Exclusive first look: Old Major, Justin Brunson's "elevated farmhouse cuisine" restaurant, is now open in Highland
All photos by Lori Midson
On Saturday night, as I studied the menu at Old Major, I nearly burst into tears. At one point, some time later, I did exactly that, right after my first taste of foie gras; there would be more liberal shavings of that exquisite foie on the cassoulet, which hinted at a "foie surprise." And more sappy tears of joy that followed.
And, indeed, Old Major, the Highland restaurant that chef Justin Brunson has spent months putting together with an undisputed dream squad of cooks and chefs, bartenders and wine geeks and front-of-the-house professionals, is a restaurant that's striving to be a confluence of unassailable cooking (with gorgeous compositions to match) in a striking setting that's neither too pretentious nor too casual with service that's as refined and graceful as an orchestrated ballet -- but without the snoot.
On Sunday, the public, for the first time, was privy to what I was: an exhaustive labor of love, an unbending reverence for blood, sweat and tears. Brunson's "elevated farmhouse" menu, which is executed in a show-stopping open kitchen that ballyhoos some of the most enviable equipment you've ever laid eyes on -- and could easily double as a Hollywood movie set -- is separated into five categories: Small plates, The Farmer, The Butcher, The Monger and Sides.
It's pointed, confident, and reads like a culinary geek-speak love letter, and when put into action, results in a royal procession of artistically astounding dishes that defy superlatives. Brunson's lobster pot pie? Ethereal. The dominoes of pan-seared foie gras splayed over an apple whiskey-infused pie crust, comprised of duck fat, and layered with apples and candied almonds? You'll fight over this like competitive wrestlers. The braised French lentils accompanying the wood-grilled sturgeon, with its milky-white flesh and fluttering pencil shavings of foie, should be bottled and sold for bundles of green, and that lobster pot pie, punctuated with fennel and bobbing with claw and tail meat, will assuredly put to rest the myth that Denver can't do justice to the sea. Even the pretzel bread, presented on Saturday with a real, honest-to-God mustard butter, is enough to send you soaring.
And so do the cocktails, fashioned by a bar team that's seemingly incapable of faltering, and given the bold names behind the schtick -- Brian Melton (TAG, ChoLon), Ryan Conklin (Euclid Hall), Michael McGill (Osteria Marco), Melissa Durant (Green Russell), Courtney Wilson (Williams & Graham) and Jonathan Greschler (Wild Catch, Fuel Cafe) -- it's no wonder. The cocktails, whether it's the Mustache Rye, with Averna, Montenegro and Leopold's apple whiskey, or the bartender's choice -- in my case, a whiskey smash made with Nardini, lemon, simple syrup, fresh mint and Johnny Drum bourbon, and chilled with hand-carved ice -- are poetic.
Desserts, often an afterthought, are sublime, thanks to young pastry magician Nadine Donovan, whose sugar finales literally had me stealing plates -- and nearly licking them clean -- from our neighbors at the bar. Her baked Alaska reveals an impossibly perfect meringue, the blood orange glacé, a subtle jolt of citrus, and her malted chocolate cream pie...well, let's just say that I experienced what can only be called euphoria.
Considering the (near) perfection of the kitchen and the bar program, the space is required to follow suit, and it does with its beautifully crafted farmhouse tables and chairs, prominent meat hooks that support the conversation-piece light fixtures, high, wooden beamed, sloped ceilings and even the plateware -- stark white -- and glassware have been given careful consideration; hand-sewn linens are forthcoming, as is Brunson's front-and-center meat-curing room, which is currently in the process of solidifying its HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points principles to ensure effective food safety) plan.
Are there improvements to be made? Few. In fact, the only noticeable taint are the lights above the bar tables, which are just a bit too bright, and those, I'm told, will be quickly corrected. And speaking of the bar, a bar-only board will be available in the coming weeks, as will lunch. For now, dinner is served seven nights a week.
The expectations for old Major are pressingly high -- but if my dinner on Saturday night is any indication of what this city can expect in the future, it doesn't seem a stretch to say that we've just been bestowed with a restaurant that should be on everyone's bucket list.
Herewith, a photo gallery of the finished space, the food, the cocktails, the menus and the revelry.
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