Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vine Street Pub

Talk about a place I wish were closer to my house. The Mountain Sun breweries have teased me for years with delicious beer and great food that is just a little bit too difficult to access. 

Mountain Sun operates three outstanding brewpubs along the front range. Their first two locations were both established in Boulder: Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery opened on Pearl Street in 1993, and Southern Sun set up shop in south Boulder in 2002. 

Most recently, Vine Street Pub opened near City Park in Denver in 2008. It operated without its own brewing facilities until April of this year. Now, its 5,000 barrel per year output capacity allows it to brew  over 50% more than the combined yearly capacity of both Mountain Sun and Southern Sun. 

Vine Street Pub & Brewery Exterior

Unfortunately, the three Mountain Sun locations don't jive well with our busy schedules and deep-in-the-south-suburbs living situation. Plus, even after the long trek to any of their brewpubs, they can be frustrating to eat at. Long, long, long waits are the norm at even non-peak hours, reservations are not accepted, and diners must pay in cash.

Several months ago, Mr. Oyster and I were super excited for a dinner (plus beer) at Southern Sun in Boulder. We were so excited, we took a picture of the outside:

Exterior of Southern Sun in Boulder

We had arrived just before 5 pm on a Friday night, only to find there would be over an hour wait for just the two of us. We had an event to attend later that night and couldn't wait around that long. Mr. Oyster had frequented Southern Sun in college, and had been looking forward to one of their hamburgers and a pale ale. Bummer. 

I visited Vine Street Pub for the first time this past February to meet up with some fellow bloggers. After waiting for over an hour, the five of us were seated. We proceeded to enjoy their (at the time) "imported from Boulder" brews, and I munched on a chicken burrito that was about as big as my head.

Since those two Mountain Sun encounters, I knew Mr. Oyster and I needed some time together at one of their brewpubs. We finally had the opportunity to head to Vine Street Pub on Memorial Day weekend, when we were in the City Park area for a visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens.

Vine Street Pub is located at 17th and Vine Street, just west of City Park. It made for a long drive from Highlands Ranch, but it was a holiday weekend and we were looking forward to a relaxing day of beer followed by flower-and-tree-ogling. 

We arrived right around noon on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Fortunately, there was no wait. In fact, although their patio seating was packed, indoors most of the tables were available. We quickly got situated and perused the drink and food menus.

It was noon, but beer was a priority. Vine Street Pub is generous in its "taster" sizes, serving up 8 ounce sample sizes for $2.8 each. We opted for a beer flight with the six most intriguing looking beers on the menu:

Beer Flight, clockwise from top left: Saison D'Ete, Bombshell Blonde, Pater's Pale Ale,
Colorado Kind Ale, FYIPA, and Nitro Old School Irish Stout

The FYIPA was my favorite; it was very similar to Odell's IPA, with an intense Cascade hops flavor but a smoother finish than Odell's brew. I also enjoyed the saison; it was very traditional, with a mild peppery aftertaste. 

The menu at Vine Street - as well as its sister restaurants in Boulder - offers typical bar food plus various vegetarian options. From my experience, the food has always been very tasty and reasonably priced. 

We started off splitting an order of chips and salsa ($3.5, not pictured) plus guacamole (additional $2). 

Since we were all about sharing that day, we also split a Black and Blue Burger ($7.75), which was blackened with seasoning and sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles.

Black and Blue Burger

The burger came with very fresh onion, tomato, and lettuce, as well as hand-cut French fries.The fries were particularly good, although they weren't as heavy on the salt as I would've liked.

The burger was juicy and perfectly cooked to medium, and its taste was highlighted with the tangy flavor of blue cheese and blackened seasoning. However, I should have paid more attention to the denotation of a 1/3-lb burger patty on the menu. It was just too small for sharing, even for a midget-sized portion-watcher like myself. 

Not sure when we'd have a chance for another visit, we loaded up on a couple last tasters of beer: their very fruity Blackberry Wheat, and the XXX Pale Ale.

Blackberry Wheat and XXX Pale Ale

The beer at Vine Street is easily on par with what's turned out at Colorado's best known breweries. However, you can only get it at their brewpubs or via growlers. 

Mr. Oyster remarked that if Vine Street were closer to the house, he'd be there multiple times a week. I don't doubt that, and it's too bad that we don't make more visits to their restaurants. 

Casual Dining

 (9 of 10)

Pros: Great food, beer, and service
Cons: Long waits, cash only

Vine Street Pub on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 1, 2012


I've been looking forward to a meal at Rioja for months now. The Larimer Square restaurant consistently wins "Best of" awards in a zillion categories, including being ranked #19 on 5280's 25 Best Restaurants of 2011 list. Besides being a hit on Foodspotting and Yelp, one of Rioja's sister restaurants, Euclid Hall, was the scene of an outstanding dinner we enjoyed last fall.

We made plans to meet up with a friend for 11 am reservations on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Reservations were no problem, and I was surprised when I arrived to find that the restaurant was less than half occupied. We were quickly seated in their elongated dining room at a white tablecloth-covered setting.

Rioja brands itself as a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, although its brunch menu felt very New American.

I started off the morning with a latte, served in a unique mug.


While we waited, a server came to our table with a bread basket filled with orange fennel rolls, goat cheese biscuits, and lavender sourdough. I can't recall anywhere else in Denver I've had bread served like that at brunch before. I tried each of the baked offerings, with the goat cheese biscuits being my favorite.

After hearing glowing recommendations of the doughnuts, we chose to split a plate of "Eric's House Made Doughnuts" ($6) between the three of us.

Eric's House Made Doughnuts

The doughnuts were generously filled with tangy and delicious lemon curd mascarpone. On the side was a blueberry compote that I also enjoyed. The freshly made doughnuts were light and airy, and certainly lived up to the hype.

My husband and I opted to split the "Rioja Benedict" ($10.5). They were kind enough to serve us separate plates, so the picture below shows a half portion only.

Rioja Benedict (Half Serving)

The benedict consisted of a goat cheese biscuit, spinach, tomato and bacon, topped with the requisite poached egg and "Parmesan sauce." I'm not sure why Rioja opted for a Parmesan sauce instead of regular Hollandaise, but I really couldn't taste the difference.

A strip of crispy bacon was used in place of ham, which I absolutely loved. The spinach and the juicy tomato slice balanced out the richness of the biscuit, bacon, egg, and sauce very nicely. The goat cheese biscuit, while tasty, was the same biscuit I had been served out of the bread basket.

I really enjoyed the dish but Mr. Oyster was more lukewarm about it. He preferred the various permutations of eggs benedict offered at Snooze.

Our friend ordered the Raspberry Brioche French Toast ($11) and shared one of her squares with us.

Raspberry Brioche French Toast

The menu made this dish sound delicious. The French Toast was layered with raspberry mascarpone, encased in cornflake crust, and served with Chambord couli.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed in the execution. The raspberry mascarpone tasted too much like yogurt, and it made the bread a little soggy. While I enjoyed the crunchy texture created by the corn flakes, I wish the cereal had been applied more sparingly. The bland corn flake flavor dominated the taste of each bite. The high points of the dish were definitely the fresh raspberries and the sweet, fruity Chambord coulis.

Brunch at Rioja was tasty but not quite what I expected after the rave reviews. We all agreed that the doughnuts were our favorite item at the meal. Personally, I prefer Duo for brunch, and my husband prefers Snooze, so I have a feeling our next visit to Rioja will be for dinner instead.

Casual Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Good service, excellent doughnuts
Cons:  Some dishes better than others


Rioja on Urbanspoon