By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Leftovers:The more some things change, the more others stay the same. Two of Denver's best-known houses both recently celebrated a decade of success by sticking doggedly to good concepts.
On July 19, Vesta Dipping Grill (1822 Blake Street) threw a party for itself to mark ten years in the business. That's ten years with the same chef (Matt Selby), ten years in the same LoDo space, ten years under the same ownership (Josh Wolkon and his wife, Jen) and ten years of Vesta offering essentially the same thing it did the night it opened: that DIY dipping-grill style of proteins paired with sauces and combinations called by the customers. At other restaurants, such a lack of evolution might be cause for lament — wondering why the kitchen never changed things up, why no one ever thought to take things in a new direction — but Vesta is that incredibly rare place that found a killer concept right at the start and made it work. Honest to God, walking into this restaurant today, ten years gone from opening night, Vesta still has the buzz of a fresh, new restaurant. It's never lost its edge, and though others have tried, no one has replicated its balance of apps and entrees, meats and sauces, hipness and approachability.
1487 S. Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80210
Region: South Denver
That includes Vesta itself: The Wolkons wisely refused to clone the place, to open a Vesta II out in the 'burbs or a chain of Vesta-to-Go franchises across the state. Instead, they joined with Selby to open Steuben's(at 523 East 17th Avenue), a restaurant that's 180 degrees different from Vesta, and kept Vesta a pure and singular expression of one pure and singular style. And if you want to try it, you'll just have to haul your ass down to LoDo and wait for a table along with everyone else.
Still, maybe if Selby and Taylor could sign some sort of partnership agreement whereby the Vesta kitchen would provide sauces for Kevin Taylor's Chicken and Waffles and every Kevin's-head-shaped bucket could have a pump that would squirt chipotle barbecue sauce or maybe a nice lemon-spiked honey mustard out the nose...
The other joint that just celebrated its tenth anniversary is Potager(1109 Ogden Street), where chef/owner Teri Rippeto has been quietly and confidently bringing the revolution to Denver since before there was a revolution to bring. Potager opened in 1997 with the idea of cooking fresh, seasonal, local food for people who cared about the ideas of freshness, terroir and seasonality long before it became cool to do so. It survived a hundred fads — everything from Asian fusion and hundred-dollar cheeseburgers to molecular gastronomy, small plates and hollow New Americanism — without ever changing its focus and, in its steadfastness, seemed to allow trends to mold themselves around it rather than the other way around. Comfort food? What's more comforting than a bowl of gnocchi with shallots and chantrelles? Small plates? That's what an appetizer menu is for.
And when Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, went off like a nuclear bomb at the heart of the restaurant community, Rippeto and her crew were in the perfect position to say "We told you so" — but never did. They just kept cooking in their small Capitol Hill kitchen, kept turning out new menus, kept on doing what they'd been doing from the start.
So happy birthday, Vesta and Potager. Other chefs and owners in town could learn a lot about commitment and immutability from studying these two very different operations.
And Kev? Matt? Seriously, have your people call my people. We could do great things with this chicken-and-waffles idea. I'm telling you, it's a gold mine...