Is Denver a chain-restaurant town? 104.3 FM's Joel Klatt thinks so, but we disagree

Categories: Fast Food

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Now, I understand what Klatt meant, but I don't think he ever clarified it on the radio or on Twitter. He used places like New Orleans, Kansas City and Los Angeles as shining examples of food cities, whereas Denver -- as his argument went -- has some good food, but is not a food city. What I would have said in his place is that Denver does not have as deep a history or culture of cuisine.

Kansas City has its barbeque. New Orleans has home cooks and restaurant chefs creating myriad versions of Cajun and Creole classics. Los Angeles has a Hispanic heritage, an enormous population and a ton of Hollywood money. It's no surprise that good food can be found in these places. Denver is a young and fairly small city. Sure, we have our pork green chile, but you can't build an international reputation on a chunky sauce-stew hybrid, no matter how tasty or ingrained it is in area restaurants. We have great Mexican cuisine, but so do many other cities of the Southwest.

But do we have the grand old restaurants, the classic stand-by stalwarts that can be depended on year-in and year-out to represent the best of the food culture of the Front Range?

I knew he was right about one thing, though probably not intentionally. Denver is the Great Rift Valley of fast-casual -- spawning a migratory stream of nationwide chains of quality quick dining: headed by Chipotle, but with Qdoba, Smashburger, Quiznos, Noodles & Co. and many others joining the evolutionary parade.

But if Denver has a real food history and culture, it's in meat, whether it's the pork in our beloved green chile, the cowboy-cut rib-eye steaks of the many steakhouses that have come and gone and come again, or the recent embrace of whole animal butchery that seems like a national fad but has taken more of a foothold here than in many other cities on the coasts or throughout the Midwest.

I thought of the old guard of the carnivore circuit -- places like the Fort and Buckhorn Exchange -- and realized that many Denverites turn up their noses at overt old-timey themes and kitschy décor, even if they presaged current trends like offal dishes and game meats. Since we're such a young city (both historically and demographically), it's not surprising that many of our best restaurants are less than ten years old. But many modern Denver restaurants, such as Euclid Hall, Colt & Gray and the soon-to-be-opened Beast + Bottle, are embracing butchery, charcuterie and organ meats that the old places have been doing for years (though often met with more scorn than praise).

So it is meat in all its glorious cuts and textures that seems to be the legacy of Denver's food culture. In various forms and presentations, there's been a continuous thread of eating all the best parts of local lamb, buffalo, elk, pork and beef. If I do have the opportunity to sway Klatt's opinion in favor of Denver's dining scene, it will be at one of the shrines of nose-to-tail, whether old or new, classic or trendy, kitschy or sleek. Maybe I could swing appetizers at the old and entrees at the new.

Joel, I hope you like Rocky Mountain oysters.

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Is Denver a chain restaurant town?  No, probably not.  Would I take the food of New Orleans over Denver's every day of the week and twice on Sunday?  Hell yeah.

Compared to New Orleans, which is IMO one of the very best food cities anywhere, Denver is nothing special.  That's not to say we don't have a good food scene, but take his statement in context.


 Since Klatt is a fellow Buff, I am going to cut him some slack.  Perhaps he hits all the great restaurants in other towns b/c he is a tourist in those places - and a wealthy one with a fat corporate account, at that.  You tend not to hit all the great spots (or sites) in your own town, b/c they are always there.  Ask anyone who lives in DC how many monuments or museums they have been to, outside of times they have out of town visitors in town.  So maybe this is the case for him.  

So maybe that is why he thinks a place like KC is a great restaurant town.  He only goes to the handful of places in the handful of times he is there.  As someone who has spent a significant amount of time in KC, it has just as many, if not more, chains as does Denver. And I am sure if he went anywhere in NO outside the main "tourist" areas, he would find just as many chains.

Or maybe he is just an arrogant prick running down his home town.  Or maybe he is a suburban boy who has never been outside of parts up North of Denver.  Certainly the area he grew up was awash in chains (particularly in his formative years), and maybe those are the only places his parents ever took him.  

 Regardless, he should be an ambassador for this great city and state, not running it down.  I hope to see a series of articles featuring Mantonat dragging Klatt to all the great restaurants up and down the Front Range.  Hell, the mountains too.


If you listen to Joel Klatt on the radio you know that he is an opinionated jock and does not know much outside of sports. He is not cultured or experienced in the fine dining arena. He makes rash and inflammatory comments frequently. His comment that Denver is a chain restaurant town is out out self imposed ignorance. Klatt is being paid to be in New Orleans and is not paying for his own meals so he is exposed to lot's of fancy food. When he is at home, in Denver, he has to pay his own bill to experience fine dining and chooses not do so. He takes his home town for granted. Chili's needs guys like Klatt and Denver's fine dining restaurants are doing just fine without him. Denver may not be New Orleans when it comes dining, but few cities are and Denver is no slouch.

ScubaSteve topcommenter

I wonder if Joel Klatt is aware of the fact that Popeye's Chicken was founded and originally based in New Orleans.


KC, LA, and those other places are covered in chain restaurants. Just because we *have* chains doesn't mean that's *all* we have. Jeez.


holy crap you write articles too? 


Does he mean it doesn't have an indigenous cuisine? Hell, New York City doesn't really have its own cuisine; its greatness lies in its diversity. The distinct regional cuisines of the US are really pretty few and far between—New England, Creole/Cajun and other Southern, Southwestern, maybe a few others. (When "New York" is used as a descriptor for a restaurant, it's usually a pizzeria—so Italian in origin, not New York per se—or a delicatessen, so Eastern European in nature.) Does he mean conversely we don't have enough diversity? Well, there's only so much you can do about geography/demographics, but he should try looking around, say, Aurora a little more.  

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