Photos by Ruth Tobias
We counted The Way Back among the most important openings of 2016 for taking the concept of the neighborhood place in a whole new direction (name notwithstanding). Now, as it literally moves in a new direction — it's relocating to Tennyson Street — partners Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti and Jared Schwartz (who also own American Grind at Avanti Food and Beverage) are setting their ultra-savvy yet community-oriented sights on Riverfront Park. Wayward, now open in the old Zengo space, operates under the radical notion that something for everyone — “from the young skateboarder coming in from the skatepark to the older couple from the penthouse condo next door,” in GM Peter Gordon’s words — shouldn’t mean compromise for anyone. Worldly, progressive, thoughtfully sourced food can win over even the most set-in-their-ways diner, provided they’ve got a relaxed setting in which to explore it and service that conveys what the team calls “humble intelligence.” Here’s what you should know before you go.
The Wayward crew is wary of the “farm-to-table” label — so we’ll apply it for them
Abused as the term may be in some quarters, it’s absolutely earned here. Local products from small-scale farmers, butchers, cheesemakers, brewers and distillers abound; sustainable seafood and wine from organic/biodynamic estates do too. Executive chef Patrick Kelly (ex Panzano, San Francisco's La Folie) makes it his business to know the food-to-waste ratio of fish species like the trout pictured above and can tell you, should you care to know, the provenance of every lettuce leaf and onion top on his hyperseasonal menu. And beverage director Alex Flower (ex Acorn) works closely with the kitchen to cut down on waste, cross-utilizing ingredients as often as possible at the bar.
Prepare to be sociable — conviviality’s a key part of the experience, from happy hour onward
Composed primarily of small plates plus a few large-format dishes for two to four people, Wayward’s menu strongly encourages sharing. The 170-seat space reflects that philosophy, filled as it is with long banquettes, community tables and spacious booths for groups, not to mention charming conversation pieces strewn throughout: antiques and ceramics, taxidermy specimens, cactus arrangements (and a fetching patio overlooking the park is sure to have its own magnetic pull.) And then there’s happy hour, the undisputed highlight of which is a bottomless drink special for $20 — a deal that, for decorum’s sake, you probably shouldn’t take advantage of all by your lonesome.
As at The Way Back, the cocktail menu offers tasting notes rather than ingredient lists
According to Flower, there are few things more frustrating than the phrase, “I don’t know what any of that stuff is” — both for the bartender hearing it and the guest forced to admit it upon perusing the drink list. So her descriptions emphasize flavors over content specifics. Which means that she just may be broadening your palate on the sly. Take the Carbondale Standard, her twist on a vodka soda that includes “some fun friends” like sherry, or the Take Your Time, an old fashioned variant that combines Japanese whiskey with Grand Marnier and a Czech herbal liqueur called Becherovka, which she infuses with black cardamom to yield "sugar and spice and everything nice."
By the way, while you're reading the fine print, check out the footnote: "$1 goes to a local charity for every cocktail sold." How's that for an excuse to drink exceedingly well?
But don't overlook the wine list
In addition to having a sustainable bent, sommelier Nathan Turk's list exudes grape-geek glam as a showcase for such adored wineries as Alsace's Marcel Deiss, Friuli's Lis Neris and Santa Barbara's A Tribute to Grace. Does that sound expensive? Not so much: Very few bottles break the $80 mark, with most ranging from $50–$70, in keeping with the price points at The Way Back. That's true even of the supplemental list of selections titled "Wayward Ones," an honor roll of producers working in especially unconventional ways.
And don't skip dessert either
"We got lucky," says Schwarz of finding pastry chef Heather Fritz. We have to concur — she's a young talent to watch. In addition to plated desserts, she also makes an ever-changing assortment of scoops and treats for sampling: think hibiscus-raspberry sorbet, vegan Almond Joy ice cream, marshmallows and meringues.
Still want more? Breakfast, lunch and brunch service are coming soon
George, Gianinetti and Schwartz plan to launch weekend brunch in October; by early next year, they'll have turned the vacant space next door into a daytime-only, grab-and-go joint. (Here’s to better luck than Zengo’s Richard Sandoval had with previous tenant La Güera.) In the interim, they’ll use it to host pop-ups like a holiday bar — stay tuned for updates.
And read on for a few more juicy tidbits.
The details: 1610 Little Raven St.; 720-449-8300