On a stretch of East Colfax Avenue known more for Ethiopian cuisine and dive bars than for destination dining, Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery, a new take on fast-casual with a "steakhouse-inspired" menu, hopes to tap into the pent-up needs of Hale, Montclair and Park Hill residents. After opening soft for those neighbors over the past two weeks, Chop Shop held its official grand opening yesterday.
Chef and co-owner Clint Wangsnes describes Chop Shop as "a modern American grill with global influences," and says he hopes to separate his style of fast-casual from the competitors with a chef-driven menu, cooking techniques that maximize flavors and textures, and plating that stands above the standard plastic baskets, paper wrapping and cafeteria trays.
"So far, the neighborhood has been great," says co-owner and general manager Christian Anderson. "People really take care of each other here." As an example, he mentions that Nuggs Ice Cream just down the street gave them a large "Open" sign to help attract customers. "People are walking over or riding bikes," he adds -- which is great, since parking is limited to the side streets off Colfax.
Wangsnes says he was inspired to open something new and different after his daughter was born. He didn't like the hassle and time involved in sitting down to a quality dinner at a full-service restaurant while attending to the needs of a toddler. "Traditional restaurants take too much time for families -- we're the solution," he explains. To that end, he designed a menu with platings worthy of the time and money normally spent at higher-end restaurants but at a place with counter service, a focused wine and cocktail list -- both of which are served on tap -- and a relaxed atmosphere in the dining room.
The secret to maintaining high standards for the food, Wangsnes and Anderson agree, is dedication to prep time, including using sous-vide cooking to break down beef cuts and vegetables over time. The chef says he can achieve the texture of filet mignon by cooking top sirloin at medium-rare temperature for eight hours. Similarly, beef short ribs spend 48 hours in a water bath to break down the meat to fork-tender texture. Even onions get the sous-vide treatment: Wangsnes' crew cooks whole onions for 72 hours at 179 degrees before adding them to the "onion bliss" French onion soup. The Chop Shop kitchen is certified for sous-vide cooking by the Denver Health Department, a sign that Wangsnes is serious about health and food safety for the tricky cooking technique.
Sandwiches and salads round out the menu, which also receive the chef's attention. "I'd put our French dip up against anyone in town," Wangsnes says, adding that Chop Shop cures and smokes its own chicken pastrami. Desserts come from the Chocolate Lab, a locally owned confectioner that turns out truffles, cupcakes, and pecan and bacon toffee.
Despite the fast-casual setup, Anderson says he's seen customers linger over drinks, sometimes sitting down to a Moscow mule made with the juice of the calamansi (an Asian citrus fruit) or a glass of wine before ordering dinner. "Last Friday, we sold as many mules as soft drinks," he notes. The location is definitely more conducive to dinner than lunch, he adds, which means that unlike other fast-casual restaurants that clear out by dinner, Chop Shop is a great after-work destination for families.
While the menu is small, flourishes like olive-oil bearnaise and hoisin-demiglace sauces add more chef-driven touches. Wangsnes, an alum of Richard Sandoval's Zengo, says he loves hoisin and also uses soy sauce, chiles and acidic ingredients to add global flavors while still maintaining an American identity. "The owners of Phoenecian Kabob came in the other night and love us," says Wangsnes, as evidence of both Chop Shop's global appeal and the neighborhood's friendliness.
Ultimately, though, price and quality are what the owners hope will set ChopShop apart from both full-service restaurants and fast-casual joints. "You can get a high-end meal here for fifteen dollars," says Anderson. The customers they've talked to so far say they're tired of paying big tips and waiting too long for quality food but still want good food for their families. "We're bringing something new to Denver, " he concludes. "This is just the beginning of the race." Keep reading for the Chop Shop menu.
Chop Shop is open Sunday to Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The phone number is 720-550-7665.
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