Rich Grant picked a bad day to embrace the intermittent fasting craze.
“For the first 16 hours you burn the bad fat. It doesn’t do any good to go more than 16 hours,” he explained from under his cowboy hat. “And I’m down to five or six beers a day because I have added gin and tonics.”
The colorful, longtime travel writer and Denver-area tourism official agreed to meet me for lunch with a few of the city’s most influential industry journalists at 5280 Burger Bar, a restaurant so satiating that NFL teams facing the Broncos send their traveling fans there to get full on Colorado-grown beef, beer and ice cream.
I walked over from Le Meridien Hotel to 5280 Burger Bar, located in the center of downtown Denver in the popular, open-air, Pavilions Mall on the 16th Street Mall, a mile long pedestrian promenade. I heard Janna Graber, publisher of GoWorldTravel.com, who like Grant, had driven 20-minutes from nearby Golden, tell the neckerchief-wearing bearded guru he looked like Buffalo Bill!
Grant took the comparison in stride. “I’ve been in a time warp,” he admitted between swigs of a craft beer called “Crank Yanker,” a 7.8% alcohol by volume IPA brewed in Buena Vista, Colorado. Grant represents Golden, Colorado.
“Golden is the biggest little old beer town in the world and produces more beer than any other town on the planet,” Grant said. “You can tour the Coors brewery, see the beer in 40 copper kettles, and drink three of them in souvenir glasses. But Golden is also where the plains meet the mountains. In the space of three miles the roads go up 8,000 feet. You can walk into the canyon and visit Buffalo Bill’s grave.”
The rest of us, that Sunday afternoon, sipped strawberry spritzes, a highlight of the craft cocktail menu, including Sherry Spitsnaugle, the librarian-turned-travel writer who’d just returned home to Denver from a travel conference in Central America where she’d started down a tarantula, with her camera, on the bed of her safari-style room.
Sherry invited me to the Colorado Rockies baseball game the previous evening, and on the subject of diet, I asked Grant about the Rocky Mountain Oysters I saw available in the concession stand.
“What they call ‘Rocky Mountain Oysters’ are, let’s say, the difference between a steer and a bull, deep fried in breadcrumbs,” he tactfully revealed.
Understanding his meaning, I queried as to why they were $7…for three! It seemed like an odd number for something that nature provides in pairs.
“You’re not getting three full-sized! You’re getting slices,” Grant explained.
Thankfully, and alternatively, 5280 Burger Bar’s owner Don Redlinger brought tasting trays of some of his most popular menu items. As the dumb out-of-towner, I asked why he named the burger bar “5280?”
“5280 is the number of feet in a mile. Everyone in Denver knows what that means. It’s not original, but we wanted to say ‘Denver’ with the name. We’re the ‘Mile High City,’” reasoned Redlinger, an attorney and real estate expert who also owns a Guapo Taco restaurant that serves “corn ribs:” a quartered ear of corn deep fried for 20 seconds.
My next dumb question, to Redlinger, whether cuisine at high altitude requires cooking considerations, came with a surprise answer: “It’s difficult to bake buns at altitude. Things evaporate quicker.”
Redlinger designed 5280 to be a “fun burger joint,” but a step above, so it is chef-driven with creative twists such as cheeseburger egg rolls and fried shisto peppers.
“Denver is a quirky town. We have our own culture and flavor,” Graber insisted. Her daughter, Kirsten Koszorus, promotes the area for Visit Denver. Those who arrive by air get to face the big, blue mustang statue with glowing red eyes at Denver International Airport.
“The statue is said to be haunted because the head fell and killed its original sculptor during production. His son actually finished the sculpture.”
Nevertheless, Spitsnaugle and I chatted up a Russian taxi driver named Dmitri who’d recently moved to America. “I allowed my wife to choose which city in the USA we’d move to. She did all the research and picked Denver,” he told us.
Everyone at the lunch table said they’d enjoyed a taste of Pure Michigan, too. Both Graber and Grant mentioned majestic Mackinac Island.
“I was there for the Lilac Festival where the lilacs are the size of trees. We rode bikes and the taxis are horses! There is no place like it on earth,” Graber exclaimed.
Spitsnaugle’s connection to Michigan was that she’d once met the Detroit Red Wings’ bruising, bully nemesis and NHL great Claude Lemieux, who played for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, at church of all places!
“He was a kind gentleman,” she insisted!