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ARCHIVED  September 1, 1997

Ambiance complements Depot’s food, experience

BRIGHTON – Old railroad depots have always held a fascination for me. But I hate to see them abandoned, boarded up and decaying, and don’t much like them standing unused and irrelevant in historic-preservation parks. Depots should be open and in use, right by the tracks, if not by railroad travelers, then at least by people who appreciate them. That is one reason that I like Brighton Depot Steakhouse. The building itself, erected in 1907 as the third in a line going back to 1882, is well-preserved, and it is more than just a shell, for the interior has the high ceilings and hardwood floors of the original. There are add-ons, a modest greenhouse extension on the south side to expand the seating area and a boxcar attached to the back for the kitchen, but they do not alter the basic character of the building. Railroad decor naturally predominates in the three main-floor dining rooms and the downstairs lounge. The large Union Pacific route map, the models of historic engines, the railroad lanterns contribute to a distinctive ambiance. But Robert Saiz, the owner, is not running a theme restaurant for railroad buffs or curiosity seekers. In fact, when he bought the depot in 1990, he stored some of the clutter of memorabilia so as not to overwhelm his customers. Though he recognizes the value of atmosphere, Saiz believes that service and food are far more important. He is putting his beliefs into practice, for the service is exceptional and the food good and varied. During my two lunch visits, I was served by the same friendly, attentive, efficient waitress, and by a busboy who has to be the fastest and snappiest in the restaurant business. In crowded conditions, the staff keeps its cool, a sign of training and experience. The Brighton Depot Steakhouse menu can best be described as “American Eclectic.” Shrimp and prime rib, naturally, but Mexican, Italian and Greek food, too? For lunch, my wife and I tried Greek chicken and fish and chips. The chicken turned out to be a real find. The breast filet, slathered with Greek spices and topped with chunks of feta cheese, was perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful. A good rice pilaf, a fine relish of cucumber in yogurt, slices of purple onion, and warm triangles of pita bread (which made it easier for me to poach small chunks of chicken from my wife’s plate) added up to a wonderful dish. The fish, hot deep-fried cod with crunchy french fries, came with a predictable tartar sauce, but also with an unexpected half cob of corn – perfectly cooked, with kernels that fought back rather than turned to mush under my teeth. For dessert, we shared the cherry cobbler, attracted by its description as homemade, but we found the filling generic and the biscuit crust doughy. For a second solitary lunch, on the owner’s recommendation, I tried the Santa Fe burger. The beef patty, topped with a slice of American cheese, was served inside a wheat tortilla smothered in green chili. It was only moderately hot, unlike the incendiary jalapeo burgers I’ve occasionally tried elsewhere, but very satisfying. The Santa Fe burger and the bluecorn enchiladas are a clue to Robert Saiz’s origins. He learned the restaurant business from his father, who has run the Plaza cafe on the Santa Fe Plaza since its opening in 1947, and has always served everything from tacos to oxtail stew. Robert worked with his father for some time, but decided to branch out on his own, came to Colorado, and bought the depot seven years ago. Robert Saiz believes that too many small-restaurant owners lose sight of the hard fact that a restaurant is first of all a business. You can be a fine cook with a collection of dynamite recipes you want to try out on your customers, but if you don’t train and control your staff and keep your eyes on the profit margin, you’ll fail. And the future of the small local restaurant, in an age of aggressively expanding chains, is in jeopardy unless owners are constantly responding to new competitive challenges. One key to success is perseverance. On his first evening as owner of the Brighton Depot Steakhouse, Saiz had no guests at all. Since then, however, business has picked up considerably, and not only among locals like the workers at the Adams County courthouse. Partly because of radio reviews and guide listings, Brighton Depot Steakhouse is now a “destination restaurant” for people from Denver. Another key is continuity. The dining-room manager, Tammy Gregg, and the kitchen managers, Ron Denis and Chris Maes, have been with Saiz since the beginning. Moreover, thanks to careful training and good wages, Saiz has avoided the disruptive turnover among kitchen workers and wait staff that has hurt other restaurants, and continuity has translated into consistency in food and service. Because he trusts his managers and staff, Saiz now works a 40-hour week, instead of bearing a crushing 60- to 80-hour burden that can put such a strain on an owner’s family life. Flexibility is also important. The restaurant introduces new dishes several times a year, and Saiz recently instituted a cut-price “early-bird” dinner menu for the slower hours of 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. He thinks of the Depot as a “work in progress.” Brighton Depot Steakhouse is located at 269 E. Bridge St. in Brighton, across the railroad tracks and on the left just beyond the first stoplight after the Brighton exit from U.S. Highway 85. The hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday). The phone number is (303) 659-7787.

BRIGHTON – Old railroad depots have always held a fascination for me. But I hate to see them abandoned, boarded up and decaying, and don’t much like them standing unused and irrelevant in historic-preservation parks. Depots should be open and in use, right by the tracks, if not by railroad travelers, then at least by people who appreciate them. That is one reason that I like Brighton Depot Steakhouse. The building itself, erected in 1907 as the third in a line going back to 1882, is well-preserved, and it is more than just a shell, for the interior has the…

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