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2014 Preview: Denver's Most Anticipated Restaurants

By Ruth Tobias
January 2, 2014
Photo by: Ellen Jaskol

Some of Denver’s biggest guns are firing anew in 2014, with projects that range from the long-overdue return of a beloved gastropub to big-name deli to a multitude of eateries in the ambitious redevelopment at Union Station. They’re all joined by some fresh faces whose bright ideas will soon become reality.

Argyll Whisky Beer

“This is not a paint job,” assures restaurateur Robert Thompson of the renovations that will transform the Uptown space long occupied by Las Margaritas into the much-awaited revival of Argyll more than two years since the closure of the Cherry Creek original. Given 5,000 square feet to play with, the mastermind behind Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar and Punch Bowl Social is “gravitating toward a modern design with a Victorian accent” to highlight the gastropub’s roots across the pond - which will, of course, reveal themselves in the food and drink too, once the doors open in late spring.

For instance, the “substantial” beer selection includes some 20 taps and 35 or so bottles curated by Argyll’s as-yet-unnamed cicerone, who’s also launching a cellaring program. “Our first focus will be England and Ireland,” says Thompson, but European styles “from around the world in various formats” form the general blueprint. Scotch and Irish whiskeys will likewise enjoy pride of place behind the bar, supplemented by reserve Canadian reserves and a “healthy” array of bourbons.

The menu, designed by Le Grand executive chef John Broening, who will open the kitchen and “remain the culinary force," according to Thompson, is built on robust U.K. staples like the house Scotch egg; fish and chips accompanied by cold, minted mushy peas; lamb-and-cheddar shepherd’s pie; and a Sunday-only special of prime-rib roast with Yorkshire pudding. Along with a trio of cranberry kielbasa, lamb merguez and boudin starring on a plate of bangers and colcannon mash with Guinness jus, there’ll be oysters and other “neat little seafood apps,” such as potted shrimp or gin-cured salmon with black rye and traditional garnishes, to help “lighten up the gastropub experience," as well as some Indian dishes on the way, to reflect England’s love of curries and kebabs.

1035 E. 17th Ave.

Atticus

A collaboration between the folks behind Boone’s Tavern and Table 6, operating jointly by the apt name of Table to Tavern, this newcomer will open early in 2014 to combine elements of both establishments while introducing a few of its own. On the one hand, the airy, rustic-meets-industrial space is literally being carved out of the sports-centric DU-area watering hole that is Boone’s; on the other, Table 6 executive chef Carrie Shores is acting as consultant to put a characteristically adventurous spin on the American menu, while its owner-sommelier, Aaron Forman, oversees the wine list.

Envisioned as a community hangout, Atticus will be open for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner (planned hours are Monday-Saturday, 7 AM-11 PM, and Sunday 7 AM-2 PM). Check its Twitter feed for updates.

1125 E. Evans Ave.; 720-459-8273

David Burke Kitchen Aspen

Come February, celeb chef David Burke brings his brand of progressive American cooking to downtown Aspen. Like its SoHo sibling, David Burke Kitchen is conceived as a contemporary farm-to-fork restaurant and craft-cocktail bar - but as such, it will showcase Colorado ingredients under the direction of executive chef Matthew O’Neill, most recently of The Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern

Flanked by a terrace blessed with (what else?) mountain views, the exhibition kitchen will serve lunch and dinner daily as well as Sunday brunch: think elk tartare or roast chicken for two with cauliflower gratin, foraged mushrooms and tamarind jus, followed by cheesecake lollipops.
 
515 Hopkins Ave., Aspen

Guard & Grace

TAG Restaurant Group’s Troy Guard was on a roll in late 2013, launching Los Chingones and Sugarmill within days of each other, but he isn’t stopping there. The next one will be a biggie, in fact: a 9,000-sq.-ft. modern American steakhouse centered on an open kitchen with wood-burning oven as well as a raw bar and 4,000-bottle cellar. Scheduled to open in February 2014, the Downtown space will boast its share of fireside-lounge and patio seating to boot.

1801 California St.

The Kitchen [Next Door]

In Boulder, The Kitchen [Next Door] is, appropriately enough, actually adjacent to The Kitchen on the Pearl Street Mall. But next year, the sustainably minded, gastropubby horse will flee the stable, as founders Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson (pictured top), along with partner Jen Lewin, bring not one but two branches to Denver.

