***This sneak preview originally appeared on the Denver Magazine blog; I’ve reworked it slightly below.***
“He’s super-excited,” said Andrew Casalini of his six-year-old son, the namesake of Satchel’s on 6th, the week before it opened. “He feels like this is his restaurant.”
It’s a sentiment Casalini’s customers are bound to share. After all, from the 50-seat space (70 if you count the patio) to the 10-dish dinner menu (13 including desserts), it’s clear that he & chef Jared Brant intend to cater to a highly selective, hyperlocal audience. As he puts it, “We’re not trying to serve a million people. We’re trying to serve a few and do a good job.”
The manifestations of this intimately neighborly vision are everywhere. Take the tight squeeze of a kitchen — “a one-man, one-woman show,” according to Brant, whose costar, sous chef Lindsay Woodcock, has worked at New York’s Momofuku as well as Ototo & The Kitchen (Brant himself honed his chops under Frank Bonanno at Mizuna & Bones). Or consider the coffee bar Brant’s own sister Caitlin,
newly arrived from their hometown of Indianapolis, will be setting up on weekday mornings as an “offering to the community,” per Casalini, where she’ll serve a limited daily selection of her own baked goods — think muffins accompanied by crème fraîche rather than butter or savory “puttanesca scones” with olives & red pepper jelly.
And then there’s the wine program. “The secret here is going to be the bottle list,” says Casalini, who plans to “open high-end wines on busy nights & pour them by the ounce” for what he calls that “mwah!” taste sensation without the “ouch!” price point.
But above all, watch for the implementation of “shift meal.” Following dinner service Thursday through Saturday, Brant and Woodcock will be serving late-night specials — off-menu “test items,” in Casalini’s words, “because back there in the kitchen, chefs are always thinking, ‘What’s next?’” And so are their colleagues, both back & front of the house, across town: “When industry people are getting off work, we’ll say, ‘Go ahead and close, come on in.’” Adds Brant, “I hope all these guys down the road, from Fruition & Mizuna & Bones,” stop by after hours for a bite & a glass of wine from “whatever nice bottles we’ve opened that night.” Of course, their welcome extends to the general public. But I suggest you hold out for shift meal only if you count yourselves among a specific public — namely those who are open to dining according to the chef’s whim.
Otherwise, the regular dinner menu, small as it is, has plenty to offer — as I discovered during a tasting that came together so quickly the chef himself had had yet to sample all he served me. Of course I offered to share — which is, after all, what his plates are designed for. “To encourage people to sit at the bar,” Brant’s preparing nibbles like roasted garlic and marinated olives for $4 a pop. Rounding out the appetizers pictured below are such entrées as meatloaf that’s “almost like a short-rib terrine”; a signature play on steak frites featuring julienned, fried calamari and spinach-mascarpone cream; herbed sole gratinée based, says Brant, on “a Swedish dish I learned from my girlfriend”; & fresh orecchiette with wild mushrooms (“we’re always going to have a vegetarian option,” he assures me). For dessert, there’s a seasonal cobbler (strawberry-rhubarb for starters) & a handmade truffle sampler. And the weekend “punch brunch,” featuring the likes of fried chicken in beer-cheddar gravy & pancakes with hickory syrup, is sure to revive the “cult following” garnered by the original Satchel’s Market on Park Hill, of whose success the new, larger venue is a necessary outgrowth.
It’s a cult I’ll be joining if the dishes I tasted are any indication of things to come. Starting with al dente asparagus—bright with a bite—this spring salad featured a liquid-centered poached egg, shavings of fresh ricotta (whose source was a secret) & ham shaved so fine I thought it was a sprinkling of bread crumbs until I tasted it, all highlighted by a touch of fruity olive oil.
The name “wedge salad” does a disservice to Brant’s improvement on the steakhouse standard: a cylindrical disk of iceberg topped with chunks of excellent thick-cut bacon & blue cheese I could smell without leaning over; slivers of pickled onion; & dollops of thick, peppery yogurt dressing.
Accompanied by soft scrambled eggs & Texas toast, roasted veal marrow got a cute diner-style makeover.
Conversely, a refreshing scoop of cool, tangy celery root rémoulade added a touch of elegance to Brant’s otherwise downhome brunch signature, the pork belly croissant (PBC).
Still, the hashbrown topped with crème fraîche stole its thunder—so simple, the crunch of the buttery crust yielding to an almost creamy interior that tasted of nothing but fresh, warm potato.
The restaurant may be named for Satchel, but that side dish has my moniker all over it from here on out.