Marczyk Fine Foods (Marczyk's II)
5100 East Colfax Avenue, Denver CO 80220 (map) and one other location; 303-243-3355; marczykfinefoods.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: It's not going to blow your mind, but every neighborhood should be lucky enough to have a place like this
Want Fries With That? No fries available, but an exceptional selection of drinks, sides and desserts
Price: $7 includes cheese; sides are extra
Notes: Burgers only available on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and until the weather gets too cold
When Marczyk's Fine Foods—Denver's leading gourmet grocery shop—opened a second location late last summer, residents had cause to be excited. After all, Marczyk's established itself years ago as one of the best places in the city to get high-end groceries and quality prepared foods. But in addition to getting a great store, the people of Mayfair, Hale, and Park Hill also got their own version of a Marczyk's tradition: burger night on Fridays. Starting last weekend and continuing until the weather gets too cold or daylight hours too short, every Friday night from 5 to 7:30, part of the parking lot transform into an elevated backyard cookout.
Customers begin the experience by heading inside Marczyk's to take advantage of a more impressive collection of drinks, sides, and desserts than you're likely to find at any traditional burger restaurant, so much so that it's easy to overlook the complete lack of fries. When checking out, customers then tell the cashier how many burgers they'd like, pay the bill, and then take their receipt outside to join the fun. There, the particularly enthusiastic and energetic maestro of the evening contributes mightily to giving the night the feel of a neighborhood block party. After people place their orders with him regarding doneness and whether cheese is desired, they look for an open table—or, more likely, space at an already occupied table—and wait for their names to be called.
Keeping with the elevated backyard theme, Marczyk's forgoes fancy beef blends and makes a patty of good old fashioned ground chuck from Niman Ranch. The hand-formed patties weigh in at about six ounces (my estimate; I was told they're not weighed) and, as is proper, they are salted while sitting on the grill. The cheese, a relatively nondescript piece of white cheddar, was fine, but was consistently placed atop the patties far too late to melt. The bun, a brioche from Denver's City Bakery, the unchallenged king of the local bread scene, is a model of the soft buttery roll.
Once customers retrieve their burgers, it's up to them to add on toppings from a selection that, for the most part, are the type you'd expect to find at a neighbor's backyard: lettuce, tomato, onions, ketchup, and brown mustard. But the final choice, the housemade bacon aioli, serves as another reminder that this is no ordinary cookout. Marczyk's sells containers of this stuff and if you live in Denver, there's no reason for you to not pick some up on a regular basis. It's difficult to imagine a sandwich the bacon aioli would not improve.
Because temperature changes on a charcoal grill and some areas are inevitably hotter than others, I've learned to lower my expectations about my requested temperature being met when that method of cooking is employed. But there was no need for any forgiveness on my part at Marczyk's because the grillman on duty was the master of his domain. The rare burger had a red and warm interior surrounded by a respectable crust. The medium burger, cooked to the point of leaving just a shade of pink on the inside but with a more substantial crust, was impressively juicy for beef that spent that much time on the grill.
Marczyk's and Fairfax Wine & Spirits (the wine shop that sits inside the grocery store) offer as impressive an array of prepared foods, chips, drinks, and desserts as you'll find at any burger stand. You can get jam or a selection of fine cheese along with some breads straight from Marczyk's in-house bakery, choose from a variety of fresh, pickled or dried fruits and vegetables, or snack on nuts and candy. I opted to keep things pretty simple with a bag of Zapp's chips, a blood orange San Pellegrino to drink, and a side of the housemade cole slaw.
With dessert, I got a little more into the Marcyzk's spirit with a slice of pie from the bakery. While I was tempted to choose a pie with a traditional crust just because I love the idea that Marczyk's renders their own leaf lard from Niman meat in their dough (along with Plugra butter), I went with the graham cracker-crusted key lime pie because it's still a bit early for summer fruits. And I was glad I did; as is the case with any good key lime pie, the rich tart lime layer was balanced by a creamy top (whipped cream and not meringue in this case). But what elevated this one a bit was the butter-loaded graham cracker crust.
Although the burger at Marczyk's is certainly delicious, and at $7 is a great deal, it's not a life-changing plate of food. But when you add Marczyk's fantastic selection of non-burger items and the community-building nature of a weekly burger night in the middle of the parking lot, you get the kind of thing that any neighborhood in any city in America would be lucky to have.