Photos by Ruth Tobias
Denverites already think of chef-restaurateur Troy Guard as a rock star. But for the man whose greatest hits include Guard and Grace, Los Chingones and Mister Tuna, it’s only now — with the opening of neighborhood bar and grill FNG in West Highland this Friday — that “I’ve finally got a rock 'n' roll restaurant,” as he puts it. Sure enough, the colorful space is dotted with memorabilia from a KISS cardboard cutout to Jimi Hendrix coasters. Still, one look at the seasonal menu laden with creative, affordable comfort food suggests that, if anything, Guard has officially got a rock 'n' soul restaurant. (The name, he laughs, comes from his past: “When I first started cooking, I was always the FNG — the f*cking new guy.” Now, however, the “G” stands for “good.”)
The food: Clam gnocchi. Bison enchiladas. Chicken-fried steak in green-chile gravy. Banana cream pie. Name a down-home staple, and Guard and his team are probably serving it here — with their own stamp, of course. But a hefty chunk of the menu is devoted to exec chef Josh Elliott's passion: charcuterie, an art he’s studied since 2003. It starts with an array of sausages both fresh and cured, from a grilled lamb-and-eggplant bratwurst to the mortadella he uses for fried bologna sliders. (Many of the links hang in a display locker for eventual retail sale.) In addition, he’s smoking salmon and ham, drying bresaola and pancetta, and even using veal suet for the crust of meat pies that will come filled with rabbit and potato one season, perhaps chicken and apple the next. And of course he’s also making all the accompaniments for his salumi platters in-house, from pickles to mustards and marmalades to breads. But for the burger buns, Elliott says, “this is a completely scratch kitchen.”
Most of the sausages Elliott offers so far have their origins in Italy, though he looks forward to producing Hungarian kolbasz, Dutch-Pennsylvanian Lebanon bologna and other regional specialties
The drinks: In keeping with the concept, TAG Restaurant Group beverage director Nikki Guard is streamlining the bar. Along with 20 local beers on tap, wines range from the easy-breezy to the more serious, within reason. Eight drinks make up the cocktail menu, most of them twists on classics, like the whiskey sour with ingredient du jour aquafaba. It’s just the right mix for a crew that “wants to make friends,” in Elliott’s words — not only by staying within a guest's comfort zone but by carving a niche in between neighboring restaurants like pub Mead St. Station on the one hand and high-end Solitaire on the other.
The space: From the color scheme of orange, yellow and brown to the diner-style booths, FNG exudes retro cheer. Proud members of Generation X will get a particular kick out of the decorations: a Simpsons pinball machine here, metal sculptures of hands making the devil’s horn gesture there, board games like Yeti in My Spaghetti and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots above the bar. As if all that weren’t fun enough, a sidewalk patio accommodates 25 to supplement the 95 seats inside. Better get ready to rock.
The details: 3940 West 32nd Ave.; 303-963-5931. Inaugural hours are Sunday through Thursday, 4–9:15 PM; Friday through Saturday, 4–10:15 PM