California chef, caterer and restaurateur Dory Ford is helping Denver revive a piece of its history by opening Baur's Restaurant and Listening Lounge tomorrow night. The Baur's name in downtown Denver goes back nearly as far as the city itself: The O. P. Baur Confectionery Company was established in 1872 at 1512 Curtis Street, and in recent years, the space has been Baur's Ristorante and Le Grand Bistro, but has been vacant since Robert Thompson closed Le Grand just under a year ago. But a taste of the old times returns with the new Baur's, which will feature live music curated by the Music Appreciation Society (a nonprofit group from the building's owner, David Spira) in addition to what Ford describes as cordillera cuisine.
By cordillera, he means the range of mountains that serves as the backbone of North and South America. Ford, a British Columbia native who moved to California after thirty years in Canada, has been coming to Colorado for years to visit friends and noticed distinct culinary forces at work. "I came and experienced Denver and ate at a lot of restaurants. It's like 'mountain cuisine,'" he notes, but says that phrase is not inclusive enough to capture the food of Colorado, which is also influenced by Mexican cooking moving up from the south and even Canadian dishes that have migrated to Denver. "I'm from Canada, but I never saw poutine in California," he adds. "But you see it in restaurants in Denver."
Ford noticed the influence of hunting and fishing, the short growing season, the generous portions — Denverites "don't mind eating well, but they also don't mind exercising," he says — and of course, the chile verde. To help capture those influences, Ford hired Robert Grant as executive chef. Grant is a Colorado native who graduated from Johnson & Wales University here in town but who has traveled and cooked extensively in the U.S., Italy, France and Spain. "He has good charcuterie and sausage-making experience," Ford adds, which will be part of the kitchen's program of curing, pickling and preserving that's a nod to the regions longer winters and that he says will be more on display in the fall. The menu will be somewhat seasonal, but built around a roster of year-round dishes. Asparagus, peas, spinach, fava beans and radishes highlight the menu right now, and Ford is looking forward to working with Colorado's famous late-summer corn and peaches.
Because of his catering background, the large kitchen is part of what attracted Ford to the Baur's space. Ford runs AquaTerra Culinary in Monterrey, California, and plans to extend that business to Denver, too. His Pacific-coast connection also means that he'll be bringing in fresh seafood from the Monterrey area, including farmed abalone and line-caught fish.
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Ford points out that even though the kitchen at Baur's is big enough for a restaurant and catering company, it's tucked away at the back of the restaurant, so he's added a performance station in the dining room that will serve as a chef's counter and the center of Baur's "15 in 15" business lunch, which will give diners an a la minute meal for $15 in fifteen minutes.
Since music is also a big part of the program, Ford promises "something conducive to food and drink." On nights when there is no live entertainment, black-and-white movies will be projected onto one wall of the dining room. For more on the music side of Baur's, read Jon Solomon's post on the Westword Music blog.
Baur's is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, with brunch served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.