Reading about the latest restaurant opening, chef transplants and seasonal menu changes is a great way to keep up with the evolving Mile High culinary scene — but there is quite a bit more to our restaurant offerings than what meets the eye. Several Denver restaurants have mouthwatering, out of sight specials in their back pockets — whether it be a discounted drink, a custom confection or a gigantic steak centerpiece — these venues offer exclusives for the few guests who are lucky enough to know to ask for them. We want to share a list of some of our favorite “secret offerings” that we have discovered and that we know can help you expand your dining experience beyond the page of a menu.
What: The Back Alley Old Fashioned
Where: Union Lodge #1, 1543 Champa St., Denver
The Lowdown: The Union Lodge No 1 is one of LoDo’s staple pre-prohibition cocktail bars that has been chipping cubes from the ice block since summer of ‘15. The bar pays homage to all American classics like the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan and the Sazerac but these high-end craft cocktails from the past don’t come cheap. If you ask the bartender for “The Back Alley Old Fashioned” they will offer you a well Old Fashioned for a fraction of the on-menu version made with difference ice cubes and sweetened with simple syrup rather than Demerara sugar. We recommend tasting the Back Alley beside the on-menu Old Fashioned to notice the difference in sweetness.
Vine Street Pub
What: Timm’s Style Chicken Wings
Where: Vine Street Pub, 1700 Vine St., Denver
Cost: $9.95 for 6 wings (No additional charge)
The Lowdown: Vine Street Pub is the Uptown outpost for the Mountain Sun restaurant family that has its roots in Boulder. The restaurant pours its own beer from the tap in a family-friendly environment that comes complete with outdoor patio space and a from-scratch pub-style kitchen that cranks out delicious bar classics alongside vegetarian and vegan plates. Order the Chicken Wings Timm’s Style for no extra charge and the chef will deep fry your bone-in wings, toss them in a sauce of your choosing and then throw them onto the grill to form a crunchy crispy finished product that is a gameday game changer.
Snooze A.M. Eatery
What: Cinnamon Roll Pancake
Where: Snooze an A.M. Eatery, 1701 Wynkoop St. #150, Denver
Cost: $5.25 for a single (No Additional Cost)
The Lowdown: Snooze is home to some of the city’s most sought-after brunch service and operates out of three locations in the Denver area. The concept showcases a range of different benedicts, scrambles and sweets for the masses. The pancake game here is one of the strongest the city has to offer — variations like Pineapple Upside Down, Pumpkin, and Blueberry Danish are heavy hitters — but one flavor flies under the radar and we are not talking about the pancake of the day. Ask a server about the cinnamon roll pancake next time you’re in. This fusion of two first meal sweet tooth favorites is a match made in heaven.
What: Specialty cocktail
Where: There…, 3254 Navajo St., Denver
Cost: $3 off
The Lowdown: There… originated in Telluride before rolling down the mountain to open a location in LoHi. The menu weighs heavy on East Asian influences, the cocktail menu is inventive and space is far from conventional — offering stuffed animals, indoor Aspen trees and an attached gelato shop with a projector screen. The first of the evening to ask the staff, “What is the Italian food tonight?” can choose one specialty cocktail from the menu to be served at a $3 discount. The select drink can be ordered at a discounted price for the entire evening service.
Where: Tavernetta, 1889 16th St Mall, Denver
The Lowdown: Tavernetta — the sister restaurant concept to Frasca, the James Beard Award-winning Italian joint of Boulder, CO — opened last year at the bottom of Born Hotel just feet from the tracks at Union Station. Ask for the off-menu “Bistecca” — Italian for steak — and a 50 ounce, 14 days dry-aged, Black Angus porterhouse t-bone will begin to make its way to the table. This is a talking point and really a centerpiece for the dinner table. The steak can feed two or (many) more guests and can be sliced from the bone for easy sharing and a social dining experience.
What: Lemoncello Float
Where: Bar Fausto, 3126 Larimer St., Denver
Cost: $3 (No Additional Cost)
The Lowdown: Bar Fausto has built a humble reputation around Italian influenced, tavern-style personality. The bites from the kitchen make up a concise menu that offers variations of bruschettas and hot panini sandwiches but the main ingredient to this off-menu special can be found at the “dolce” section of the menu. The kitchen spins a boozy soft serve ice cream that as a stand-alone dessert is amazing — but if you order your spiked ice cream as a float you will appreciate it that much more. Currently, the bar is serving a limoncello soft serve that is best paired with sprite. The sweet, fatty cream base of soft serve and the digestive quality of the Lemoncello turn this fizzer to a sweet, citric bubbly dessert that is worth a trip downtown.
What: PB&J Donut Bites
Where: Jelly, 600 E 13th Ave., Denver
Cost: $3.25 for an order of 4 (No Additional Charge)
The Lowdown: Jelly is the Capitol Hill brunch destination. The kitchen serves brunch classics and baristas are always in motion steaming and stirring a variety of caffeine fortified cocktail concoctions. Ask your server if the PB&J Donut bites are available. This unspoken variation of the doughnut bites are not listed on the menu and only available at random. A Thai peanut and house jelly doughnut hole tips a hat to the restaurant’s name and the inner child in every dinner. Who can resist a fried, crust-free, mini peanut butter and jelly sammie to accompany orange juice at breakfast?
What: Farmer Cocktail
Where: Urban Farmer Denver, 1659 Wazee St., Denver
Price: Market Price
The Lowdown: Urban Farmer Denver is a Sage Restaurant Group concept that refines the traditional American steakhouse by emphasizing sustainable sourcing and an in-house butchering program. The bar offers an “Urban Forager Cocktail” — a collaboration between the mixologists up front and the culinary minds behind the kitchen. The cocktail combines foraged Matskutaki mushrooms, corn base whiskey, lemon juice, Strega and house-made bee pollen bitters. What is extra cool about this cocktail is that the bee pollen used in the bitters is harvested from the resident hives from the roof.
Peel Handcrafted Pizza
What: Cuban Sandwich
Where: Peel, 214 Fifth St., Frederick
The Lowdown: The pizza pies here are on point but not everyone knows about the secret sandwich that didn’t quite make the menu in print. A Cubano comprised from Tender Belly pulled pork, prosciutto, smoked cheddar, pickles and a house-made mustard made from yellow and brown seeded mustard, agave nectar and a touch of hoppy draft micro-brew is probably too good to be on a secret menu for long. The restaurant will also make a house bloody mary from scratch with house-made pickled jalapeños, basque and Hungarian peppers and picholine olives — but you have to ask for it because you won’t see that on the menu either.
What: More than a dozen off-menu Sandwiches
Where: Backcountry Delicatessen, 1617 Wazee St., Denver
Price: Varying Price
The Lowdown: A gourmet sandwich offers convenience while simultaneously satisfying the food conscious dinner-on-the-go. Backcountry combines convenience, gourmet ingredients and a refined attention to flavor that is not only great to-go but thoughtfully composed and mindfully sourced. The kitchen in LoDo offers a specialty sandwich of the day but it turns out those sandwiches aren’t as special as one may think. Many of the rotating daily specials are available off-menu upon request. If you have had a “sub of the day” on a previous visit — chances are that Backcountry can make it for you on your next visit and every visit after.
Although the search for off-menu, exclusive restaurant offerings is never-ending — these 10 secret menu items above are a great place for you to begin on your quest for the unknown. No need to be shy here either — the above establishments welcome a love of mystery and they value a patron dedicated enough to know of items that don’t and have never existed in print.