As fans of Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" (aka "Triple D") this blog is a chronicle of my family's journey to eat at as many of the places featured on the show as we can.
Friday, March 23, 2012
#5 Tocabe - Denver, Colorado
On Tuesday March 20th, after a long day of meetings at the hotel in Denver, a group of colleagues who work for an Indian tribe in Oregon wanted to go out to Tocabe for dinner www.tocabe.com. They weren’t going because it is a Triple D site, but wanted to go because it is a Native American restaurant. For me, it was Denver Triple D spot #3 in just two days. My colleague Dolores had been there before and knew some of the Tocabe employees from her performance as a stand up comic last year, so she called ahead of time and let them know a group would be coming out. Apparently, as a Native American owned restaurant, they don’t do “reservations”. (Pun intended). Tocabe was about 8 miles west of the Double Tree hotel, which would have been a very expensive taxi ride. Even though it was far beyond the 1 mile “courtesy shuttle” route, somehow the hotel’s transportation coordinator was talked into providing 8 of us round trip shuttle service, for a nominal tip (we each pitched in $5).
Tocabe has a décor that reflects Native American art and style. It is owned by an Osage Tribal member and most of the staff working behind the counter and the kitchen appeared to be Native American youth (there is a large Urban Indian population in Denver).
The service is set up much like Chipotle where you choose from a variety of toppings, but instead of serving Tex-Mex burritos they serve “Indian Tacos”. Indian Tacos are a traditional Native American dish made with a piece of frybread that is smothered with a variety of meat, beans, cheese and other toppings. At this point, I should point out that I am a member of the Lumbee Tribe, and have lived and worked in “Indian Country” for years and so has Dolores (the ring leader of the Oregon group who works for a tribe in Oregon), who is a member of the Seneca Tribe. At one time I was her boss. The place was not very crowded and I got in line behind the other people in our group. Dolores and the rest of the Oregon gang, including Eleanor, Celeste, Joe and his long-lost Cousin John from Montana, and also my boss Gary and colleague Maria all ordered a different type of Indian Taco. Once we sat down they seemed to devour them with enthusiasm and we were later joined by a former colleague and Navajo tribal member, Sasha.
Because I have had many Indian Tacos at pow wows and other Native American events over the years, and have made it at home for my kids on occasion I was more focused on ordering something that I had never had before. I really came there with one thing in mind - to eat what Guy had. I know that the chicken Indian Taco was on his menu, but I had my taste buds were craving Bison Ribs with blueberry BBQ sauce. I placed my order, and they told me they’d bring it out to the table.
Before I sat down I got a nice locally brewed Oatmeal Stout on tap. The ribs came out quickly and were served on a piece of frybread (which is probably some of the best frybread I have ever had) and a side of green chili stew. The green chili was the bomb! It had deep flavor of the green chili and pork and had a nice kick. I ate about half of the stew in what you might call “European” style (with my spoon) and the rest of it what you might call “Native” style by scooping it with pieces of frybread. Yum, yum! The bison ribs? Well, they had nice seasoning, a nice little bit of char (aka “bark”) on it and were very tender and flavorful. The blueberry (or was it chokecherry?) BBQ sauce was killer! It was sweet from the berries, but had a nice little chili induced kick to it. I would have ordered seconds of just those ribs, if I could have.
Tocabe was a great experience and I would highly recommend it to any Triple D tourists, or anyone wanting a unique dining experience. The food was fresh, the servers were very friendly and attentive. They came out to the table to clear our plates and ask us if everything was okay. As for the group of eight, we all had a blast and it was just like a Native family gathering with lots of stories and laughter. We finished the meal off with some frybread that my boss Gary bought for the table to share for desert. He got 2 pieces that were covered with cinnamon and powdered sugar. We all tore pieces off and squirted honey on it before eating it. It was very tasty. There’s probably no other place you can get authentic Native American food like this without getting it at an Indian Taco booth at a pow wow, or at someone’s home.