonderful space, and it shows well in Uptown. If you are close to close to 19th and Pennsylvania, I cannot argue for a better stop to refresh the batteries of both body and mind. Denver needs more spaces like this, I miss Muddy’s, I miss my punk warehouses, and I have finally, after many years, found a worthy replacement. I am tempted to come here and do popsicle stick art and drink coffee until my nervous system shuts down, and maybe annoy a few yuppies while I am at it.

01 E 19th Ave, Denver, CO 80203 | Map
720.519.4681 | info@fluidcoffeebar.com
HOURS: Mon-Fri 6:30am-10:00pm / Sat & Sun 7:00am-10:00pm

Pablo’s is Intense

The Beast within

Image courtesy of Pablo’s Coffee, all rights reserved.

My love for coffee started at an early age. I was always fascinated by my grandfathers, I was lucky to have two when I was young. One could drive a stake through the toughest ground and taught me to properly swing a sledgehammer, the other was a master welder for Southern Pacific’s Houston yard, and could weld any metal, anywhere, anytime, perfectly. The welder also did two things that fascinate me today with food, one was coffee, black and simple, the other was to eat jalapenos right out of a giant pickle jar, like they were chips. As a kid I would try to emulate him, but it wasn’t until I got a little older that I could handle the full flavor of coffee and the simple and earthy burn of a jalapeno. Coffee, I am absolutely certain, saved my life once. Living and growing up in Houston, well, the city is tremendously large, and it is nothing to be on one side of town and it take an hour to get somewhere, then take you two hours to get home. I had one of those trips, after a hard day’s work and  long night of party, when I was 16. It was 3 in the morning when I pulled up to a Whataburger and ordered two small coffees and one small milk, and a large glass. Gulped it down, and just barely made it home, but the milk seemed childlike to me, but that is how I drank it from then on until I was about twenty-five. I was a Muddy’s kid for a long time in the 90’s, hanging out in the back yard and drinking crowbars. Even in Houston back in the 80’s I would hang out at the Texas Artists Warehouse, and then there was the first Starbuck’s that was built in Boulder, and I had to give it try. A real barista gave me my first decent macciato, and from then on, it has been the drink for me. Now hold on coffeenistas, back then it was a real macciato, and she taught me the difference between a long and a short pull. The coffee sellout of the century had not happened yet, and the inclusion of syrups was pretty much just used for italian soda’s. Maybe circa 1993? Well now that I have forever doomed myself to be the guy who gave a good review of a Starbuck’s, let me tell you about the real deal.

Pablo’s is to coffee what Formula One is to racing. I have never had anything but an honest and straightforward answer, opinions and decent conversation about coffee at Pablo’s. There is no wifi here, you will not see fifteen people hogging table rights so they can tap away for hours at the computer. You will see people writing on paper, or people reading, and most people just engaged in conversation. In the land of please the damn sheeple of the united country of facebook, it is refreshing and lovely to find a place that values its coffee and its patrons to the point of doing something different and dynamic. Always, great local art that I will inspect for my ten minutes of peace when ordering my bimonthly macciato hangs upon the walls, and it is always decent art, not the sludge NYC is pushing this month. The selection of hand roasted and picked coffees is unparalleled in any other coffee-house. I currently have in my freezer three types of Pablo’s, the El Salvador, the Two Stroke Smoke, and the Blue Krishna Balinese.

The Two Stroke smoke I found at a coffee-house, now long gone, called Scooter’s. I worked across the street at a 7-11, and every other morning or so, as work ended, I would stop in and have a macciato before going home. The barista was a nice lady who would talk coffee with me for a few, since it was never busy, and she used to work with Pablo’s on roasting day, so she told me a story* behind Two Stroke Smoke.  Apparently, after finding time to have a smoke, of the medicinal kind, the roaster dropped a bag of Zapatista coffee and Tanzanian Peaberry into the roaster. Zapa has unique properties, and it is a bit of a hag when it comes to roasting, but the mistake was not noticed until the roasters smelled the smoke off the beans and noticed it smelled like his scooter after getting too much use.  Tasting it confirmed a new mix, and the long running favorite dark of Pablo’s was found. * DISCLAIMER- Its a story folks, a nice one told by a nice lady, and decent enough to share with you. I have never confirmed it, because I like it and it fits.

The Salvadoran is clean and honest, and the Blue Krishna is very subtle, and almost fruity. I tend towards the house coffee when ever I walk in, and I never really ask what is going in my macciato. Speaking of which, I absolutely must mention the new espresso machine. If you doubt the official stance of Pablo’s being the best of the best, you simply must come by and witness greatness in the form of a La Marzocco Strada EP. I had a long pull macciato and I can still taste it, the very essence of beauty in a cup with milk foam. I look forward to every visit I can make to the best coffeehouse with the best coffee in Denver. I have been a patron for more than a decade, and I have never, not once, been disappointed or had bad service. I have been when it is crowded and long lines, and still, there is a smile and a nod even when pushed to the limits of customer service. Do yourself a favor and find out why you liked coffee in the first place and go to Pablo’s.

