By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Sustainable, eco-friendly, reusable, recyclable, fair trade, natural, energy efficient, organic, local, green, low-impact, fresh. These are words that inspire us at Organixx. From the building materials that surround you in our dining room, to our food product choices, culinary procedures and sanitation practices, we strive to have those words define our actions.
I read this and I'm thinking, "Oh, crap. Not again." I'm thinking, "Not one word in there means 'delicious'." I'm thinking how it sounds like a pitch for a new laminate flooring material or, perhaps, the impossibly chipper drivel generally spouted by some company that just invented a new chemical to inject into Chicken McNuggets. It doesn't sound like they're talking about a restaurant at all. Or at least not one that I'd ever want to go to.
I was walking along the 1500 block of Blake Street, in a part of LoDo that's become a real restaurant row, when I saw the menu taped up inside the front windows of the former Eggshell and read the mission statement (for lack of a better term) written out boldly at the bottom:
1520 Blake St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Our menu represents the best of organic, natural, local, wild caught and traditional products available to us. We welcome you to join our efforts to conduct business in an earth friendly fashion. Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with us.
Oh, I felt free, all right. And I certainly had some ideas.
1) A list of buzzwords does not equal thought, and no one ever walked away from a table happy, stuffed full of catchphrases and green-movement agitprop.
2) Just because something is called "organic" does not immediately mean it is "delicious" or even "good for you." Hemlock is organic, but I don't want any in my salad. And you know what else is organic? Sharks. But I'd be pretty pissed if I found one in my mueslix.
3) I'm not coming to your restaurant to join your cult or be converted. Just make me a sandwich and shut up.
Was I bitter? Yeah, a bit. So many restaurants have opened lately under the flag of the Michael Pollan/locavore/Omnivore's Dilemma revolution that I was already way past sick of the sloganeering and self-promotion when Organixx started its buildout late last year. Still, I spent a lot of time in front of this storefront, staring in through the windows and watching it take form out of a cloud of dust and contractors, wondering if they, too, were organic, all-natural, local...
Owner (and restaurant-world newbie) Erwin Chang got Organixx open in mid-February, and I immediately rushed right out and didn't go there. I had cheeseburgers to eat, after all. And pho and tacos and all that other good stuff made by kitchens more concerned with the quality of dinner than the provenance of the arugula. I figured it would take about six months before the place either closed or gave up completely on its organo-local ideals and, like a proper restaurant, started simply serving the best grub it could get its hands on, regardless of origin.
But somewhere along the way, a funny thing happened. Not only did Organixx become successful, but it became very successful. Like, line-out-the-door successful. Fully-booked-and-on-a-wait-on-a-Tuesday successful. I heard stories about lunchtime crowds (the place is essentially a breakfast bar, open early and closing by three every afternoon) that started stacking up before eleven. And that made me curious, because even though I have a fairly low opinion of the dining public in general (have you ever seen the crowd jammed up outside an Olive Garden on a Saturday night?), I have a fairly lofty opinion of those who would willfully go out of their way to patronize a local operator in LoDo — of my people, in other words. I didn't think they'd be easily fooled by some smooth operator with nothing more than a bunch of green-movement buzzwords and a nice location to his credit. Which meant that something else had to be going on at Organixx, and I wanted to find out what.
Which is how I found myself crammed into a corner of the restaurant during a recent lunch rush, sandwiched between the self-serve coffeepots and a press of polo-shirted businessmen and nattering publicists in stiletto heels getting all damp and breathless waiting for their Santa Fe salads and plates of quinoa Niçoise. The place was completely full, the staff moving like ninjas through the throng, delivering surprisingly artful plates overloaded with ingredients that seemed to explode off the white china in small mushroom clouds of (local, organic) greens and swollen mounds of (organic) egg salad. All around me at Organixx, the conversation was all about Organixx — about what each person had ordered, what they'd ordered yesterday, what they were thinking of ordering tomorrow. And in the middle of it all was Chang, looking composed and unshakable, already a restaurant-industry veteran after not quite six months in business.
Service here is modified fast-casual: You make your way through the alley that runs between the front door and the counter, put in your order to the cashier, are given a number, and then get out there on the floor and fight, Thunderdome-style, for a seat in a pleasant, open-plan dining room that, though large, is already too small by half for the amount of trade that Chang is doing during his rushes. Once you get a table (or have agreed to share one with a complete stranger who will then whip out her copy of The Secret and proceed to shamelessly read it in public as though it were an actual book and not an immediate name tag labeling her as both gullible and desperate), you just stick your number in the conveniently provided holder and wait for the kitchen (which works amazingly fast for being under such continuous pressure) to hack its way through to your order. At that point, Organixx becomes table service. Plates are delivered by whoever has a free hand at the moment any order comes up in the window. And when those plates are delivered, suddenly the reason for Chang's success becomes clear.