When I first walked into Revelry Kitchen, there wasn’t much revelry going on. No one was laughing over mimosas or micheladas, as they would’ve been on a busy weekend morning. No one was even waking up over coffee, which had yet to be made. Steel stools at the bar in the center of the room were empty, as were the sun-drenched tables and banquettes. I began to wonder if the restaurant’s front door had been unlocked too soon. In this homey spot — with its narrow-brick walls, ceramic bird knickknacks and stained-glass windows — was anyone actually home?
Finally, the lone server peered around the bar and invited us to sit anywhere. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in need of caffeine.
And not just in the front of the house — the kitchen seemed half asleep, too. A pumpkin cinnamon roll tasted like it was a day old; always a fan of coffee and baked goods, I tried to make the most of it, dipping bacon bits into the cream-cheese frosting, but they were as hard as rock candy. Bacon was treated more gently in a stack of bacon-chocolate-chip pancakes, which struck the right balance between savory and sweet, but the walnut gremolata that should’ve added crunch was MIA. The fried chicken in the chicken and waffles was as good as it looked, with deep-ridged swirls and golden nubs, and a profile that was pleasantly savory, with hot sauce and tasso gravy. But the chile rojo on the Northside rancheros was barely warm, which made it hard to appreciate not just the sauce, but the melty, cheese-stuffed tortillas, lard-spiked beans and fried eggs under it. Only after I heated up the leftovers the next day could I fully appreciate the sauce’s depth. Then it seemed like a magic potion, with red bell peppers and a handful of chiles. I had to find out its spellbinding secret.
“My wife is Mexican,” chef Enrique Socarras later explained by phone, adding that before Revelry opened, he recipe-tested the sauce at home and knew he was on the right track “once we had all smiles.”
I wondered if I’d just hit Revelry on an off day. After all, when this restaurant opened in the former home of Indulge French Bistro in West Highland last summer, people rejoiced — and not just neighborhood folks looking for a spot to grab a quick breakfast or lunch. Founded by two front-of-house veterans, sisters Sara Harris and Vanessa Tuel, as well as their mother, Robin Harris, Revelry seemed capable of becoming a destination for anyone in Denver seeking out a worthwhile morning or midday meal. Sara and Vanessa have been working in restaurants for nearly two decades; both spent time at Rioja, and Sara also worked at Bistro Vendôme. To helm the kitchen, they hired Socarras, a talented chef who made his mark during a decade at Cuba Cuba and recently cooked at the James Beard House in New York City as part of the Denver Five, a group of the town’s best chefs.
Socarras was given free rein with the menu, and he nailed it, putting out an all-day assemblage of dishes both contemporary and comforting. “For a long time, I wanted to push the boundaries of classic cuisine,” he says. “With this project, it was important to be Denver-centric, with food for the neighborhood, with its Mexican, Italian and American vibe.” Thus, small plates run the gamut from meatballs to lobster deviled eggs to queso fundido, and entrees are equally wide-ranging, not to mention largely gluten-free. Give yourself time to study the menu; if you order the first thing that catches your eye, you’ll risk missing something that you might like even better.
And there’s a lot to like. Drawing on his years as chef-partner at Cuba Cuba, Socarras crafts a cubano with Gruyère, marinated pork shoulder and a thick layer of ham on fat triangles of house-baked Cuban bread. What really makes the sandwich, though, are the mojo mostarda and habanero pickles tucked inside. Even better were the biscuits and gravy, with chopped poblanos in the biscuits and gravy dancing with cumin and chorizo. The gravy was so good I asked for more, pouring it over a friend’s leftover fries to make an ad hoc poutine. Speaking of poutine, Socarras says he’s considered using the tasso gravy created for the chicken and waffles over potatoes, a thought I highly encourage. Or, better yet, how about a poutine sampler with a trio of sauces?
Just when the menu seems too heavy, Socarras wisely throws in a salad or two. My current favorite? The panzanella, which tips its hat to the classic Italian bread salad before moving into new territory, with shrimp sautéed in vibrant vadouvan curry and an arresting mix of arugula, Kalamata olives and kabocha squash. As if that weren’t enough, the plate is finished with a smear of carrot-habanero purée that I found myself eating by the spoonful as I waited for plates to be cleared.
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But even at these far more successful meals, there were signs that the kitchen is not yet fully awake. Queso fundido could have been a dish to get me out of bed in the morning — no easy task, given my night-owl tendencies. But what should’ve been a seductively smooth blend of asadero and goat cheeses separated into liquid and blobs of rubbery cheese. It’s a credit to Socarras’s little flourishes — in this case, smoky chipotle pico — that we ate it all anyway. And despite the abundance of front-of-house talent — all three owners take turns up front — there were several occasions when dishes hung out a while, waiting to be delivered. No wonder so many plates came out lukewarm.
Revelry Kitchen has a lot going for it. With a little more attention to detail and some eye-opening effort, it could indeed live up to its name as a place to make merry.
4140 West 38th Avenue
Pumpkin cinnamon roll $6
Queso fundido $8
Biscuits and gravy $12
Northside rancheros $11
Chicken and waffles $13
Revelry Kitchen is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. Learn more at revelrydenver.com.