Legendary Bar Burgers at The Cherry Cricket in Denver

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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

The Cherry Cricket

2641 East 2nd Avenue, Denver, CO 80206 (map); 303-322-7666; cherrycricket.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Denver institution serves up solidly banging bar burgers
Want Fries with That? The regular fries are as great as the steak fries are awful
Price: Little Cricket Burger, $5.25; Cricket Burger, $6.95, toppings, $0.50-$4.75

Man, I hate relying on Adam Richman.

I'll admit I absolutely devoured the first season of Man v. Food, but for me, the guilty-pleasure series jumped the shark in a hurry, and then flamed out fast. Still, when I find myself traveling to a new city and looking for grub recommendations, I can usually count on the MvF archives to point me in the direction of a local spot that's well worth checking out.

Such was the case when I planned a recent weekend in Denver. AHT coverage of the Mile High City was surprisingly sparse, leaving me to scour other sources. From what I found, most burgercentric discussions in D-Town include at the very least an honorable mention of The Cherry Cricket. Richman, in fact, called his Cricket Burger one of the best he's ever had. I'm not ready to go quite that far (mine had some minor issues), but after a fun-filled Friday night there with Kat at the back bar, I can safely say that if I lived in Denver, I'd be a regular.

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The Cricket is, to be sure, a homegrown Denver institution. Dating back to 1945, the bar was actually the living room of the original owner's house, serving the garbage truck drivers who worked the city trash dump just steps away. That landfill is now the site of one of the city's poshest malls, the Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

But don't let the sometimes-pretentious glitz of five-star stores like Burberry, Coach, H&M, and Louis Vuitton fool you; Duffy's Cherry Cricket (Bernard Duffy put up the famous neon sign when he owned the place; it's still there, though his name has been dropped from most of the modern literature) remains a true-blue neighborhood joint that caters to a melting pot kind of clientele. It now takes up an entire city block, with cheap signage hanging in the annexed next-door spaces still touting alterations from a bygone era.

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Today, the menu encourages alterations of a much different (and tastier) sort. The Cherry Cricket is strictly a build-your-own burger place, with over 30 cheeses, toppings, and sauces—and exactly zero pre-designed kitchen creations to choose from. You'll find plenty of the usual suspects here, but also oddball options like cucumber slices, corned beef, and...grape jelly.

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Adam Richman used the waitstaff and a dartboard to create his Cricket Burger, but the dartboard was apparently just a prop rigged up for the shoot and doesn't actually exist. Left to my own devices once again. My brother-in-law went wacky right from the jump. He's from Indianapolis, and has fallen hard for a peanut-butter-and-jalapeño-topped monster called The Shewman Special from Scotty's Brewhouse. He now attempted to re-create his own Shewman 1,100 miles to the west by loading up a quarter-pound patty with peanut butter, fresh jalapeños, bacon, and smoked cheddar.

It works in Indy, and it worked in Denver, although the dicing of the jalapeños at the Cricket tends to tame the heat more so than if the peppers had been sliced. PB can be overwhelming on a burger (I'm actually a fan, and Kat guesstimated that "1 out of 5" customers order it), but the beef at the Cricket came through through loud and clear.

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The kitchen uses 80/20 Certified Angus shoulder chuck, ground and delivered fresh (never frozen) by local heavyweight Lombardi Brothers Meats. The patties (available as quarter- or half-pounders) hit a real grill and are cooked over an open flame within sight of the seats at the back bar. The result is a sexy set of grate marks, a slight bit of char, and supremely juicy meat—the kind that drips down your chin with every luscious bite.

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That's the rosy pink interior of my eight-ounce Cricket Burger and a testament to the grillman's timing skills, effortlessly nailing my medium-rare to a T. I also exercised some creative control, opting for white cheddar, mushrooms, avocado slices, and a fried egg, along with the standard lettuce and tomato. The blackened seasoning I requested was an M.I.A. waste of 50 cents, completely lost in the shuffle, but this was otherwise a fine bar burger worthy of being called the city's best.

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If the burgers I tried had a legitimate shortcoming, it was the bun—but perhaps a shortcoming with an asterisk. The Cherry Cricket uses Kaisers, fresh and delivered daily from BluePoint Bakery. I found that mine fell apart rather easily, and that's always a big fat strike on any burger I review. Messy and sloppy is fine, especially for a bar burger, but disintegrating is never fun.

Interestingly, my bro did not have the same issue. His burger required just as much manhandling as mine did, what with the super-slick peanut butter and all, but his bun stayed pretty much intact throughout. It all came down to proper proportion, I decided. I had snickered when he ordered the four-ounce Little Cricket (and hooted loudly when it was presented to him with a derisive, "Who ordered the little one?"), but damn if the smaller burg wasn't a more enjoyable cohesive package than my larger one. For the first time in my AHT career, I think I'd recommend the smaller burger over the larger one, although halving the beef may cause you to consider your toppings more carefully to not go too far off the rails.

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Sides don't come with the burgers at the Cricket, so order them separately. But choose wisely and temper your expectations. Fries come in standard, sweet potato, and steak variety. While I loved the regular fries, which were very crisp and wonderfully seasoned, I actively avoided the steak fries, which proved to be bland and a little soggy and simply not good.

Word has it that the onion rings are exceptional, but after some deep-fried starter snacks, loaded-up burgers, a gargantuan order of fries, and sample tastings of just about any of the 20-plus beers that looked even remotely interesting (another benefit of sitting at the back bar), our party was beyond ready to tap out.

Adam Richman, well-heeled shoppers with their Orvis bags, blue-collar types, out of town burger reviewers looking for the best that city has to offer, even the occasional Denver Bronco fresh off the football field...you'll find them all at the Cricket. It's loud, raucous, perhaps a little chaotic. (Reminded me a lot of my city's beloved Vortex.) But that's all part of what makes the place totally work. Are there some flaws with the food? Sure; it's bar food. But by and large, it's really good bar food. I had time for just one burger in Denver. I'm glad I found The Cherry Cricket for it. So thanks, Adam.

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.

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