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They're a good crew," Mary Clark said, laughed proudly, then paused. "They work hard. They're a really good crew."
She was talking about her kitchen crew at Fisher Clark Urban Delicatessen, possibly the most multi-tasking, versatile band of mercenaries working in the city right now. And she was laughing because I'd expressed my complete (and loud) disbelief at the sheer number of things her guys have to do to keep the place up and running. For the sandwiches alone, there's the meat and cheese to cut, the standard toppings (onions, lettuce, tomatoes) to prep, and the not-so-standard toppings (hummus, pear-onion jam, roasted cipollini onions) to prep. For the sandwich specials, there are meatballs and red sauce to cook up, turkeys to roast and tomatillos to squash for salsa. The kitchen also has to make basic stuff like sauerkraut and egg salad, as well as complicated stuff like potato salad (which is tough to get just right, and Fisher Clark does), simmered French lentils, corned beef cooked and glazed in brown sugar and bourbon whiskey, Spanish paella and Moroccan tagines, lasagna, posole and racks of lamb glazed in a Hunanese mix of hoisin, garlic and sesame oil.
Then comes the baking and pastry work: dozens of cakes and cookies, rum cakes and Italian tortas, cannoli and carrot cake and French croissants. Every single thing served at Fisher Clark is made in-house, except for the bread on which the sandwiches are mounted. That comes from the wholesale Bluepoint bakery — the last surviving outpost of Clark's Bluepoint empire that once included two full-scale Bluepoint Restaurants (one in the Icehouse, the second in the space now home to Carmine's on Penn), a retail bakery on Sixth Avenue (in half of the space that's now Fruition and was previously the final expansion of Sean Kelly's Somethin' Else), and the wholesale bakery that's still operating at 1721 East 58th Avenue.
1721 E. 58th Ave.
Denver, CO 80216
Region: North Denver
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And what a bakery. The place is huge, with contracts stretching from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, providing bread and baked goods for restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, catering operations, airport concessionaires, you name it.
I asked Clark why, after closing everything but the wholesale bakery she owns with her husband, she'd decided to get back into the restaurant game. "I'm not a baker," she explained. "I don't like baking. And the bakery is so big now that being an owner there is more like being a CEO. I wanted to be more hands-on. I wanted to be back in the kitchen again."
Which is exactly where she is, along with partner Adam Fisher, the ex-Panzano chef she met through their work together with Project Angel Heart. "We're owners," she said. "We do everything."
And why did she decide to open a sandwich place and neighborhood market rather than, say, another Bluepoint restaurant? "I've done that fancy-food thing," she replied, rather dismissively. "We wanted something that we thought was going to be a little less...fussy, I guess. I actually live right down the street. And I wanted to see a market like this in this neighborhood, and there wasn't one."
So she created one. And while Clark told me that she and Fisher might — might — be looking at expanding (the floor space is so small that the city won't allow them to put in tables), she sees it as a later rather than sooner kind of scenario.
Leftovers: Last week, I heard from none other than Eric Laslow — the chef who was all over this column a few months ago. He was on the books at Corridor 44 during its worst times, bounced up to Boulder to work for Martin Hammer at Restaurant 4580, then came back down to Denver to labor (very briefly) at Iron Mountain Winery, which opened last December in the original home of Mel's. And while Laslow will claim that he left each of those posts of his own volition, his former bosses tend to see things somewhat differently.
Anyway, he dropped me a line to say that he'd found himself another gig — this time out of state, at the Sunrise Springs Resort outside of Santa Fe. It's a killer gig, too: full restaurant, spa, cooking school, his own organic garden, an on-site pottery studio to make him plates. "I have a pretty sweet thing going here," he said. "They invested pretty heavily in me."
He seemed glad to be gone from Denver, too, once again asserting that it was his insistence on local, organic and sustainable cooking that put him at loggerheads with restaurant owners. "Since the moment I came to Denver," he said, "creativity was sort of tolerated, not encouraged."
Really, dude? Tell that to Radek Cerny or John Broening or Ian Kleinman or the guys at Fruition or Jennifer Jasinski or even the guys at the Kitchen in Boulder, whose restaurant I don't like but who're making a killing with the whole "local, organic and sustainable" shtick.
Just the day before Laslow called, I'd heard from Hammer. "So I've got some good news for you, man," he said, and then told me that Travis Messervey, the 25-year-old caretaker chef who'd been standing in since Laslow bailed from his post at 4580, had finally, officially, been given the executive chef's title. "The kid's worked hard," Hammer added. "He's earned it."