Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gems in Our Backyards

By Mark W. Danielson

Last week we decided to visit the Denver Highlands historic district to dine at a restaurant Lyne had heard about. Although this spot is only twenty minutes from our house, it’s off the beaten path, so we’ve only visited it once before. Unfortunately, on that visit, the restaurant we had planned to dine at was closed. Calling for a reservation assured us that wouldn’t happen this time around.

By joining two Victorian homes, owner Patricia “Pat” Perry created a masterpiece with the Highlands Garden CafĂ©. Our friends and I were all pleasantly surprised by what we saw. We were initially seated in the garden, but the ominous weather forcing us inside turned out to be a blessing. Our cozy dining room was surrounded with brilliant paintings, stained glass, and original warped glass. Our meals matched this beautiful decor and were equally tasty.

Since we were the last guests to dine, we were invited to view the rest of the restaurant. The outside gives little impression as to how large this place is, and exploring it is like walking through an art gallery. But what made this outing special was meeting Pat’s mother, Helen Yeager. (See photo below.) At 89 years young, among other duties, Helen assists Pat with the restaurant’s many gardens. She gladly became our personal guide where we enjoyed listening to her reminiscing over the art work. That came easy for her, as most of the watercolor paintings were scenes of her childhood painted by her mother. Helen’s eyes lit up as she spoke of the lake in one painting. Other scenes sparked even more memories. She then drew our attention to a photo taken in the late 1800s of one of their two Victorians. Someone dropped it off one day, figuring this photo was more suitable in Pat’s restaurant than in a storage box. It was great seeing that little had changed.

Our tour revealed numerous garden dining areas, and several nooks that were perfectly suited for a single table. People who frequent this restaurant know these tables are seated on a first come basis, but there are always exceptions. Helen said one man begged them for a reservation at a particular table because this is where he asked his wife to marry him. The restaurant happily accommodated his request.

Upstairs, a private room awaits an engagement party. Behind it sits a large dining area, framed by another beautiful outdoor patio. Everything here is elegant, and yet we would never have known of it had it not been for Helen’s special excursion. We thank you, Helen.

After lunch, the clearing weather permitted us to explore the historic district. It may only comprise a few blocks, but it is full of surprises such as Nostalgic Homes Real Estate, appropriately located in a Victorian home, and a boutique called Starlet where Lyne found a great hat. We will definitely return.

Our experience at the Garden Cafe leads me to believe that every city has its charms; all we need to do is find them. In spite of having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have found that I’ve explored more of San Francisco since moving away. Since I don’t plan on making that mistake again, I think I'll take the opportunity to explore what’s nearby before I move again. Who knows? We might just find another gem.


Jean Henry Mead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean Henry Mead said...

A lovely restaurant where I'd love to have lunch the next time we're in Denver, Mark. (Don't know what caused the comment deleted post--must have been a glitch).

Chester Campbell said...

Very interesting, Mark. The first restaurant I ever visited in a converted house was in Denver back in 1951, when I was in Intelligence School at Lowry AFB. Can't remember except it had something to do with Apple in the name. These places can be quite intriguing.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I'm a huge proponent for preserving our past, and it's rare when people like Pat do such a fine job of restoring buildings when turning them into businesses. Like Denver and numerous other cities, Indianapolis has done an excellent job of resurrecting their downtown, and blending new construction with the old. Of course, San Francisco is a city with a charm all its own. But what makes historical restaurants such as the Highlands Garden Cafe unique is their ability to take us back through time while we dine. Of course, Helen's personal contribution to our visit made it even more memorable.

Jaden Terrell said...

What a beautiful restaurant. I love the stained glass.

By the way, Mark, I think I need a tutorial on inserting pictures. (And your photography is stunning.)

Mark W. Danielson said...

The stained glass was all done locally, Beth. In one case, the restaurant owner found one of her windows was cracked. The artist was able to remove the glass, reuse it along with new stained glass, and reinstal that same afternoon. Now THAT's customer service!