The first, in Glendale’s City Set development, should open for lunch and dinner in February, complete with a rooftop patio; the second will pull into Union Station over the summer. Both are channeling the original from soup to nuts (or, perhaps, kale chips to beet burgers), so expect scads of local craft beer, daily community hours and events that support the owners’ nonprofit organization, which plants namesake Learning Gardens in schools.

Maria Empanada

It’s perhaps less glitzy than its listmates. But we’d be remiss not to mention the adorable bakery and cafe that Buenos Aires native Lorena Cantarovici is moving from Lakewood to the former Buffalo Doughboy space on the edge of Platt Park in February. "My inspiration will be to transport you when you come through the door to Argentina," she says.

The look of the larger venue, open daily from morning through early evening, will emulate that of a rural estancia, the Spanish word for “estate." The repertoire, meanwhile, will expand on that of the original, starting with her empanadas, stuffed with the likes of carne cortada al cuchillo (meat, in this case steak, "cut with a knife”), chipotle-marinated chicken and eggplant parmesan. There will be breakfast varieties and vegan options as well, supplemented by Cantarovici’s equally beautiful, two-inch-tall savory tartas (“people think of them as quiche,” but the pastry is more delicate); potato-based tortillas españolas; and sandwiches served on croissant-like medialunas, plus a few soups, salads and teatime sweets. Of course, it will all be washed down with coffee and mate. And whatever she’s serving won’t change the fact that “everything has one ingredient: that is my love, my passion.”

1298 S. Broadway

Mercantile Dining & Provision

Note: 5280 has just unveiled the name of this arrival, which was under wraps until today. 

Growth is the name of the game for most successful restaurateurs, yet Alex Seidel of Fruition Restaurant - long among Zagat Denver’s top-rated properties - is one to play on his own terms. As a farmer and cheesemaker as well as a chef, he’s “been wanting to do a market for the past few years,” he says. Only now that he’s secured a 5,000-square-foot venue at the north end of the Union Station build-out, however, is his vision for a combination eatery and retail shop coming to, well, fruition for next summer. “We’re working closely with the Historical Society of Washington D.C., which set into motion the whole idea of preservation” at its core, he explains.

On one side, a “very European-style market” will sell cheeses, cured meats, pastries, sandwiches and “lots of things in jars. We’re not just going to be canning pickled beets and raspberry jam; there will also breakfast in a jar, like steel-cut oats with almond paste and fruit. Maybe some lunch specials like braised short ribs in a jar. Duck confit, foie gras, sturgeon rillettes: little mini-meals for when you’re on the go. Panna cotta and bread pudding for dessert - we’ve been working on all kinds of things.”

“Smack dab” at the center of the space, a counter will seat market patrons by day; by night, of course, it becomes a full bar serving the dining room on the other side, whose menu will - while differing in layout - “be similar in style” to that of his flagship. “Downtown, we have steakhouses covered, we have Asian and Mediterranean covered. But I don’t think there’s anything really like Fruition in the area, so we’ll fill a niche. It might be on a grander scale; the larger space will allow us to do some things we can’t do at Fruition, like whole fish.” It will also, Seidel imagines, allow them to offer the components of those dishes for take-home sales: “People have always asked me, ‘Where do you get that barramundi, where do you get the duck fat?’ There won’t necessarily be a butcher’s case, but if you really enjoyed the scallops, we want to send you home with them, so you can have that restaurant experience in your own kitchen.”

“We,” by the way, includes longtime chef de cuisine Matthew Vawter (who’s “certainly earned his owner’s share” in the spin-off), as well as nationally acclaimed sommelier and now partner Stephanie Caraway, who’s not only overseeing the beverage program, but also helping design the restaurant. Recognizing that “people are really into cooking and where food comes from,” Seidel says they plan to “open up every facet of the operation to view”: the kitchen, the service areas, the “wine library.” The cocktail program’s still developing, but whoever they hire to manage the bar, he insists that “we want the experience to set the tone, not the personality.”

Milk & Honey

Details remain scarce for the successor to Lime, which vacated its subterranean Larimer Square locale well over a year ago. But here’s what we do know: chef-owner Michael Shiell, who ran tony Cherry Creek go-to Michael’s many moons ago, is in charge. The modern, upscale design will set the mood for an American menu sprinkled with French and Asian influences, while the full bar will emphasize Old and New World wines. And it’s going to open sometime in 2014. Beyond that, you’ll get the story when we do. 

