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20th St. Café
1123 20th St. Denver, CO 80202 (303) 2959041
Hours: Mon.Fri. 6:00 a.m.11:00 a.m.
Sat. 7:00 a.m.1:30 p.m. Closed Sunday
Ed, one of 20th St. Café's venerable regulars, has eaten a Japanese American breakfast here almost every week for 50 years. You'd expect this downtown eatery to have its share of longtimers, since it opened in 1946. What you don't expect is how one of the darker episodes in American history impacted the café. The late Harry D. Okuno left his pearldiving village in Japan to immigrate to California, where he entered the restaurant business as a dishwasher. Harry moved to Colorado, but Pearl Harbor shattered his dreams of restaurant ownership. He and his family, relocated to Colorado's Japanese internment camps, remained there throughout World War II. Upon release, the Okunos opened the 20th St. Café in what was known as Denver's Japanese town.
Grandson Rod took over the restaurant from his parents in 2000. Proud of his heritage, he cooks with Harry's original recipes. Rice is a staple in many of Rod's dishes. Moco loco, a derivative of the Hawaiian plate lunch, fills you up with gravied white rice, two eggs, and a juicy hamburger steak with chopped green onions. Breakfast fried rice gives a classic Asian recipe some American moxie with crunchy bacon, scrambled eggs, and fried onions in sticky white rice.
Rod and his wife, Karen, refuse to use artificial ingredients in their gravies, green chile, or chickenfried steak. "We make homemade everything," Karen proudly says. The 20th St. Café caters to customers like Ed. When someone on the Atkins diet asked for high protein, the Okunos cooked up a ham, sausage, egg, and cottage cheese plate. But modern diet fads haven't stopped Rod from making his Big Breakfasttwo eggs, two sausages, two pieces of bacon, hash browns, and toastfor the rest of us. The 20th St. Café is a haven for working people. A waitress wearing a "One Day Big Butts Will Be in Style" button serves federal judges and cops on the beat. The Okunos know them all. If any regulars go missing, Karen becomes concerned. "The only way we lose a customer is if they die," she says, but quickly adds, "it's not because of the food!"
719 E. 17th Ave. Denver, CO 80203 (303) 8311296
Hours: Brunch Sun. 10:00 a.m.2:00 p.m.
Say oui to Sunday brunch at Aix. Decorated in the burnt orange shades of Provence, this elegant restaurant serves American fare with rusticFrench influence. Classical sauces such as hollandaise are light, ingredients fresh and simple. To support Colorado businesses, Aix buys their produce, beef, and game meat from local purveyors. French cheeses come from nearby Marczyk Fine Foods. On Saturday, owners and chefs Cyd Anderson and Rachel Woolcott bake traditional brioche, pecan crumble coffee cake, peach and cherry muffins, and zucchini bread made from fresh produce. Sunday morning, guests enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Aix's changing menu follows the seasons and the chefs' creative whims. In winter, a dish of warm polenta drizzled with maple syrup or cornmeal mush might warm your day. Fresh fruit and eggs with fines herbes are more a summer's delight. Eggs Benedict, the spécialité de la maison, with baked brioche, ham, poached eggs, and the creamiest of hollandaise, is available any season. The Provençal omelet, a mix of tomatoes, baby cipolline onions, olives, chives, and a light Gruyère that refuses to dominate, is a sure thing. Aix adds lemon zest, cream cheese, capers, and red onion to the housecured gravlax for another tasty choice. Anderson describes each ingredient with love, but says, "Aix is all about the potatoes." She's right. These spuds don't come flying off a greasy grill. They're individually spiced with paprika, onion, and a blend of herbs, then cooked to perfection.
Cocktails at brunch include peach and orange mimosas, Paulaner HefeWeizen beer, and the Aix martini: a blood orange juice and vodka wakeup call. The Bloody Frenchman sneaks a touch of Pernod and crisp fennel into the customary tomato juice and vodka drink.
Whether you order strawberry crepes, lamb and eggs, or a tenderloin benedict, Aix est bon for brunch.