Colorado food / Colorado Travel / Dining and Restaurants

Denver dining flashback: Reviewing the cool theme eateries of 2001 (and Casa Bonita)

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By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(This is an excerpt from a feature in the Rocky Mountain News in January 2001)

To gauge whether eatertainment venues are actually fun for kids, I persuaded my 6 -year-old son, Hans, to accompany  me by promising him all the root beer he could drink. We were seeking places where kids and parents could happily eat and be entertained. It had to be fun for both of us.

Our first problem was narrowing the choices, in defining what is —  and isn’t — a theme eatery. What about restaurants that have a  farming theme, like Lakewood’s White Fence Farm, or rely on Western history, like the Buckhorn Exchange and The Fort? At Benihana and some sushi bars, the chef is the show. At Bravo, waiters sing Funiculi, Funicula and Old Man River while you dine.

We didn’t include McDonald’s or the venerable Chuck E. Cheese, because they’re fun only for kids. And Red & Jerry’s and Cool River Cafe are mainly targeted at adults. We finally settled on visiting Holoworld Cafe, the Hard Rock Cafe, Café Odyssey, Dave & Buster’s, Casa Bonita and Trail Dust Steak House.

Hans didn’t like the food at Holoworld Cafe or Casa Bonita, but it didn’t matter, because he enjoyed himself. And maybe that’s the best directive we can give you — to choose the destination by the age of the child and the sort of fun you want to have, and accept the fact that the fare may not be fabulous.

As the literature notes, “Dave & Buster’s is primarily an adult establishment.’” So this probably isn’t the

place to have your 5-year old’s birthday party. The restaurant upholds casino-like rules regarding children. They must be constantly accompanied by parents or adults, who may be in charge of only three kid at a time. And kids may stay only until 10 p.m.

All that said, Dave & Buster’s contains the biggest and best selection of games in town for kids and adults. We started out with a bite to eat in the underwhelming Grand Dining Room, complete with fake palm trees, dim lighting and a lot of background noise from the game room and bar. Leacy’s Lettuce Wedge Salad ($4.95) is a quarter of a loose iceberg lettuce head topped with creamy blue cheese dressing and Gorgonzola crumbles. I made Hans eat some so he got a vegetable — which he did until he started calling it a “wedgie” and giggling uncontrollably.

Luckily, the potstickers ($6.50) arrived to defuse the situation. (Apparently, federal law requires all theme restaurants to serve potstickers as well as chicken wings.) Luckily, these were actually good potstickers: five nicely seasoned pork-filled wonton wrappers that were properly panfried.

From a kids menu that included the obligatory cheeseburger ($4.95), the omnipresent grilled cheese sandwich ($3.95) and the de rigueur chicken fingers ($3.95), Hans opted for the kids cheese pizza ($4.25). Again surprisingly, the pizza was tasty, with lots of cheese, and was an ample portion.

Entrees include sirloin steak ($13.95), barbecue ribs ($15.95 full rack), Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($7.50) and Dave’s Cheeseburger ($7.50), a cheeseburger with double meat and cheese.

Soon we rushed past the billiard table and the multiple big-screen TVs in the bar area and eagerly made the rounds of the games. We made our obligatory visit to the bowling game, with Hans winning numerous red tickets. We skipped the tasteless Shocker, in which you sit in a simulated electric chair and see how much current you can stand. Instead, I proved my manhood by wielding the sledgehammer to score high.

This place has all the video games: Brave Firefighters, flight simulators, Motocross, basketball, Daytona USA, and Tokyo Wars Tank, which involves driving a tank through the city while blowing things up. Hans’ turn at 18 Wheeler reminded me why they don’t let 6-year-olds drive trucks.

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