Two weeks ago, we broke the news that Cherokee Dining on 12th Avenue, an iconic Golden Triangle gathering place and watering hole that's occupied the turf at 1201 Cherokee Street for 28 years, is closing on October 14. But that's just one part of a larger story. I also mentioned that the Cherokee had been sold, but refrained from spilling the name of the buyer at his request (we honor those kinds of wishes around here).
But if you look at the photo up top -- the one with the mischievous Cheshire-cat smile -- you'll undoubtedly recognize that grin as belonging to Paul Reilly, the former chef-owner of Encore, which closed six months ago when Reilly and his sister, Aileen, also an owner, couldn't come to terms with the then-landlord.
Encore closed on a Sunday following a stellar brunch service, and Paul and Aileen didn't waste any time hunting for a new space, which led them to Baker, Uptown, the Ballpark District and, eventually, the Golden Triangle -- and Cherokee on 12th Avenue, a space, says Reilly, that embodied everything he and Aileen were looking for.
"We love the Golden Triangle neighborhood, and while it's close to downtown, there really aren't a ton of restaurants over there, and we knew we could do some awesome things with the space while still honoring the integrity of the Cherokee," notes Paul, adding that the restaurant's two patios -- one that's streetside, and a second garden patio that faces west -- were additional draws. "It just fits in with what we want to do, and the neighborhood is a bit of a dark horse that's still being discovered," he adds.
The name -- Beast + Bottle -- is indicative, says Paul, of his own passion for food and Aileen's dedication to wine. "I do the food and Aileen does the wine, and we've always believed that memories are made around the table. We grew up like that and want to bring that same kind of experience to our guests," he tells me. Food and drink, he continues, "equals family -- they're meant to go together -- and the name is representative of that and the family aspect of owning a restaurant together."
And while the "beast" in the title may conjure up images of thick slabs of steer, that's not what this chef, renowned for lapping up locavorism, celebrating off-cuts and committing to sustainably-sourced products, has on his culinary conscience. "When I was at Encore, we were all things to all people, because that's what the owners wanted, but here," he affirms, "it's going to be much more about the food and food practices that inspire me, and it'll be a nose-to-tail menu that'll be driven more by availability than seasonality."
To that end, says Paul, he'll open the back door to farmers, ranchers and suppliers hauling in whole beasts -- lamb, pork and fowl -- that are raised locally. "The whole animal is the hallmark of this restaurant," he stresses, adding that he'll receive the carcasses "dressed," but all of the butchering will be done in-house. "Our Rambouillet lambs, for example, come from Ewe Bet Ranch in Loveland, and while we'll get them with the skin removed and the innards delivered separately, we'll break down the animals in the restaurant," he says.
And the kidneys, livers, necks and hearts? They'll also have their place on his menu. "We're dedicated to honoring the integrity of the animal," he maintains, emphasizing that while primal cuts will comprise the majority of his main dishes, the "bits and pieces" -- the really good stuff -- will be used in his starters.
That translates to dishes like red beet borscht with braised oxtail, pickled cabbage and crème fraîche and crispy headcheese paired with green-tomato jam. "We're using every single thing we can, and anything that can be eaten, we'll serve, and that includes both animals, seafood and vegetables," says Paul, adding that his menu, which will include five categories -- vegetables, pastas, pork, lamb and fowl -- will be complemented by a wild- or sustainably-sourced seafood or fish special.
"This isn't an offal restaurant," he allows. "The menu will be approachable and ever-changing, and while the focus is on the whole beast and its availability, there will be a few holdovers from Encore, like the pig-and-fig flatbread, and we'll have seafood on the appetizer section along with a few core things -- a smoked-beet salad with farmer cheese, for example -- and I love cooking with vegetables, so we'll definitely highlight those as much as we can."
And guests -- six of them, anyway -- will have an up-close and personal view into Paul's culinary kingdom, since the dining room will showcase, among other things, an intimate chef's counter. "It'll be a place where you can really hang out with the kitchen staff," he says.
The remainder of the space, which he describes as an "urban pantry," will be appointed with antique mirrors, on which the menu will be published; reclaimed barnwood; subway tiling; booths; banquettes; and tables bordered by reclaimed wood and steel schoolhouse chairs painted espresso. The existing hardwood floors, says Paul, will remain, although he admits they "need a little love." and he's also keeping some of the elements of the bar, which is beautiful. He plans to give the patios a facelift, as well, and his goal is to eventually grow herbs, tomatoes and root vegetables on the garden patio. "That's the plan for the future," he says.
The future also includes the return of good friend and fellow chef Wade Kirwan, who shared the line alongside Paul at Encore and is currently the exec at Adrift. But Kirwan is departing Adrift this week to become Paul's chef de cuisine. "The Paul and Wade Show will be back on the road," he declares. "Wade and I have a great working relationship, and we make great food together. We knew after working together at Encore that we wanted to cook together again. We're pumped."
Together, the dynamic duo, along with Aileen, who Paul says is "a riot to work with," intend to finish what they started at Encore. They'll bring back brunch -- and not just on the weekends. Instead, he and Kirwan will serve brunch every day. "Brunch was so popular at Encore, and we loved doing it, so we're going to offer it here six days a week, every day except Monday, when we're closed," he says.
"I love egg cookery, so there will be a definite focus on eggs, and we'll also have house-cured breakfast meats, fresh breads and pastries, and there will be some lunch-y things, too," adds Paul. And in between brunch and dinner services, Beast + Bottle will offer a bar menu.
And wine will be the nucleus of the bar program, spearheaded by Dean Copeland, the former bar manager at Encore, and Aileen, who spent a solid nine weeks journeying through the wine regions of Europe over the summer. The scroll will include ten to twelve wines by the glass and two tap wines -- a red and a white -- also available in quarter-liter pours that Italians call a quartino. "She spent her summer break visiting and studying major -- and not so major -- wine regions in France and Italy, and she's working on an original and approachable New World and Old World wine list that looks fantastic," says Paul.
If there's a downside to any of this, it's that we have to wait until February of next year before Beast + Bottle opens. But the wait will most certainly be worth it.
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In the meantime, Paul is cooking a few nights a week at Vesta Dipping Grill, and tomorrow night, he'll be a guest chef at El Diablo, wielding knives in the home kitchen of Sean Yontz; the two chefs are preparing a five-course dinner paired with tequilas and cocktails. The dinner, priced at $75 per person, starts at 7 p.m., and you can make reservations by calling 303-954-0324.