Second Chance at Second Home

New exec chef Jason Rogers has just put up his new menu at Second Home (150 Clayton Lane), in an attempt to recover from the bland and affectless fried-cheese-and-crab-paste board that'd been assembled by Home's opening chef, Che Frey, and oh-so-tenderly deconstructed by yours truly in my review of Second Home last year. 

I didn't like Second Home at all after I'd slogged through three meals there, and was confused since Frey had come to Cherry Creek North with such impressive bonafides--Gotham and Le Cirque in Manhattan, Sacre Bleu in Denver--and seemed to be right on his game.  But the original menu was a mess of fryer-driven apps and mushy, overplayed comfort foods that could only have worked at this time and in this space had they been flawlessly executed.  And what eventually landed on my table was far from flawless. 

Under Frey, this high-tone crew even managed to screw up mozzarella sticks.  And that, my friends, takes either a real, serious deficit of talent or carelessness on an epic, Applebee's-like scale.

But Rogers is not Frey.  And his menu is at least a marginal departure from his predecessor's, offering (again) American-accented cuisine in the comfort-food vein (meatloaf special on Tuesdays, chicken pot pie and cedar-plank salmon), but this time injecting a little bit of chefly muscle into the prep (the salmon served with a sweet-and-sour orange glaze and watercress, the pure Midwestern casserole country smoked trout dip coming with rye crisps and homemade flatbread) and offering the promise that he's working with nothing but the best ingredients and making every damn thing on the board by hand and from scratch.

Sure, the mozzarella sticks are still on offer, but they're now flanked on the apps list by saffron shrimp with toasted garlic, white wine, peas and chorizo (I have such a weakness for shellfish and sausage together...); sweet potato chips with white cheddar sour cream; five kinds of sliders; and, believe it or not, riblets--barbecued here, made with lamb and served with green apple slaw, but still a deliberate poke in the eye to the chain restaurants that live and die by their Riblets, jalapeno poppers and fried cheesecakes.

Rogers has also dropped Second Home's prices, added more soups and salads (another deliberate sop to the blue-hair lunch and early-bird Creeker crowds) and come up with what I have to admit looks like a pretty killer happy hour/bar menu that runs from 2 p.m. all the way through 'til midnight.  He's got tater tots on there (the ultimate pretension-deflator), hush puppies, hot wings, horseradish potato cakes (which I want right now) and a long list of sliders, sides and flatbread pizzas.

The best thing, though? The cocktail list, believe it or not. Not only has he married his classic American menu to a nicely historic spread of drinks (Sidecars and Rusty Nails and proper Old Fashioneds), but he also has a worthy Colorado-inspired drink on there: the Colorado Manhattan, made with Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, sweet vermouth and a cherry.

Well played, chef.  We'll see if I'm still so into you once I make it down to your 'hood for a taste.

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