1414 Larimer St.

Post Brewing Co. and GoodBird Kitchen

The majority of restaurants under the Big Red F umbrella skew either toward seafood (Jax) or Latin cuisine (Zolo, Centro) or both (LOLA). But - while Boulder’s West End Tavern continues to stand a haven for beer buffs - founder Dave Query has never put his stamp on a brewery until now. 

On January 9, The POST Brewing Co. will land in Lafayette with a splash. After all, the suds are in the hands of Bryan Selders, who helped put Delaware’s renowned DogFish Head Brewery on the map; he’ll be starting with four flagship pours, including an IPA and a porter, supplemented by two seasonal offerings. But beer isn’t all that’s on tap. The space will also house GoodBird Kitchen, in anticipation of which Query, group culinary director Jamey Fader and executive chef Brett Smith traveled the country seeking out the best chicken platters - fried, spit-roasted or otherwise. Smith’s takes on their findings form the core of the decidedly Southern-tinged menu, which also sports house-baked biscuits, slow-cooked pork shoulder, catfish and the like from weekday lunch and weekend brunch through dinner nightly. Meanwhile, the bar will be mixing classic cocktails for those (very) few Coloradans who eschew brew.

105 W. Emma St., Lafayette; 303-593-2066

Salt & Grinder

Frank Bonanno is one of Denver’s biggest culinary rock stars, so it’s fitting that, like Nigel Tufnel, he’s going to 11 in 2014. Though it may not see the light of day for months, the Highlands Square venue he’s taking over will serve as a meat-curing facility, enlarging the salumi program he began at the sophomore venture among his 10 current establishments, Luca d’Italia. But its offshoot operation - an on-site deli - is what the neighborhood will be talking about. Knowing Bonanno’s fondness for the sandwiches of his Jersey boyhood, we can only relish - while awaiting more concrete information - our visions of subs piled high with oil-and-vinegar-laced cold cuts of all kinds.

3609 W. 32nd Ave.

Sarto’s

They’re not promising anything before summer, but Taylor Swallow and chef Brian Laird continue to make headway on the construction of their contemporary Italian eatery and market in Jefferson Park - and to document the progress on Twitter. So here’s hoping their latest estimate is a conservative one. Meanwhile, read all about the cicchetti, fresh pastas and pizzas Laird’s got in store here.

2900 W. 25th Ave.

Solitaire

Back in November, Eater reported on the changing of hands at a Highlands Square landmark: the beautifully preserved, flower-bedecked conjoined Victorians that long housed Highland’s Garden Cafe would soon become Solitaire. Denver-born chef Mark Ferguson got his start at Jeremiah Tower’s legendary Stars in San Francsico before making his name under Wolfgang Puck, working first at the Las Vegas branch of Spago and then opening the branch at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch. With wife-partner Andrea, he’s now parlaying those experiences into a globally influenced kitchen and bar; requests for further information have yet to be answered, but we’ll look forward to the scoop in due time, while checking the couple's Facebook page.

3927 W. 32nd Ave.; 303-477-4732

Stoic & Genuine

Between nabbing the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest and making it into the finals on Top Chef Masters, Jennifer Jasinski has had a banner year - one she capped off with the announcement that she and partner Beth Gruitch would be opening their fourth restaurant at Union Station in the summer of 2014, a few blocks from the Larimer Square trifecta formed by Bistro Vendôme, Rioja and Euclid Hall. Of the still-evolving plans for what they’re now calling Stoic & Genuine (rather than S&G Fish as originally planned), Gruitch says that Jasinski was in New York with her chef-husband Max Mackissock and chef de cuisine Jorel Pierce “exploring concepts for the space we were considering when the idea of fresh seafood was broached. We thought there was a hole in the Denver market that we could fill by combining all the things we wanted in a seafood restaurant.”

In addition to New England-style classics like fried-clam rolls and lobster platters as well as market-driven fish dishes galore, that of course means there will be a raw bar - of a very special kind. Specifically, it will be a granita bar, featuring ice blocks for flavoring and shaving into oyster mignonettes on the one hand, savory and fruity cocktails on the other. Speaking of libations, grower champagnes play a key role on the planned wine list.

