By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
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By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
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Which we did.
And then I didn't give her any of the second one, either.
Still, it wasn't like there wasn't enough to eat at Farro. Franklin's take on Italian is as worldly and weird and occasionally inspired as his takes on everything else, in every restaurant where we've crossed paths. When I first walked into Farro, I spotted him through the swinging doors of the kitchen (no open line here) working in front of the ovens, surrounded by his crew, laboring to handle the full-book Saturday night already descending on his dark and comfortable main floor. In addition to the meatloaf, that night we also had a Caprese salad that was less than inspiring (tomatoes aren't yet in season, and the ones on our plate were glassy and tasteless), but this was followed by a beautifully rustic minestrone (three beans, full of vegetables and chunks of prosciutto, which was a nice touch), mussels with garlic and pancetta, and a shallow bowl of handmade strozzapreti with big chunks of chicken, bits of thick-cut prosciutto (Franklin is generous with his pork products, knowing full well that cured pig can be the difference between a merely good plate and a great one), ideally ripe and nutty asparagus with a thick Tellagio cream sauce that had the velvet texture of a perfect French supreme and all the strong flavor of a chef's long-held secret weapon.
8320 S. Holly
Littleton, CO 80122
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
We ordered pizzas from the kitchen's brick oven — a simple and hand-thrown four-cheese on a misshapen and cracker-thin crust that was good but not great, then a Gorgonzola-and-fig version with arugula and preserved figs that tasted exactly like a Fig Newton covered in cheese. It would've made a nice appetizer but was a bit combative for a main, a bit more powerful than I would've liked. And the house's single example of a calzone wasn't good at all: chicken and portabella mushrooms and spinach and caramelized onions and chunks of Yukon Gold potatoes all swimming in a thickened cheese béchamel. It was like a pot pie baked in a mailing envelope of too-crisp dough, and the whole thing bled out like a murder victim the minute I plunged in my knife.
So thank God, then, for that meatloaf. And Farro has other good mains. On another night, Franklin cooked a beautiful piece of salmon, perfectly browned, set over a spinach risotto, topped with halved cherry tomatoes, more pancetta (which Franklin uses like Bac-Os) and a sprinkling of pine nuts. There was his signature lasagna, everything handmade, employing both a French béchamel and an Italian Bolognese. The pork loin was delicious, simple, almost naked on the plate — grill-marked accurately to the micron, touched with only a bit of balsamic vinegar and plated with a few roasted vegetables for color. And the chicken (boned-out, roasted in the skin, with nothing more than some rosemary, some garlic) reminded me of both 240 Union and the Wine Experience — a classic that Franklin has carried with him, a staple of any working chef's repertoire. Under the wrinkled skin, the meat was tender and the fat like liquid gold, running down to wet the golden roasted potatoes.
I have spent years eating Franklin's food, enjoying it at address after address but never really thinking of Franklin as much more than another journeyman chef making a living cooking other people's dinners. But then I sat down in Farro, looked back, charted his slow progress (and my own) through the kitchens and dining rooms of Denver — and finally realized just how talented this man is, how expert in his trade. He's had decades behind the grills to practice, short stints and long ones in which to hone and sharpen his best plates into an elegant clutter of cuisines, techniques and cultural references. His is a style born of long associations and thousands of nights before the stoves — a refined but modern classicism currently being employed in an Italian direction, but always aimed toward excellence.
And even if he doesn't always hit his mark, he does so an amazing amount of the time. I have, by my own rough estimation, eaten about 3,000 meals at restaurants in and around Denver. Of those, perhaps two or three dozen have been truly memorable — the kind I will carry with me forever. And of those, four have been cooked for me by Matt Franklin.
His is not a name I will overlook again.