“Anyhow, the hole in the doughnut is at least digestible.” — H.L. Mencken
ONE OF OUR MOST ENJOYABLE MEALS IN CHICAGO was in a type of eatery that Denver seriously lacks, sorta. Tapas bars. Tapas are what the Spanish call “small plate,” usually served with beverages. Most major cities have a number of tapas bars; Denver has perhaps a half dozen, depending on what you count in the category.
But don’t fret too much, cuz we do have lotsa restaurants that serve a wide selection of what I call munchies, most folks call appetizers. Typically tapas are large enuf for four folks to have a decent sample. Munchies are often a bit smaller, but it’s still usually a good value.
On our visit to Santa Fe in August 2011, I reported on our maavelous meal at Santa Fe’s most popular tapas bar, El Farol. Chicago has a fair selection of tapas bars all around the city and the ‘burbs. The next city G and I visit will have a preponderance of tapas bars, cuz typically they’re a better value and you can try a variety of foods. Soes you really get more for less.
Our last evening meal in Chicago turned out to be a fluke, but a very wonderful fluke. Neither G nor I were feeling well, mainly cuz we had two of our three wondrous granddaughters with us for five days. They enjoy fine dining as much as any two girls in the world. At that point we had really overdone the eating. It didn’t bother the girls, but G and I were in tummy agony. We had a major dinner scheduled with friends and decided we just couldn’t handle it. So the girls happily headed for the pool and G and I spent the late afternoon napping and recovering.
When we finally woke, the girls were starving. I looked for a place near our downtown hotel where we didn’t have to dress and where we could we could walk to and fro in spite of the light drizzle that was falling. I’ve had in my Chicago places-to-try list for many years, a tapas bar called Emilio’s (215 East Ohio St, 312-467-7177; www.emiliostapas.com). They have two stores in Chicago, one of them two blocks from our hotel. I called for reservs and off we went. Oh, my. Even tho we had eaten the four previous nites at Chicago’s finest and most well-known (more on them in a future column), this turned out to be our favorite meal of all.
As we did in Santa Fe, we calculated that eight tapas and maybe one dinner entrée for the four of us would be perfect. Perhaps a dessert or two might take us all the way to full. Going straight to the English names, we had two orders of the famous garlic potato salad, imported Spanish Serrano ham with Manchego cheese and olives, grilled calamari, canneloni filled with tuna, asparagus, basil and tomato, baked goat cheese with tomato sauce and olives, croquettes with chicken and Serrano ham, Spanish spicy potatoes, lamb meataballs with spicy
almond sauce, grilled shrimp with garlic, and for our entrée, Paella Valenciana with chicken, pork, lenostinos, shrimp, mussels and clams in saffron rice. Sounds like we should be pouring out of our clothes, but the girls had room for dessert, so we ordered a maavelous flan and crepes. Yo, mama!
We haven’t dined at any of Denver’s tapas bars, but G dined recently at Boulder’s Mediterranean Restaurant, aka “The Med” (1002 Walnut St., 303-444-5335; www.themedboulder.com). She reported great tapas, tho their menu is more extensive than just tapas. They are also famous for their pizza and many other dishes.
G and I often have just munchies for dinner or maybe several of them and split an entrée. Years ago we would drive up to Boulder’s Greenbriar Inn (8375 N. Foothills Hwy., 866-558-2616) where we would have appetizers, soup, salad, dessert and gone.
While there are many restaurants that serve a large numbers of munchies, I’ve never compiled a list, but here are several that come to mind.
8335 Park Meadows Center, Lone Tree
303-792-3275 • www.earls.ca
This is muh fav of the Earl’s in metro Denver cuz the rooms are gorgeous and it isn’t noisy like downtown Denver. I’ve sampled yam fries, fabulous spinach and artichoke dip, crispy dry ribs, pound of wings, and their yummy green chile soup. Note the unusual website address; they’re a Canada-based chain.
7210 W. Alameda Ave, Lakewood
This national chain has an enormous list of munchies, tho not as large as a tapas bar. But you will not go hungry just eating munchies. Here’s a partial list. Chicken or vegetarian lettuce wraps, dumplings, calamari, spare ribs, barbecue ribs, wontons, edamame, spring rolls, dynamite shrimp, crispy green beans, egg rolls, seared ahi tuna, and more. They also serve mini-desserts for silly folks who think they’re watching their weight.
The Ninth Door
1808 Blake St. • 303-292-2229
This eatery lists itself as the premier Spanish tapas bar in LoDo. Of course, it’s the only tapas bar located in LoDo. We haven’t been yet, but it’s on the “eating there soon” list. The menu is not as extensive as others we’ve been to, but it certainly looks appetizing.
There are several other tapas bars listed on the web in Denver, and many restaurants with expansive munchies offerings.
Check them out and send us a list of the ones you like.
Jay Fox is The Statesman’s traveling dining critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org