A rising star in his own right, Pierce will man the open kitchen of the 60-seater, flanked by a patio with room for 40 additional guests. (Sous chef Josh Prater is stepping into his spot at Euclid Hall.)

Work & Class

Delores Tronco comes “from a crazy Italian and German family,” while one of her partners, Tony Maciag, is from Detroit - “a true Midwesterner” - and the other, Dana Rodriguez - former chef de cuisine at the aforementioned Bistro Vendôme - is from Chihuahua, Mexico. “But we’re all Americans,” Tronco concludes, by way of explaining, sort of, how the trio settled upon a concept with a dual focus on Latin and Southern cuisine. Perhaps more salient to their vision for the eatery is its location: it’s scheduled to open (following some delays) at the end of January in a RiNo stucture built out of old shipping containers. “It’s all about a working-class kind of ethos,” says Tronco. We want the feel to be industrial, but not cold.” Powder-coated steel, brushed concrete, the container’s original mahogany floors and corrugated metal with this “rich, rusty copper color” all figure into the design, as does a community table fashioned from a conveyor belt and a centerpiece artwork by photographer John Baird, who captures abandoned spaces in Detroit (pictured below). An eight-seat chef’s counter looks onto the open kitchen, and there’s seating at the bar as well. “It’s meant to be a place you can go after a long day at work and feel good when you walk in,” says Tronco.

The menu, of course “is reflective of that ideal.” Instead of composed entrees, it’s entirely à la carte, centered on seven proteins sold by weight (from a quarter to a full pound): think buffalo-style rotisserie chicken, roasted goat, cornmeal-fried catfish and cochinita pibil, or slow-roasted pork shoulder and butt rubbed with achiote and bitter orange, then wrapped in banana leaves. Fifteen sides, also available in various portion sizes, include sweet potato-bacon hash and jalapeño-cheddar spoonbread, while a handful of appetizers ranges from blue-corn empanadas to smoked-salmon fritters. And just as most breads will be baked in house, corn tortillas are griddled to order. “We’ll have some suggested dish pairings, but you can put it all together however you like,” Tronco adds.

As for the bar, the partners are taking a “pretty simple approach” to that too: “Ryan Layman from Steuben’s developed four different cocktail mixes for us - spicy sour, pomegranate-cucumber-mint - to pour with mostly small-batch spirits.” Eight beers on tap, about 15 by the bottle, and a small wine list complete the picture based on “our overarching motto: a square meal, a stiff drink and a fair price.”

2500 Larimer St.; 970-405-8271

Places Mentioned

David Burke Kitchen

New American • SoHo

Food24 Decor21 Service22 Cost$60
 
 
 
Bistro Vendôme

French • LoDo

Food26 Decor25 Service24 Cost$47
 
 
 
Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar

Seafood • Fort Collins

Food26 Decor22 Service24 Cost$39
 
 
 
Spago

NoneEdwards

Food25 Decor22 Service24 Cost$82
 
 
 
Steuben's

American • Uptown

Food24 Decor22 Service22 Cost$22
 
 
 
Rioja

Mediterranean • LoDo

Food28 Decor24 Service26 Cost$49
 
 
 
The Kitchen

NoneBoulder

Food26 Decor23 Service25 Cost$39
 
 
 
Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen

Eclectic • LoDo

Food24 Decor24 Service23 Cost$29
 
 
 
Luca

Italian • Capitol Hill

Food28 Decor23 Service27 Cost$54
 
 
 
Spago

American • The Strip

Food24 Decor21 Service23 Cost$56
 
 
 
Lola

Mexican • LoHi

Food23 Decor24 Service22 Cost$29
 
 
 
Jax Fish House

Seafood • Boulder

Food26 Decor22 Service24 Cost$39
 
 
 
Table 6

American • Alamo Placita

Food25 Decor22 Service24 Cost$45
 
 
 
Fruition Restaurant

New American • Country Club

Food28 Decor23 Service26 Cost$56
 
 
 
Jax Fish House

Seafood • LoDo

Food26 Decor22 Service24 Cost$39
 
 
 
Kitchen Next Door

American • Boulder

Food26 Decor23 Service25 Cost$39
 
 
 
Punch Bowl Social Denver

Pub • Baker

Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
 
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