The eternal flame of saganaki burns on at Pete's Greek Town Cafe
So far in a month of eating Greek, I've come across some filling and wolfable short-order sandwiches at Yianni's, a fresher and lighter version of similar food at Melita's, and an old favorite in a newish location -- Yanni's in Greenwood Village -- that's putting out plates of what's as close to coastal Greek cuisine as you'll find on the Front Range. I've had a few dishes that just weren't very good and some sides that were all but inedible, like a bowl of stewed green beans at Chef Zorba's. And because July has an extra week this year, I made one last stop where I found almost all of the above in a single location on Colfax: Pete's Greek Town Cafe.
If you've lived in Denver for more than a couple of months, you know about the proliferation of restaurants with the Pete's name; yes, they all refer to the same Pete. Over the decades, Pete Contos has created an empire of restaurants. At one point there may have been eight or more (as the back label of the Pete's Kitchen brand hot sauce indicates), but today there are six. Pete's Kitchen is probably the most well-known -- a stop here is a rite of passage for every Denver high schooler staying out past curfew -- while the Satire Lounge, at over fifty years old, gets the longevity award. If you're new to town and someone invites you to Pete's for dinner (or breakfast), make sure you clarify which Pete's, or even Google Maps won't be able to help you.
Mark Antonation Don't even think about asking for Sriracha.
This Pete's, the Acropolis of Denver's Greek Town (which itself was created because of Contos), has been around long enough that its many add-ons and renovations have made finding the main entrance a bit of an odyssey. I suggest parking in the rear (off Fillmore Street) and coming in through the back patio and bar. If the weather's nice enough, you'll probably see Contos himself, greeting guests.
Mark Antonation Goes surprisingly well with phyllo-based desserts.
If you come in from one of the front doors, you'll find yourself in the bright, noisy dining room with a view of the long diner counter and semi-open kitchen. It's a little too cheery, a little too yellow for my taste, but it's got plenty of character cobbled together from the aesthetics of several generations. The dim bar in the back with the mirrored surfaces, loungy chrome and vinyl chairs and quiet customers (if any at all), is more my speed. It seems better suited to beers or mixed drinks with dinner than the front room, which might be a better option for breakfast, depending on how much your head hurts from the previous night. At the right time, you might catch groups of men playing cards in one of the low, semicircular booths, or a full row of customers at the bar, none of whom came with each other.
Feel free to order food at the bar; the bartender knows the menu well and will even respectably set the saganaki ablaze if you order it. It's an odd feeling watching the display when there's nobody else in the bar -- just me and my wife and the bartender watching the blue flames from the alcohol engulf the flat slab of cheese, shift to orange as the fat begins to burn, and then slowly flicker out. It's something I'd avoided at previous Greek stops, mostly because it feels a little touristy and ostentatious in a full restaurant. But at my final destination, I had to do it. And, of course, hot cheese never disappoints.
Mark Antonation Saganaki for two in an empty bar.
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