Call them ghost kitchens, pop-ups or side hustles: Since the coronavirus pandemic hit Denver, well-known restaurants have been launching secondary menus to appeal to a wider range of customers. Alternative concepts offered at lunch or for takeout and delivery only have become a great way for eateries to bring in extra revenue while COVID-related in-house dining restrictions remain in place, and also give kitchen staff a chance to come back to work after layoffs and flex their creativity.
Among the early adopters of the trend — before dining rooms were allowed to reopen on May 27 — were Bar Dough, which added Jabroni & Sons in late April, and Rioja, which introduced Flavor Dojo a couple of weeks later. Jabroni & Sons sold hefty East Coast-style Italian deli sandwiches during lunch (and still operates on Fridays), and Flavor Dojo added healthy lunchtime grain bowls to Rioja's more upscale dinner offerings. Fish N Beer got in on the action, too, when founder Kevin Morrison began selling burritos under the Burro Rito name out of the RiNo seafood restaurant's kitchen before it had even reopened for takeout business. Burro Rito ran as a two-week pop-up that later moved to Morrison's West Highland Tacos Tequila Whiskey outpost for another two weeks.
Other concepts still going include Happy Go Lucky, serving poke and sushi for lunch out of Ace Eat Serve; Fancy Hot Dogs, which utilizes the side door as a walk-up window at the Truffle Table; and the Coop Chicken & Beer, which just opened as an offshoot of Wynkoop Brewing Company.
New to the game is Rioja's sibling Ultreia, chef/restaurateur Jennifer Jasinski's Spanish and Portuguese restaurant at Union Station (1701 Wynkoop Street). There, chef Adam Branz has added Split Lip Chicken, which departs from the Iberian theme with Nashville-style hot chicken and slugburgers. If you're not from Mississippi or Alabama, the word "slugburger" may not have have much appeal, but they have a long history at diners in the South. A slugburger is made with beef or pork blended with a filler of some sort. In 1917, John Weeks invented the burger by mixing in potato flakes and flour, later switching to soybean meal; his invention is still sold in Corinth, Mississippi, and many copycats can also be found in the region.
They were called slugburgers because they sold for a nickel a piece (a slug was a counterfeit nickel) in the early days; Branz's version goes for a little more than that, but uses premium ground beef and breadcrumbs (for flavor, not as filler). Split Lip's slugburgers and fried chicken, available by the quarter, half and whole bird, can be ordered from Ultreia's expanded patio from 3 to 6 p.m. every Thursday as a happy hour alternative. The restaurant is also offering more traditional Spanish fare for happy hour on Friday, with Ribs & Rosé from 3 to 5 p.m. on Fridays, and breakfast paella — all the usual good stuff, plus bacon and eggs — on Saturdays during the Union Station Farmers' Market, which runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekly. Visit Ultreia's website or call 303-534-1970 for details and ordering.
At Marco's Coal Fired, Denver's first certified Neapolitan pizzeria, founder Mark Dim is adding a taste of his New York City Roots with F. Uzzio's Sangweeches. The big deli-style sandwiches seem a natural fit alongside the coal-fired pizzas at Marco's, which opened at 2129 Larimer Street twelve years ago. Menu items include the Fat Bastard (with capicolla, salami, provolone and hot peppers) and the Canary, made with fried eggplant and roasted peppers. There's also a more traditional eggplant parm, as well as chicken parm and meatball parm. F. Uzzio's sandwiches are available for takeout and delivery only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be ordered online or by calling Marco's at 303-296-7000. While you're on the pizzeria's website, read the colorful backstory behind the name of the sandwich shop — which involves a Mafia hitman with poor eyesight (needless to say, "sangweeches" became a better career path for Frank Uzzio).