By Lauren Monitz, Westword
Known primarily as a gaming emporium, lumbersexual hangout and place to pick up bros, what Punch Bowl Social should be known as is your next brunch destination or Sunday cocktail stop. Since chef Jeff Grimm joined in late fall, the focus as been on turning out healthier, tasty, gastropub food — which extends to the revamped brunch menu as much as the all-day bar menu.
Punch Bowl is open for weekend brunch from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., but it’s important to note that the Bloody Mary bar, our Best of Denver winner last year, is a treasure only available on Sundays. Hip, industrial and humongous, the sheer size of PBS can feel overwhelming, but the lights are kept low so you can ease into the day in an oversized booth with plenty of room to sprawl out, along with a parking lot that makes this Baker hot spot a hassle-free place to meet up with friends. In fact, it’s so big you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself, so it’s a great place to come with a big group; you'll actually be able to hear each other, enjoy breakfast with a side of bowling and feel like you’re in your own little world. And of course, there’s plenty of entertainment if you want to keep the morning party going, with less chaos than PBS during prime bro-scouting hours.
The Bloody Mary bar is a thing of beauty when it's up and running (add Saturdays, please!), with a bevy of proteins – shrimp and a beautiful charcuterie platter featuring Tender Belly ham, salami and pepperoni to add sustenance to your drink. Additional toppings from the familiar to the bold — picked veggies and jicama tossed in chile powder — complete your second food group of the day. There are five tomato or tomatillo mixes from the Real Dill and Salty Iguana to choose from, giving you a red or green base to work with, and three house-made spice sets: Chinese five spice, six pepper, and “mouth of the South,” for a truly one-of-a-kind flavor you’ll be hard-pressed to re-create anywhere else.
Disappointed by the discovery that I couldn’t get my fix on a Saturday, I settled for a non-alcoholic bev, with the intent of returning Sunday for my morning buzz. The Almond Joy Milkshake tasted just like the candy bar in liquid form, perfectly chocolaty and coconutty, but with pieces of shaved almonds that looked great as a garnish but ended up just clogging up the straw.
After all the eating out I’ve been doing lately, the Hipster Hash was a welcome addition to my morning routine, like a filling brunch salad topped with soft poached eggs. Using the yolk as dressing, I mixed the kale, foraged mushrooms, goat cheese, onions, and chipotle seasoning to make the perfect bite, managing to feel a little less guilty about my other meal choices this week. Set on a bed of peppery red potatoes, it was a healthy-ish start to the day, packed with flavor and the cutest mini-mushrooms I've ever seen, looking like they’d been plucked right from a local hippie’s garden shed (minus any hallucinatory side effects).
The soft chicken scramble was mild in flavor and texture despite its promise of punch with calabacitas (squash), roasted green chiles and queso. The dish came alive with a few dashes of one of the hot sauces on the table, and by the end my mouth was sufficiently on fire. The dish came sided with two pieces of grilled ciabatta, which I promptly stole to dunk in my yolk.
Since neither of our entrees were especially carb-heavy, we gladly obliged the server who talked us into a round of biscuits, which come free with brunch. So oven-fresh they actually didn't arrive until the end of our meal, but with a flaky crust and perfectly golden brown, they definitely channeled the spirit of classic biscuits like those at the iconic Loveless Café in Nashville, Tennessee. Accompanied by a house-made strawberry ginger jam made with splashes of OJ, lemon juice, and sambal, it had a zesty finish that was well worth the wait — a brunchtime dessert at the end of a tasty meal.
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