As I noted in my recent calamari roundup, when Encore on Colfax opened 2 years ago, it was to mixed reviews from me, despite the fact that Sean Huggard, whose talent had delighted me so thoroughly at Black Pearl, was then the chef. Since his departure from the latter left it a little worse for the wear, I feared the same would be true times 2 when he left Encore, & so didn’t return until last week.

On the contrary, I’m all too happy to report that under new ownership—including that of chef Paul C. Reilly, who did time in New York with a chef I adored during his brief but glorious stint in Boston at erstwhile Restaurant L, Pino Maffeo—the place has hit its stride, neighborly & easygoing. That it also happens to be steps from the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax, which opens this week, is just technicolor gravy. Denverites, the time for dinner & a movie has come with a vengeance—especially given that the first film out of the gate is Carlos, a 5-hour-plus biopic about Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal that’s drawing extraordinary raves, even from the usually oh-so-jaded Variety.

To get through it, you’re gonna need major sustenance—far beyond the popcorn that comes with the price of admission. The aforementioned calamari (read all about it on the abovelinked post)

is a great start; so is the gorgeous, wood-fired wild mushroom, roasted garlic & rosemary pizza.

Any number of actual pizzerias could learn a thing or 2 from Encore’s kitchen about pie prep. The crust is perfect: bubbled & chewy here, charred & crunchy there. So is the cheese, gooey in the middle, broiled to a crisp around the edge. And so are the toppings, with plenty of meaty mushroom chunks as well as whole cloves of garlic that pop & melt in your mouth like so much earthy candy.

The autumn root vegetable pot pie looked a little paltry compared to the pile of exemplary, herbed, skin-on mashed potatoes

until I tasted it: caramelized & creamy in the extreme, topped with a parmesan biscuit, the portion was ideal for polishing off.

On yet another visit, 1 bite of a friend’s wood-fired artichoke with garlic aioli was sufficient to ensure that the version I admired 2 years ago

hasn’t lost its oomph.

However, that same pal—fellow food writer Joey Porcelli—warned me before I ordered the steak salad that her own pear Waldorf salad had been overdressed. Sure enough, the mixture of baby spinach, pickled red onions, pumpkin seeds & dried cranberries was likewise a bit too wet with a fairly sweet vinaigrette;

given that the dish is described as a steak salad & not steak with a side salad, 1 possible solution seems obvious: tossing it all together beforehand might make for better integration. As for the fried goat cheese balls, they were a cute surprise in & of themselves, though all the more evidence that this salad needs more balance.

Still, for the most part, Encore fits the bill for a hardcore hangout. Cue my applause.

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