Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two brings low-country cuisine to the Mile High City

Chris Wray makes shrimp and grits at Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two. See also: A Closer Look at Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two
Chris Wray makes shrimp and grits at Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two. See also: A Closer Look at Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two
Mark Manger

Being a restaurant reviewer is a lot like being a detective. With each spoonful of soup and every morsel of fish, I'm gathering clues about what's afoot in the kitchen. Sometimes the mystery lingers, but as I sliced through the seared duck at Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two, the low-country restaurant that opened on Old South Pearl Street in September, I pieced together what had happened as if I'd found the smoking gun. There, between the scored, espresso-colored skin and the nearly rare flesh, lurked a plump parka. My duck must've loved it — after all, it offered protection from the cold and damp — but in my mouth the fat was so thick that it was almost impossible to swallow.

See also: A Closer Look at Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two

Everyone has a different palate for fat. Some like it cooked off (think brittle bacon), whereas others prize the stuff. But when it comes to this water bird, there's little room for disagreement: Duck should be cooked with care, so that its unusually large layer of subcutaneous fat has time to render, or melt away. In this case, an over-hot pan had likely caused the skin to darken too quickly, making the duck look done before enough fat was gone. That's a mistake a home cook would make — which is somewhat fitting, because Fourteen Seventy-Two is located in a home. At least it was a home for 100-plus years, until Dave Chmura, Rob Young and Scott Bergin transformed it into a restaurant.

Gone are the extra kitchens, bathrooms and walls that had divided the Victorian house into three rental quarters. What remains is a dining area that feels like a cozy living room, with walls relieved of their plaster to reveal nubby brick and a wood-burning fireplace, its mantel bedecked with candles and bottles of wine. Walk out the front door — the original one, that is (the new entrance lies up a long ramp on the side of the building) — and you step down to a front-yard-turned-patio, now enclosed by glass doors but designed to be fully open-air come spring, with the sounds of blues spilling out to the street. Seating in both rooms totals about fifty, a number that more than doubles when the roof deck and outside tables are included.

Chmura and Young followed an architect's drawings but otherwise handled most of the renovations themselves, laying floors, scraping walls, putting in the deck, etc., which explains why the process took two years. It also might explain why, more than four months after opening, the restaurant still feels like it's in the soft-opening stage, with no signage (unless you count a paper sign taped to the door), servers oblivious to guests desiring a check, and a kitchen that runs out of a dish at a not-so-busy lunch.

But like a home, what the restaurant lacks in polish it makes up for in heart, with recipes as likely to come from the owners' families as from kitchen managers Matt Altevogt and Chris Wray. Portions are generous; you leave, as you do from Grandma's, with a bag of containers brimming with food.

You'll want those leftovers if you ordered the 1472 burger, a hefty patty of beef and venison loaded with Gruyère, caramelized onions and fried green tomatoes, or the maple-and-chipotle-glazed wild boar ribs, braised overnight for meat so tender, the bones slip out as you slice into them. The shrimp and grits are another score, with five perfectly cooked large Gulf crustaceans, two pan-fried grit cakes and a bed of dark-roux gravy. A side of cream grits, large enough to serve the table and still have some left over, would make a fantastic breakfast — though, like all starches when they sit, the grits would lose their pillowy lightness. The double pork chop — partially frenched, with stuffing spilling out of the space between two chops — is surprisingly moist given its hulking state-fair-turkey-leg stature. And if you could find a way to get it home, you'd also want the remainder of the she-crab soup, lily white with pools of butter floating on top and so rich from a bottle of brandy in every batch that all you really need is a few bites.

But other dishes are as disappointing as my duck. Raw onion is so prominent in the pineapple salsa paired with pork belly and corn griddle cakes, it's all you taste. For hours. Sage-and-sausage dressing, available as a side or stuffed inside those chops, is overly salted. An otherwise promising bowl of chewy barley, mixed greens, apples, cranberries and goat cheese sports enough dressing for several salads — and I left mine almost untouched, a sad state of affairs unnoticed by the cheerful server. The waffle in the non-traditional chicken and waffles needs less sugar, less vanilla and more time to crisp in the iron. Topped not with bone-in fried chicken but with pulled white meat soaked in maple-whiskey sauce, it's nearly sweet enough to count as dessert.

Speaking of which, the carrot cake — a teetering, four-layer creation with raisins, nuts, spices and thick cream-cheese frosting — would be fantastic if it weren't served so cold. So would the ice cream sandwich. Not that this confection of Sweet Action's Stranahan's Whiskey ice cream wedged between housemade pecan cookies should be served warm, but it seems to come straight from the deep-freezer, with the potential to chip a tooth.

This isn't a destination restaurant. And right now, it isn't really a neighborhood spot, either, given the lack of a kids' menu (this is Platt Park, after all) and the fact that the weekday menu is the same at lunch and dinner, with wildly outsized portions and heartier fare than many of us normally eat mid-day. But there's no real mystery to what Restaurant Fourteen Seventy-Two is right now: a labor of love in need of more attention to what is and isn't working.

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