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As the Restaurants Turn

A Gastronomical Park Hill Year in Review

By Cara DeGette

GPHN Editor

Tony Uva and his daughter, Allegra. Photo by Cara DeGette

There’ve been ups and downs, twists and turns, intrigue and expectation, dashed hopes, reclaimed dreams, and, in one case, the threat of boycott. And so marks the end of another year in the restaurant business, Park Hill style.

The following is a synopsis of news of area restaurants throughout 2017.

First Quarter Appetizers

DJs Colfax Café opened with great expectations on Jan. 4. The popular breakfast eatery (with locations in the Baker and Highland neighborhoods) moved into the spot off Colfax and Eudora Street most recently inhabited by Red Octave (and the site of the former Cork House and before that, as longtime Denverites will remember, the beloved Tante Louise). However, DJs was not to be. It only lasted seven months before shuttering. According to the owners, “We all tried our best but could not build enough of a clientele to make it work.”

In late February, the owner of Bardenay abruptly abandoned plans for a 236-seat distillery and restaurant on the business block of Kearney Street between 22nd and 23rd streets. The Idaho-based chain hoped to open a casual style bar and restaurant in the old Tower Theater space that has stood empty for years. The project was supported by numerous Park Hill residents, but drew criticism from many nearby business owners and vocal neighbors, including in the condominium complex next door. Specifically, there were concerns over the restaurant’s size, lack of a parking lot, and concerns over traffic and noise. Some area residents vowed a sustained boycott. Ultimately, owner Kevin Settles pulled the plug, citing concerns over “Denver’s stringent noise ordinance and the close proximity to the condominiums.” The building, at 2245 Kearney St., most recently was home to the Korean Full Gospel Church, which moved out five years ago. For decades before that, until 1982, the building was the home of the Tower and Crest movie theaters. It is now, as it has been since 2012, empty.

Spring Salad Days

The Cherry Tomato celebrated its 20th year serving up saltimbocca, carbonara, ravioli and other Italian favorites at 23rd Avenue and Dexter Street. Since 1997, Chef/Owner Thomas Felese marked the moment in March in typical low-key fashion: “I would like to thank all of the great support from all my patrons.” Over the years, Felese has served plenty of dishes to customers and fans, including one notable 2015 visit from Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl.

Westword’s annual Best of Denver issue in April highlighted several Park Hill-area spots, including Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery, on Colfax at Elm Street, which got the editor’s pick as Best Restaurant on Colfax. Particularly noteworthy were the Chop Shop’s 48-hour short ribs and 72-hour onion soup.

In that same category – Best Restaurant on Colfax – readers picked Solera as their favorite Colfax eatery. Since 2001, Chef/Owner Goose Sorenson has been serving up dishes inspired by Spanish farmhouse cuisine at his restaurant on Colfax at Grape Street.

And Prodigy Coffeehouse, at 3801 E. 40th Ave. just west of the Park Hill Golf Course, won top honors for best coffeehouse in Denver.

In May, first-time developer Todd Snyder, along with his business partner Rick Firmine, announced they had bought nearly all of the Oneida Park Center, between 22nd and 23rd on Oneida Street. Snyder said he envisions transforming the business block in the mold of an Old South Gaylord or Old South Pearl Street development – references to the wildly successful and highly congested blocks in the Washington Park neighborhood southwest of Park Hill. (Keep reading for the latest updates on the block.)

Summer’s Main Course

Cake Crumbs turned 10 years old, and its owners and founders Denon and Sean Moore, celebrated by selling the café and bakery on Kearney Street that they built from scratch. They handed the reins over to another Park Hill resident, Katie Magner, who has added many items to the lunch, as well as breakfast menu. “Cake Crumbs was our heart and soul for 10 years,” said Denon Moore. “We couldn’t be more thankful that a local family bought it.”

In July, with its building facing demolition as part of the blocklong Park Hill Commons development on 29th and Fairfax, the soul food restaurant A & A Fish moved out of Park Hill. At 4650 Tower Rd. in Green Valley Ranch, the restaurant is now called Catfish Haven/Jamaica House. The phone number  is still the same – 303-399-3730 and the restaurant still offers up a delicious catfish filet dinner with greens and yams and mac & cheese. For Park Hillians who don’t want to venture that far from home for down home Southern style fare, the Blazing Chicken Shack at 33rd and Holly is alive and kicking it with gumbo, pork chops and all the wings you can eat.

The Desserts Of December

As of December, here’s how things are looking at the Oneida Park Center: The iconic 50s-style Oneida Park Center sign has been refurbished. Desmond, the restaurant that was the creation of noted Chef Sean Kelly, suddenly closed in June. It has been replaced by Red Sauce, the latest creation of Restaurateur/Chef Jon Robbins (who also owns Park Hill’s Bistro Barbés on 28th Avenue at Fairfax). Red Sauce, which opened in early November, is designed to be a casual, family-style Italian-American restaurant complete with checkered tablecloths, Chianti bottles, and Frank Sinatra crooning through the speakers.

The South Philly Cheese Steak restaurant, next door to Red Sauce, is staying put, at least for the foreseeable future. Spicy Thai II on the west side of Oneida, also has several years remaining years on its lease.

Several big changes are afoot on the block, however. The liquor store on the south end of the block is moving to the north end of the block, to 23rd Avenue. The space that currently houses a corner grocery store at 22nd and Oneida is expected to become the second site of Ester’s Neighborhood Pub, which serves up salads, wood-fired pizza, and craft beers. (The timing is a bit unclear, as the corner store still has more than a year left on its lease.)

Snyder is also working to incorporate an ice cream shop (reportedly Little Man Ice Cream) and a coffee shop or diner on the southwest side of the block, near Spicy Thai II. Anchoring the restaurants would be a grassed-in courtyard – which is currently a paved lot used for customer and tenant parking.

One tenant who won’t likely be remaining in Oneida Park Center is Allegra’s Pizza, whose owner, Tony Uva, has been critical of many of the changes on the block. Uva had hoped to expand his wildly popular pizzeria to an open space next door, but said he was informed his lease would not be renewed when it is up in April, 2018. Uva says he is pursuing other possibilities, including possibly opening on 28th and Fairfax Street, or operating out of his pizza truck until he finds a new home.

Uva may be enjoying some just desserts. In November, 5280 magazine awarded him with a coveted honor: Serving up one of the 28 favorite pies in Denver (Allegra’s was the only Park Hill restaurant to make the final cut). And, given the fortuitous naming of his daughter and restaurant namesake, the list appears in alphabetical order – meaning Allegra’s is at the top of the heap. Here’s the praise, from the magazine:

“Owner Tony Uva named the miniscule Park Hill [restaurant] after his daughter and head recipe taster, Allegra. Uva spent years refining his dough recipe, and the resulting thin-crusted pie is totally irresistible. You won’t be able to eat just one slice of ‘Tony’s Favorite,’ loaded with caramelized onions, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach.”

Yum.

Editor’s Note: Do you have news about a business in and around the neighborhood that you’d like to share? Has ownership changed hands? Has a local shop recently opened? Unexpectedly shuttered their doors? Retired after decades in business? Won an award? Had a visit from a VIP or celebrity? Send your business news tips to editor@greaterparkhill.org for consideration. Please include “Spilling the Beans” in the subject line of the email.


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