Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Much At Steak

I suppose it’s long past time that I told you about my Denver trip. I’ve only been promising the story for a few months. Yes, I’m a world-class procrastinator.

The Denver story is less about why I went (to learn how to use the systems management interface at my new job) than it is about the dinners I ate. No, really. It’s all about steak, where we found steak, how good the steak was, and the journeys to and from the steak.

What? I like steak.

My boss and I arrived Monday night and settled in at the hotel. We were hungry, we hadn’t met any of the other course attendees, and we weren’t about to eat at the hotel itself. So we walked a couple of blocks to the Bennigan’s.

The area around Denver’s new airport is rather strange. Apparently nobody wanted that sprawling monstrosity in their backyard, so it’s located way the heck out in the middle of nothing and nowhere. The hotel industry, sensing the conjunction of cheap land prices and impending planeloads of tourists, built little islands of hospitality near the epicenter of the aforementioned nothing and nowhere. Our hotel was in one such cluster including about seven other hotels plus a couple of restaurants. We elected not to try Ruby Tuesday, so Bennigan’s was the only choice we had.

As near as I can tell, Bennigan’s is like any other mainstream American chain restaurant. In the Portland area, Applebee’s is the rough equivalent. The food was decent, but nothing to write home about. Which is to say that if it wasn’t for the other meals I ate during the trip, you’d not be reading about this one.

On our way back to the hotel, I heard a horrible electronic-sounding screeching noise from one of the trees we walked past. I looked intently but couldn’t find the device which was malfunctioning. Remember this, later on…

During our first session of class the next day, a sales guy for the company hosting the event sauntered into our cramped little meeting room and asked, “Hey, who wants to go to downtown Denver?” Well, duh. We’d already seen enough flat brown wasteland to suit us for years to come, so my boss and I joined the group after classes that evening. This was my first trip in a limousine, and it was one of the most surreal transportation experiences of my life. The interior was done up with odd vari-colored lighting (including many, many fiber optic dots all over) and black plastic and so forth, leading one of our cohorts to quip that it looked like something out of a Lionel Ritchie video. You can get a (somewhat blurry) sense of the ambience from this picture my boss took with his phone’s camera:

At any rate, eventually we arrived downtown, next to the baseball stadium… on game night. Yes, the whole place was crowded. Fortunately, we had our pick of steakhouses within a rock’s throw from our drop-off point. Unfortunately, the one we actually wanted to dine at had a waiting list of about ninety minutes. “Ah. We’ll just go across the street, then. Thanks!”

That’s how we ended up at The Keg, thanks in part to rave reviews from a couple of our party’s members. Well, the food was pretty good, but I’m not certain it was worth the kind of price tag I was seeing. The service left a lot to be desired… like, service. Slow, sloppy, error-prone waitstaff contributed to our second night’s meal being the longest of the three, objectively and subjectively.

There isn’t much to say about the limo ride back to the hotel other than to point out that I was very glad when it was over.

Our first two steak experiences had the lot of us fired up. Surely, somewhere in Denver, we could find a truly satisfying steak dinner! So we did what any traveller would do: We asked the hotel staff. They directed us to a sign-up sheet for a service which would pick us up, drive us to and deliver us back again from a little restaurant called Emil-Lene’s.

Did I mention that the driver was the restaurant’s owner, or that the chariot of choice was one of those short-bus vehicles usually used to shuttle the elderly and infirm? Yes, that was a fun little trip, folks.

How can I best describe Emil-Lene’s itself? It’s another middle-of-nowhere location, except the building itself looks like a ranch-style home that’s had extra rooms grafted on. Here I was, traveling with business owners and well-paid techies, and they were starting to wonder what they’d gotten themselves into. Once seated, we were treated to our first amusement of the night, namely the wine list which came hand-written on some sheets of notepad paper. (Don’t look at me; my boss is the wine drinker.)

That paled in comparison to the amusement value of the menu, though. See, there is no written menu. The waitress presented us with our options. “You can have sirloin in X ounces, Y ounces or Z ounces. You can have prime rib in X ounces, Y ounces or Z ounces. You can have filet mignon in X ounces, Y ounces or Z ounces. You can also have a salmon dinner or a chicken dinner.” That was the menu, folks. (I went for the filet, in case you’re wondering.)

To top off the fun, when it came time to add pepper to our salads, out came the biggest peppermill I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this thing was huge. The patron would hold the bottom of it over his plate while the waitress reached up in order to spin the ball at the top. Don’t believe me?

While I was waiting for the main course, I noticed a basket of what looked like matchbooks. I was surprised to notice that they were actually toothpick-books, complete with the Emil-Lene’s logo and location map. What amused me most about these books is what I saw on the spine. Now, say you’re a business in the modern age, which means you have to have a website, right? Then say you’re in the toothpick business. What domain do you purchase?



Let’s wrap this up. The steak was heavenly. So was the dessert, namely fresh-made ice cream with chocolate fudge topping, which I was not going to partake of originally but felt compelled to eventually based on the reactions of everyone else around the table. It wasn’t just the best steak dinner of the trip, but in fact it was the best steak dinner I’ve enjoyed in many years.

So, if you’re ever travelling to the Denver area and are hankerin’ for some steak: Emil-Lene’s.

Oh, and that noise from earlier? I heard it again, magnified a thousand-fold, outside of Emil-Lene’s. Perhaps you’ve already guessed what it was.



  1. Lil

    I must find out where they sell those peppermills. Perfect gift for the pepper-lovin’ Lyse Beast!

  2. GreyDuck

    You know, I do believe you’re right… Hmm!

  3. Christopher Walsh

    That peppermill? Thing. Of. Beauty. I actually laughed out loud at the full picture. (I often laugh when I’m impressed.)

    I know the noise of the cicadas. I vividly remember the 1987 appearance in Northern Virginia of the 17-year cicadas. They comprised an army of noise. It was kind of epic, having all those insects everywhere. (I should have guessed it was cicadas you were hearing. Blast.)

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