Writer’s block. The struggle is real. My problem this week was deciding which of several cool things to write about. While struggling with this decision, I took a walk and found myself confronted with my favorite restaurant in Denver. When tempted, I usually succumb, and so I went inside and treated myself to some dinner at Corner Ramen with the comfortable companion of a science fiction paperback. As I worked through my drink, it became clear as filtered sake that I needed to write about this Denver treasure.
My cozy but unfashionable neighborhood in Denver has had the blessing of being overlooked by major national restaurant chains, and thus harbours a delightful trove of hidden eateries. Mom-and-pop restaurants abound in the form of a chicken wing joint, a proprietor-operated barbecue pit, and a couple of Mexican cantinas that stubbornly refuse to accommodate their business hours to my nocturnal schedule, as if they had families and priorities besides serving me burritos at all hours. My favorite, though, is Corner Ramen.
Corner Ramen sits, well, just around the corner, on (again) the corner of Bruce Randolph and Gilpin. It’s housed in a renovated residence so that the interior of the restaurant space still feels like home. The rooms are several and small, with wooden floors; sharp, eponymous corners (!); and short sight lines, giving it a homey and private intimacy. The windows are huge and most of the tables are for two. The atmosphere is quiet, relaxing, and singular. I’ve yet to encounter a better venue for a second date or a long-married date night. It’s also delightful that it doesn’t sit in a strip mall or business district. Its immediate neighbors are single-family homes and non-metered on-street parking. Delightful.
The location is key to its appeal, too. It happens to sit just about 15 minutes by bicycle from downtown Denver, which means that if you call ahead and then pedal towards home from LoDo, your order is just ready to go as you bike up to the door. I strongly recommend this procedure. Alternatively, you can order delivery, and have it brought to your doorstep in a tidy package. I also recommend this procedure.
I wouldn’t be writing about the food if it weren’t well worth the time and column space…and it certainly is. I admire a restaurant that can fit its entire menu on one page. I suspect that if a restaurant offers six pages of entrees, either all of its food comes pre-made from somewhere else or none of it is much good. Often both the preceding are true. Corner Ramen strikes a great balance between satisfying variety and a narrow focus of excellence. There are options for both carnivores and vegetarians, with easy adaptations for vegans (the “creamy” broth is not dairy-based). I’m a die-hard fungiphile and propose that each and every one of you order the shitake mushroom buns. They’re addictive. I usually order the Creamy Spicy Ramen, but all the options are good. I just like the not-too-hot-but-just-right burning on my lips when I eat the Spicy bowls.
I usually get a small bottle of sake when I eat in, just to feel like a real ramen-head. I’ve had hot and cold and both are lovely. Sake is a weird drink; the varieties that I’ve had are smooth and mild, but it still has that aromatic kick of a hard liquor. You could even say the richness and spiciness of the ramen mirror the smoothness and edginess of the sake. Delightful.
In my continued aversion to sprawling franchises, I adore that this is a family establishment. Whenever I come in the door, I’m greeted by a small contingent of children belonging to the other staff of the restaurant. In fact, the whole place seems like one big family. Judging by the ages and interactions of the employees, I feel safe in assuming that they that is exactly what they are. The host who seats you also is your server and cashier, and pops in and out of the kitchen to help there, too. Sometimes, a family-run place can feel chaotic, but the layout, lighting, and service here is anything but. It’s peaceful and calm.
Since the staff is multitasking, the host/server is generally happy to check in on me and keep my glass filled, but leave me plenty of time to enjoy my meal in blissful solitude. The check lands on the table, but no hurry is hinted to move along and clear the table. He’s just being efficient with his steps. After lingering over my sake and science fiction, I took the check to the front counter. When the host saw that I was paying in cash, he handed the transaction over to one of the boys, a serious fellow of 10 or 11. The lad carefully punched the numbers into the register, accepted the cash, and precisely counted out my change. Once again, delightful.
I made my way home, full of sake and ramen and mushroom buns, and pondered my writer’s block. Somehow, it seems that these victuals provide a cure to the bane of wordsmiths. I suspect that they also offer a remedy for the weariness of the average Wednesday night. Best to run that experiment several times.