Eat at Ted’s, not Joe’s.

I remember when it was Nico’s.

It is a holy place for some.

The good news today is about a little cheese steak place in Denver. I have been going to Denver Ted’s since it opened, and the past two years it has declined, seriously declined. The quality of the food has never stopped, but the shop, the hype, the coupons, everything just fell apart, and I have been sad. The biggest decline was in hours, not only did he chop hours off to us customers, but he also had to chop hours to workers. Ted’s can not be the end all be all for a job, and it is always young kids who have worked there, which usually means the wage is jack. Well, I have great news about the place, Ted’s is under new ownership!

I was a stupid teenager punker when I first encountered my addiction to cheese steaks. I ended up working with a delivery driver, and eventually, I ended up working the kitchen at a place in Houston called Rocky’s. Rocky’s has a tragedy behind it, Rocky himself moved from Philly to give Houston its first real cheese steak back in the 1980‘s, and was shot in a robbery not much after he had opened for two years. Peter, his 2NC, took over the biz, and never strayed from the perfection of great cheese steak, pizza, and the godlike stromboli’s. I learned the secrets to making a good hogie, and it made me, once again, pickier than hell about them. When I moved to Denver in the 90‘s, I grieved for the loss of great cheese steaks, it was hard on a beef lover like me. I have tried everyone in town, but when Ted’s opened up on Pearl and 13th, I had a heart attack. They don’t do anything but the sandwich, so no fooling around, it is a cheese steak place and not a salad bar pizzeria. Actually two heart attacks, one from getting the real deal in the party spot of Capitol Hill, and the second from my first pizza steak in years.

Jack is the new owner, and he got me all pumped up. My first question was about later hours, oh please, extend the hours for us. I get up at about 2-3 pm on a normal workday, and I am not ready to hork down a cheese steak the moment I get up. Give me about 4 hours though, and a juicy drippy cheesy delight filled with meat is just about what I am thinking of. He just took over, but one of the first possibilities is him staying open later. I also asked about late night Fridays and Saturdays, and it is also a possibility. The sign out front is coming inside for an art piece, and a new sign hopefully with lights on it is going outside, along with a fresh paint job. But please, lets cut to the chase.

A cheese steak with bacon. I know, I know, Philly probably has done this, but in Denver, well it is a thing of beauty who’s time has come. I haven’t changed my philly order in years, cheese steak with jalapeños and whiz, the all time classic favorite of any Texan who has ordered one. Today I think it might have been the sweet smell of bacon that made everything seem all right, so I ordered the 12 inch appetite destroyer right away. Nothing is precooked at Ted’s so I interviewed Jack a little more about the new changes. He is looking to grow the biz for one, so now is a great time to come by, show your support. The bread is great, the steak is great, and the dropped pepperoni steak is coming back too. He is adding a new italian with capicolo, it’s in the works, but not on the menu board yet. There is no web presence, but their Facebook is up and running. Most of you will probably see this in the Facebook anyways.

Then it came, the most gorgeous cheese steak in Denver, a Baconator. 6 Strips of bacon infused with mushrooms, cheese, and of course, loads of yummy steak. I got fries on the side, and could not finish them. The perfect mix of bread, salt, pork, beef and cheese, I have to totally give the new cheese steak a 5 star approval. There is a 9 inch version as well, and for those bird like hipsters, you may even have to split that! The fries were a perfect golden brown as well, not that flash fried crap we get everywhere else in Denver. Oh, and these are real fries, 1/4 inch cut, crispy and perfect with or without ketchup. I might have to add jalapeños to the bacon next time. I love the view too, people watching is perfect off the corner, and I actually had to run outside halfway through the meal to say hello to my friend Kristie and her perfect dog, Parson. Neighborhood food is always the best food.

I could not help myself, I just wandered around in a meat filled daze for ten minutes afterwards, standing outside and smoking a square. I went back in and shook hands with the men who can make the real deal. I unhooked my bike from the rack out front, and with a heavy sigh of fullness, I mounted up and cruised down Pearl. I then proceeded to go up the incline on 14th until my heart started beating and my breathing was harder to work off a little of that amazing sandwich. Go give Ted’s another shot, Jack has things well in hand, and though he has the starting man’s blues, his cheese steaks are already the polished perfection we have come to know and love.

Beef Brisket – The Tragedy and the Drama

Coals ready in ten minutes!

