To start with the obvious, Cleats East is the second iteration of the Rockrimmon staple taken over in recent years by Paul and Malorie Korney. The original was upgraded, and now its sibling carries forth the sports tradition to Powers Boulevard.
The new Cleats has over 30 televisions, including two technologically rich, 140-inch high-definition projector screens that don't look washed out in the light. These pump out the soccer games and UFC fights, and serve customers well at Broncos "tailgate parties."
"We really put a lot of money into our audio/visual," says Paul. But the focus is larger than that: "People come in with a certain expectation [about the food], being a sports bar and everything. But we want to kind of blow them away. When they come in, we want to surpass any expectation they had, preconceived, coming into the place. And we kind of do that with a lot of our items being fresh and handmade."
Korney says the already large menu is expanding soon, and will include a switch to their own pizza dough. Cleats already makes its own tomato sauce, as well as its ranch, salsa and queso, among other items.
Find a good list of some 25 bottles and 20 taps ranging from Coors Light to Cutthroat Porter on nitro. The cocktails hold their own as well, with the Bubbling Juniper beautifully combining champagne and lemon juice with Leopold Bros.' perfect gin.
There certainly seems to be a higher level of bar food available, though there's enough generic filler remaining that you don't forget about the genre. The fries are pale and boring, and our homogeneous triangles of battered fish tasted salty and were fried hard, with a dense oiliness pervading.
Other fried seafood fared better, though, including the Bang'n Thai Fried Shrimp, an appetizer immediately familiar to anyone who's ever seen the Texas T-Bone crew pitching their version at local food events. For its rendition, Cleats covers its juicy fried shrimp in a mayonnaise-Sriracha-sweet-chili base. I accidentally doubled up when I ordered the shrimp po-boy, which brought a chewy roll overflowing with the Bang'n shellfish and fried pickles, a fine take on the standard but one that might also bring about a mild case of oily indigestion. Snips of dill floated in the mellow cucumber side salad.
"With our pizzas, we roll those out by hand and do really good, top-of-the-line ingredients," Korney says. "And with our burgers, we sourced really good burgers from Pat LaFrieda out of New Jersey." We sampled the latter on the Brew Burger, a tender and delicious affair of thick and gooey sharp cheddar, onions caramelized in Guinness and brown mustard.
Our pizzas came off the specialty menu, ranging from eight inches for $9 to 12 inches for $14. Each sported a decent crust, one that's sure to improve with the coming dough changeover. The Rockrimmon is a clean mix of pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, red onions and Kalamata olives, while the pretty good Colorado Cowboy brings sticky barbecue sauce to black beans and a dry grilled chicken. The highlight had to be the fiery El Diablo, with sausage and ground beef joining jalapeños and a righteous ghost-pepper cheese that zings the unwary.
With the opening of East, now it's not just Ruffrano's Hell's Kitchen where you can bask in fiery pie. And it's not just Rockrimmon where you can try on some Cleats.