Abandoning Primebar for the Squeaky Bean
If you've been reading the Cafe Society blog (and you have been reading the blog, haven't you?), you already know that Primebar — the highly anticipated, 400-seat restaurant that opened late last week at 1515 Arapahoe Street, in the former home of Palomino — lost its executive chef, Max Mackissock (ex of Vita and, more recently, Alinea in Chicago). A week before the doors even opened, Mackissock revealed that he'd be moving on to boss the line at the new Squeaky Bean, which opened earlier this week at 3301 Tejon Street, right next to Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe. And taking his place at Primebar? Carl Klein. A veteran and a serious pro, accustomed to the sometimes strange bounces that a chef's career can take, Klein was already on board at Primebar as exec sous when Mackissock started getting cold feet.
"Basically, the day he got hired, he called me," Klein said when I got him on the phone last Thursday, hours before his last friends-and-family dinner, a day before Primebar's official opening. He and Mackissock had known each other for a while. Back at the start of the decade, the two had worked together at the Great Northern Tavern in Keystone. Mackissock "was actually my sous there," Klein told me. "So we were kind of flip-flopped." And when Klein left Great Northern to come down from the mountains, Mackissock took the top gig there, before coming down to Denver himself to take a job at Vita. So in a way, the situation at Primebar was just returning the favor — proof of the weird ways that things work in the small, insular and incestuous world of cooks and kitchens.
A rundown of Klein's gigs reads like an abbreviated who's-who and what's-what of Colorado kitchens. For a time he worked at Corridor 44 in Larimer Square, redoing the entire menu, patching up a sinking ship almost run aground by Eric Laslow. He did the Dish Bistro with Leigh Jones (helping her to come up with the "global comfort food" concept she's now running with at Jonesy's EatBar — same space, different name). There was Samplings Wine Bar in Frisco, the Alpenglow Stube, and not one, but two turns through Vesta Dipping Grill under Matt Selby while also opening Steuben's as a sous. Klein even did some jungle time in the catering department of Denver Museum of Nature & Science: "There just weren't a whole lot of restaurants opening at the time," he explained.
But even with all those addresses in the rearview, Primebar is still different. Luck and good timing put Klein in line for the exec's gig, but it hasn't exactly been easy. Even with Mackissock sticking around as a freebooting "consultant" for about a week in hopes of smoothing over the transition, the timing was tight. Changes (especially big changes) breed chaos.
And then there's Primebar itself. It's the biggest restaurant Klein has ever worked and employs the biggest crew he's ever had to boss. "Jesus, I got fifty kitchen employees right now," he told me. "The schedule is a nightmare."
The menu is large, too, and required some last-minute tinkering, including the additions of bar food and approachable dishes that Klein ran down for me like he was reading a prep list: "Snacks, pork-belly sliders, someone said they wanted calamari so I had to do something with calamari..."
But still, Klein was feeling good. He'd promoted Gabe Goddell (who'd left Boulder's Arugula to take a straight sous gig under Klein) into his former post as exec sous, and they'd been doing mock services all week, exercising the crews. The friends-and-family meals scheduled for Thursday night would bring in two or three hundred people, in staggered seatings. And the public opening was still a day away.
He had plenty of time.
Leftovers: In the May 7 Second Helping, I wrote about Hospoda, an excellent little Colorado-Czech bar/restaurant in the space at 3763 Wynkoop Street that had been the Wynkoop Grill. I loved the joint — especially the potato pancakes and green chile — so I was glad to learn that it's going to expand this summer: adding a patio, paving the dirt parking lot, taking the bars off the windows and changing up the menu.
I called to get the details from manager Peni LaRocco. The plans for the patio were being submitted to the city and work would start just as soon as the owners, Vlad and Irene Lesner, got the go-ahead, she told me. And as for the menu?
"Nothing is going to be taken off," she assured me. Instead, Irene's beef stroganoff will be added. And starting this week, Hospoda will offer a night-time menu of burritos, tamales and chips and salsa. Previously, the kitchen stopped serving at 5 p.m. Now, with this new board, it will continue feeding the rummies right up until 10 p.m., when the bar closes. LaRocco told me that the owners have been looking for a cook for some time now — "Someone who can learn Irene's way of cooking," she explained — but, as yet, haven't had any luck.
Keep your fingers crossed. As good as the potato pancakes, schnitzel and Colorado verde are when the sun is up, I eagerly anticipate the day when I can get the same stuff after dark.
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