Roast chicken with herbed soubric, tomato jam, watercress, oyster mushroom and chicken jus.
Roast chicken with herbed soubric, tomato jam, watercress, oyster mushroom and chicken jus.
Danielle Lirette

First Look: Wayward Opens Tonight in Former Zengo Space

When the members of the Way Back team first announced they were planning to open Wayward at 1610 Little Raven Street in the joint space that formerly housed Zengo and La Güera, they promised a restaurant that would hew to the ethos of local and sustainable sourcing they'd established at their first restaurant, tweaked for the 200-seat size and location of the new space. “We’re trying to inspire people to use, expand and rely on a more regional food system," partner Chad Michael George told us at the time. "This is a much bigger platform to send our message out, and I think the food there will reflect that.”

They've played the menu details of exactly what that means close to the vest, announcing only that they'd brought on Patrick Kelly, a chef with serious Bay Area cooking credentials who originally moved to Denver to take on the executive-chef gig at Panzano last year. When Wayward opens tonight, Kelly will unleash his initial menu, which is indeed an echo of the Way Back while venturing into new territory.

The space received an overhaul with a Mountain West theme and brighter tones.
The space received an overhaul with a Mountain West theme and brighter tones.
Danielle Lirette

Kelly says he drew on the connections that partners George, Kade Gianinetti and Jared Schwartz, plus chefs Sam Charles and Marcus Eng, made over at the Way Back, taking into account the scale of the project in building his board. "These guys had the vision to connect all the dots and do a local, sustainable restaurant, which is the way I’ve been cooking for a long time in the Bay Area," he says. "It was enlightening to talk to the chefs and learn how accessible and far-reaching it could be. What they’d built for the last year and half was a huge asset to me."

Wayward's opening menu — divided into bites, small plates, large plates and pastas and grains — is rife with local, end-of-summer ingredients. Smoked fairytale eggplant, heirloom tomatoes and baby carrots with watermelon all make the list, as does a platter of chicken sourced entirely from Colorado; the birds comes from Eastern Plains Poultry, which Kelly describes as "truly free-range, protected by yaks and alpacas." On the same platter is a bread pudding built with the Rolling Pin's bread, plus locally grown mushrooms and tomato jam. Other eye-catching dishes include a Hatch-chile seafood stew, agnolotti with lamb tongue and sweet corn, and a squash-and-cucumber salad with Korean chile and labne. There's also a Wayward burger topped with giardiniera and served on ciabatta.

The new bar at Wayward.
The new bar at Wayward.
Danielle Lirette

In the true spirit of this team's seasonal bent, Kelly says he's already thinking about what comes next, not least because changing a menu for a restaurant the size of Wayward requires some forethought. "We can’t pivot on a dime here," he says. "Every time I go to the market and see something cool, or when I'm waiting for something cool, it's about, how long can I get this and how much can I get? We need to be way ahead of the curve."

Cocktails will follow the lead of the kitchen; bar pro Alex Flower's menu is built on seasonal ingredients and simple combinations, and the list pays homage to classics while offering a number of original creations. If you're waffling, consider the whiskey sour; $1 from every sale of that drink will go to Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit organization that confronts climate change. If you want something non-alcoholic, consider the agua de jamaica, made with hibiscus flowers.

The space itself establishes Wayward as distinct from the Way Back, with a design by Raw Creative that pulls influence from Colorado's desert and mountain landscapes but also feels like a cozy family room. Antique knickknacks on shelves are meant to recall "your living room," says Gianinetti, and cacti potted in a collection of antique beer cans have a more personal meaning: The cans belonged to Gianinetti's friend's father, who passed away several years ago.

If your living room had a white bison head, this is what it would feel like.
If your living room had a white bison head, this is what it would feel like.
Danielle Lirette

With the opening, the team is unveiling a bottomless happy hour that it hopes will entice local professionals and residents: From 4 to 6 p.m., pay $20 and you can drink as much as you'd like (within reason, of course) of a handful of cocktails, glasses of wine, and Call to Arms Brewing Company's Ballroom Beer.

Not coming online with the opening is brunch; general manager Peter Gordon says it will start in approximately eight weeks. Nor will the former La Güera space next door be utilized; it's currently being converting into a daytime option that will fuel commuters and Confluence Park visitors with breakfast and lunch. Bringing more people to the park is a focus, the partners say. "We want to activate this place between LoHi and downtown, which is underserved and underutilized," George says. To that end, the grab-and-go space, when it opens, will offer picnic lunches; the team is aiming for a January launch. Before that rolls out, the space will house a Christmas-themed bar from Thanksgiving until December 25. The pop-up, done in partnership with Cocktail Kingdom, will be "over-the-top Christmas-themed, like Santa Claus threw up in there," says George.

Cocktails come courtesy of drinks expert Alex Flower.
Cocktails come courtesy of drinks expert Alex Flower.
Danielle Lirette

The guys are also in the midst of moving the currently closed Way Back from its 38th Avenue digs into a space on Tennyson Street, where, George says, they'll have "the opportunity to differentiate what’s the bar and what’s the dining room." Schwartz adds that the dining component there may go the tasting-menu route.

Wayward is open 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday.

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