12 years ago, almost to the day, my husband and I made our first ever home purchase. We bought a one bedroom condo off Colorado Blvd and 11th Ave in Congress Park, a neighborhood just 10 minutes east of downtown Denver, CO. We couldn’t have been more excited about owning our own place, and Levi, at the time, was walking distance from work. A few milestones happened during our 6 years of living there: 2 college degrees, the birth of our first child, Levi making his way up the Plant Ops ladder. And handfuls of memories that we will keep with us always. Memories like biking to work and school downtown, walking to restaurants on date night, renting movies on Friday nights at the Corner Spotlight, which is now home to Trader Joe’s. Or riding the #10 bus home from whatever we were doing downtown.
Or walking our dog through the neighborhood, dreaming of someday owning a Denver bungalow. Walking to Annie’s Cafe on 8th and Colorado Blvd., to have breakfast for dinner, before it moved to its location on Colfax Ave.
Sitting at Marco’s Pizza, still in awe that we lived down there! And of course, eating the best margarita pizza we’ve ever had in our lives. 😋 And who can forget the irresistible Pad Thai from Swing Thai? I still can’t find Pad Thai that is as good as theirs. 😩😩 Well, we still own that condo…for about 6 more days. We have been renting it out for the past 6 years, losing money on it every month. But I haven’t been able to let go of it, because I feared those memories would disappear and that that part of my life would officially be over. The “before kids” life, the time when life seemed a little simpler, even though we definitely had our struggles. I’m a very emotional and sentimental person, and I hang on tight to feelings.
Cities like Denver are notorious for having many restaurant gems tucked away in the neighborhoods. Washington Park (Wash Park) is a great example, as well as Capital Hill, The Highlands, and of course, Congress Park, to name a few. So, for date night, the hubby and I decided to have one last night out in our old neighborhood, and try to hold onto those feelings just a little bit longer. I wanted to try the places that we always walked or drove by, and talked about, but never actually went to. There are 2 neighborhood area shops that are located along the street of 12th Ave in Congress Park. The first cluster is located just a few blocks west of Colorado Blvd., where shops occupy all four corners of the intersection at 12th and Madison. There used to be an ice cream shop called The Daily Scoop, that was famous for the “12th Avenue Twister”, their version of a Dairy Queen blizzard, but is now occupied by another ice cream shop called Sweet Cooie’s Ice Cream Shop.
There is also a great local coffee shop called Under the Umbrella Cafe and Bakery, and they have a really good chai latte; a Dominoes Pizza and a gardening shop, called Wildflowers.
And lastly, a children’s music school sits right in between Pudge Brother’s pizza and Sienna Wine Bar. A lot sure has changed since we have lived down there.
The second cluster of shops in the neighborhood, where we chose to go, is a little east of Josephine on 12th. This cluster hasn’t changed much. It is still home to Peter’s Chinese food (really, really good Chinese food😊), a laundry mat, 12th Avenue Market and an Ace Hardware. I always thought that location was odd to have an Ace Harware, but it’s been in business for a long time!
And of course, Chef Zorba’s, rated number one for Greek food in Denver. Their baklava is amazing! We always chuckled about how run down it looked from the outside, but it was always packed with people for lunch and dinner.
At the end of the row of shops and restaurants, is a restaurant space that changed a couple of times during our time in Congress Park. The restaurant that is currently in that space, seems to be doing pretty well. Shells and Sauce has become a very popular Italian spot in the neighborhood. With a spectacular roof top view, I couldn’t wait to share a meal with my man at this cozy, romantic neighborhood venue.
As you walk in to the restaurant you notice their semi-open kitchen right away, tucked behind their comfy first floor dining room and the bar to the right. The hostess greets you within seconds and everyone is super friendly. I was in heaven immediately. How could I not be? Eating in a place serving my favorite food (spaghetti and salad) with my favorite person in the world, in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the world. It felt like the perfect night already, and we hadn’t even sat down yet!
The hostess sat us upstairs, in their enclosed roof top seating. The view over looking the neighborhood was amazing, and added a perfect back drop to our night.
Now…on to the food. This is a food blog after all 😝🤗
We started with salads. Aside from their traditional Italian Caesar salad (which my hubby got) and a tossed mixed green salad, there were a few hidden gems on the menu, one of which was their porteblla mushroom salad. It was so tasty! Peppery arugula lay a top grilled portobello mushrooms, with baby tomatoes, onions and crispy capers all combined for a perfect, crunchy, zesty bite! And I can’t forget to mention the tangy, lemon vinaigrette that gently coated the salad. Yum yum 👅
Accompanied by their herb bread dipped in a balsamic herb reduction, and my glass of Malbec, it was a perfect start to our meal.
Can I just say that I looooovvvvveeee balsamic vinegar?? Especially with herbs and bread!! Teehee 😋😋
Italian restaurants can be a little tough to find a good plant based meal. Yes, spaghetti can be vegan but it’s also not very nutritious on its own. Throw veggies into the sauce, make it with a plant based noodle like edamame or brown rice, you have just enhanced the nutrition of your spaghetti. But, more traditional Italian restaurants don’t carry edamame or brown rice noodles. So what is a plant based friendly alternative? Well, this gal went for the butternut squash, sweet potato and goat cheese stuffed shells, with a pesto sauce. Goat cheese? Goat cheese is vegan? Ummmm well, no. But if you want to know why I eat goat cheese once in a while, read this. No, goat cheese is not vegan, but it has more vitamins in it than cow milk and is considered a clean food to eat. Also, most goat farms are humane and treat the goats kindly. Lastly, some cultures would use goat milk as infant formula, because of it’s vitamins and easiness to digest. So yes, I will indulge in goat cheese every now and then. Plus, it’s yum and gives me my cheese fix!
The stuffed shells were very creamy, and sweet because of the sweet potato. The sweet flavor paired really well with the pesto sauce. And the whole bite was finished with the after taste of tangy goat cheese. Bam!
The conversation between my husband and I that night was the best it’s been in a long time. Me sipping my wine, him his whiskey, we talked about where we’ve been, where we are now in our busy life. And of course, where we hope to be going. Actually having the time to sit and talk, uninterrupted, was a gift to us that night, as I am sure it is to most parents. Most days, we talk while taking care of 3 crazy kids, barely finishing a sentence before our attention is averted. We talked for a while that night, and shared an amazing dessert. Flourless chocolate cake is one of my faves. They are typically made with dark chocolate, and are so rich you can only have a few bites before going into a chocolate coma. 😍but the creaminess of a cake made without flour, cannot be beat.
There was an article written in the Westword back in 2009, that takes the readers down memory lane on Colorado Blvd. I related so much to it! The last line was “I will always return to Colorado Blvd”. I really hope I do too.
Until next time….