Openings

First Look at Sassafras American Eatery in Capitol Hill

By Ruth Tobias  |  June 30, 2014
Credit: Ruth Tobias

With an ebullient repertoire of from-scratch Southern cooking and an adorable Victorian home to serve it in, Sassafras American Eatery has proven a smash success in Jefferson Park despite its tiny size and lack of either a bar or much foot traffic. Now it has a sibling along a bustling stretch of one of Denver’s most colorful streets — and you can rest assured this one lacks for nothing. Granted, some serious renovations were in order: “When we took over the space, there were 27 TVs, red carpet…it was like Restaurant: Impossible,” laughs co-owner Julia Grother. But the result is a surefire breakfast-and-lunch destination for the Colfax contingent.

The Vibe: Urbane buzz meets down-home comfort. Soaring ceilings, picture windows, chandeliers and gleaming woods suffuse the ground-floor dining room with light and energy, while golden-oldie album covers and a sprinkling of vintage knickknacks add diner-style quaintness to the mezzanine-level lounge.

The Food: The Benedicts, po’ boys and loaded grits you know and love from the flagship are all here. But chef Colin Mallet has taken advantage of a bigger kitchen to introduce further variations on the staples as well as an array of new dishes, including charbroiled oysters, blackened market fish, housemade boudin sausage, the classic Louisiana corn stew maque choux — and a whole section of the menu devoted to mac 'n' cheese. In fact, Grother says, since the doors opened last week, the breakfast mac with house-cured bacon, grit croutons and an over-easy egg has been “our biggest seller. It’s so good, like carbonara.”

The Booze: “Breakfast cocktails, hangover cocktails, house infusions, our own grenadine — we’re doing it all,” explains Grother, along with virgin concoctions like frozen blackberry-basil lemonade and killer signature milkshakes. Of course there are mimosas and Bloody Marys garnished with everything from quail eggs to andouille sausage, plus Mardi Gras essentials like hurricanes and zombies, and original libations like the Victorian Lavender (lavender-infused gin with pomegranate nectar and lemon). While local beer dominates the eight-tap system, Louisiana brewery Abita also makes an appearance. And as for wine, Sassafras is pouring a handful of sparklers, whites and reds “based on what goes well with our rich, buttery food.” But what really grabbed our attention was the promise of pickled pigs'-feet vodka, which should be ready in about two weeks. “You can really taste the pork in there,” Grother laughs.

In the meantime, prepare to pig out on the goodies in the slide show below.

320 E. Colfax Ave.; 303-831-6233. Open 7 AM-2:30 PM daily

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  • A textbook example of chicken-fried frogs' legs, whose coating remains crunchy beneath the tangy rémoulade they're smothered in. (If you've never tried frog, it really does taste like a cross between cod and chicken.)

  • Beneath a thick layer of powdered sugar, these beignets are so rich and tender they don't need a dipping sauce.

  • Behold the made-to-order barbecue mac 'n' cheese, piled high with fried pickle chips and saucy pulled pork (including a bit of the luscious skin).

  • Housemade tasso ham and smoked-cayenne hollandaise complement the succulent, boldly spiced crab cakes and crawfish hash that distinguish this Cajun Benedict.

  • The vegetarian offerings are no afterthought. In fact, this po' boy with juicy smoked oyster and shiitake mushrooms, extra-creamy goat cheese and pickled-pepper aïoli on a toasted Bluepoint roll is already among our pet picks.

  • Yes, that's a cucumber voodoo doll in the Marie Laveau, a Bloody that's both infused with ghost chiles and garnished with vodka-marinated Fresnos — yet stops just short of painfully spicy. Also pictured: the house Bloody with bacon, quail egg and a bacon-salt rim. 

  • Grother swears by her mimosas, a blend of "75% Champagne and 25% fresh-squeezed orange juice" that's poured tableside over ice: "It stays effervescent that way."