I’m born and raised from Houston, Texas, USA, and I know a good brisket when I taste one. A lot of southerners and BBQ fans love to wax poetic on a good slab of ribs, I find them something decent to eat, but lacking in the most exciting categories of BBQ, mainly, the category of taste. I do like a good slab, but they are desperately lacking in the one thing that can impress a true connoisseur of meat, and that is massive chunks of dripping flavor. A good brisket not only feeds 12, but can set a poor family up with one of the most exotic and filling meals they will ever know, and for much less than the lowly pork ribs. I  learned to cook these massive chunks of beef chest with hands on teaching, first, I was just there to make sure the coals did not flame, but eventually I was left with the entire brisket, from beginning to end product, steaming and smoked just right, with no sauce on it, and a tender and lovely texture that only comes from slow steady cooking in a 55 gallon drum. I eventually learned of the idea behind cooking a brisket over low heat for a long period of time, and that is that the collagen inside the brisket must be turned soft with time, basically turning hard tough strings of connective tissue into gelatinous flavor holders, and the tough muscle relaxes into a dreamy state of taste and fat. I have cooked several briskets over family get-togethers, and sometimes it was an exercise in patience, as you cook for hours, to keep the more excited members from cutting all the tasty bits off the ends. A good brisket is beautiful thing, and I have found that it is almost nonexistent at higher elevations, where low humidity and low air pressure make it impossible to do without a large wet smoker. Oh, and as a add on note for you would be doers of the god of BBQ, do NOT cut off the fat, oh Jesus wept.

This brings me to the tragedy of my endeavors, I live in the mile high city of Denver, and pork is the supreme meat of the BBQ. I totally understand, it is much easier to cook, it does not have the problems of collagen and is usually easier to cook in smaller portions, so it all makes sense for me, but it does not replace my savory beef god. I was at a total loss for ever finding the taste of my homeland, the song of my people, until I found a little place reviewed in my local rag called Jabo’s. Jabo is from northern Louisiana, and that makes him kin in cooking, the more creole side, the less cajun side, more like Houston, less like New Orleans, as far as cooking is concerned. I was excited, I put 100 US in my pocket and cajoled  my eating companion that this would be the place to go, that here we would find my search ended.

Let me put in exactly why I had this seemingly psychic ability as to the beautiful food of my soon to be host. All over Denver, and in other cities other than Houston, I keep finding sauce the important ingredient in BBQ, covering, hiding, curtailing the great flavor of a good pit man. We never had much to do with it, and it is one of the reasons I railed against the ribs earlier, you see, on my family’s table sauce was purely a condiment, something only added if the meat was bit to dry, or we were killing off the last of the left overs. Brisket is very temperamental, and it sometimes is cut from a cow that is a bit to old and tough, or maybe the humidity is very low that day you cooked, so sauce is always made, usually a home secret, but still a condiment. Jabo’s had several sauces, but I could see, they were added after the fact, he first made his cooking great, then added amazing sauces to help it along. I could understand this, it is a restaurant after all,  and in a town that worships stupid condiments, so he needed the extra help of some sauces to get word out. I also knew from the review, he was from my part of the woods, so to speak, that northeastern corner of the gulf that worships the meat first, then adds sauce later as a little zing. I also knew that being from those piney woods, he would not be so base as to wet marinade his meat, but with those big smokers, would put the emphasis on the wood he smoked with, and the cooking process itself.

The place is in a strip mall, the setting is underwhelming, and it is obvious to any who frequent restaurants that the interior is nothing to get excited about.  It actually looks like someone set up an auction at a closed down stripper bar, because the vinyl of the seats is just that kind of red. Empty glass windows look on nothing, the view is of a vacant lot across the road and the parking lot. Our server was polite, but had no clue what he was doing, getting the order wrong twice in a row, before even leaving the table. No music, no setting, and no service, it was looking hard on Jabo when we walked in. Ordering took forever, and trying to get the idea across that I did not want sauce on my brisket seemed almost futile, but eventually, the order went in, and we waited. I wasn’t sure about it all, because apparently we had to try the sauce first, and then choose what sauce we were gonna have before we had anything to go on. I am not a fan of the whole idea of any of the service, the sauce, or the setting, again, it was looking bad.

I was not disappointed in the least. I got my plate of beef, sauce on the side please, and cut a big fatty piece of brisket, stuck it in my mouth, which immediately took me home. The fat melted on my tongue immediately, moisturizing and flavoring the beautiful cut of beef to an insane high, and I ended up ordering enough brisket for five people. Later when it was cold, it was still the magical BBQ of my youth. The service, well, he hires family folks we say back home, and they were not the best servers I ever had. The prolonged ordeal of trying sauces annoyed me, and the prices are a wee bit high for my employment to pay for all the time. When I left however, I talked with Jabo for almost fifteen minutes, and it was damned hard not to give him every cent I had to take as much as I could back home and to share with my workmates. He was as sweet as sweet potato pie, and I probably could have busted out some plaster of paris to sculpt his beautiful head, so I could worship something other than the idea of perfect brisket. I will always go back to his place, I will always give him to much money, and I will never complain about his service, because the man knows his brisket, and he knows exactly how to please my palate.

Jabo’s Bar-Be-Q

9682 E. Arapahoe
Englewood, CO 80112

 

PS- Basically, a homage to my favorite reviewer ever, Jason Sheehan.