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Hog Heaven

Out of a storied past, a rollicking Navajo Hogan re-emerges



It's the sort of place where you drink your beer from the bottle. The knife and fork come wrapped in a thin paper napkin and are put on your table shortly before the food arrives. The water glasses are that all-but- shatterproof plastic they should make the Space Shuttle out of. But wafting through the domed log ceiling are the ghosts of the roadhouse past when the Hogan sat at the northern edge of town; when Nevada Avenue, the main route to Denver, was a gravel road; and when architectural gimmickry and neon caught the eyes of passersby.

It was 1935. Caesar Gheno, an enterprising young man, and his future father-in-law figured a roadhouse where people could dance to live music, eat and drink would be the right sort of family business. They fancied the design of a hogan, and transformed a traditional Navajo dwelling into a roadside attraction. The polygonal single room was roofed with corbels of pine wherein the log ends rest on the midpoints of the log tier below, creating the circular swirl of wood that seems suspended above you. Five years later, Gheno added a second circular room, joined by an entranceway to the first. Standing atop the building is a massive neon sign, a 17-foot-tall Indian head.

A fire in 1981 closed the business down; it re-opened in 1989 under the first in a series of new owners. The Hogan's present state is closest to its original appearance; its use as a venue for live blues is evocative of those 1930s dance nights, with a distinctly modern slant. Owners Mark and Amanda Burr took over the Hogan last June and have create a biker friendly establishment. The Blue Knights, an organization of hog-loving policemen, meet there regularly, as do the Sons of Silence.

History tells us nothing of the food served in the Hogan's early years, though the menu today is less upscale than it was in the early '90s. Amanda's Fonda (also owned by the Burrs) provides some of the food, but the menu offers as many burgers, salads and sandwiches as it does enchiladas and burritos, all punningly described on the menu.

How could you not warm up to a menu that calls the appetizers "Headlights," the soups "Oil Changes," the desserts "Tail Lights," and the side dishes "SideCars"? Kids' choices fall under the Trike Menu. Many of the sandwiches are named for people or biker landmarks, like the Sturgis Burger and the Laughlin BLT. The Sturgis Burger is, incidentally, just a Burnout Burger with cheese.

Underneath the wit is standard bar fare, well done, filling and affordable -- nothing on the menu costs more than $8.95. But you come to the Hogan for the music -- live blues Thursday through Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons -- and find the food's a nice bonus.

You'll find both the commonplace and the unusual among the Starters. Breaded and fried Jalapeos, onion rings, cheese sticks, french fries: the usual suspects. We thought the Classic Wings were among the best we've ever tasted, with mopping-your-brow spiciness and a cooling ranch dressing. The Ape Hangers appetizer is a meal in itself: chicken strips and fries, coleslaw and your choice of honey mustard or ranch dipping sauce. My favorite was the Stuffed Saddlebags, little empanadas filled with chicken, corn and cheese.

It's hard to pass up Amanda's Fonda Mexican food and we didn't. We tried everything from the "Nacho-Yo-Head in a Helmet" to the Road King burrito, and found it all to be tasty and filling. The nachos came on a plate the size of a hubcap. The enchiladas are packed with moist, tasty beef or chunks of chicken. They could have used a bit more cheese but at least they weren't overly sauced, drowning on the plate as many restaurants present enchiladas. The football-sized burritos were stuffed with beans, cheese and chicken, beef or pork, or all three as in the case of the Road King.

Vegetarians can choose cheese quesadillas, a bean and cheese burrito (the Thunder Run), or the Daytona Veggie, filled with potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, olives and cheese. There are a few salads of which the Springer Salad is the heartiest -- garbanzo and kidney beans, sprouts and cheese jazzing up the greens and veggies.

If a sandwich is more to your taste, there are two I would recommend. Fat Bob's Turkey Sandwich takes two hands to hold. Turkey, lettuce, tomato, sprouts and cucumbers on wheat -- toasted if you like. The Fat Boy is my favorite: hot Italian sausage with sauted peppers and onions served on a French roll. A sausage hero, a cold beer, motorcycles outside, blues in the foreground, and a pool table in back -- my mother would be horrified. My father would be in heaven.

With the upcoming anniversary of their purchasing the Hogan, the Burrs have scheduled a blowout Pig Roast for June 29th. Ten bucks will buy you all you can eat. There will be bands and drawings, and a good time for all. And you don't need a Harley to get in.

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