As Denver has shaken off its roots as a steak-loving cowtown, top chefs have branched out, serving new-American, farm-to-table, nose-to-tail fare that feels more urgent and creative. But steakhouses themselves aren’t passe; the interpretation of them is. And it’s precisely that interpretation that the Summit Steakhouse, which I review this week, is trying to change. “You’ve got to stick with the times or you die,” acknowledges chef Patrick Swetnam.
In addition to upgrading the sourcing and reviewing the menu, Swetnam might want to spend a little time at Guard and Grace, Troy Guard’s steakhouse downtown, which won our Best Steakhouse award in the Best of Denver 2015. Guard and Grace combines enough traditional elements – a deep wine list, bone-in cuts, a certain level of service, etc. — that you never forget you’re in a steakhouse. But it’s brighter in design, with more sunlight and more contemporary furnishings, and the menu was designed with “things you wouldn't normally see on a steakhouse menu,” says Guard, “like lots of fish, handmade charcuterie, gnocchi, cheese, pastas [and] modern cocktails.”
Indeed, while the vast majority of tables order steak, it’s easy to think of Guard and Grace more as a restaurant that happens to do steak really well than as a steakhouse. You can also order black cod, for example, served with charred broccolini and sweet soy butter. Lobster salad comes with vanilla parsnip puree and grapefruit. Carrots are oak-fired and served with pistachios and herb yogurt.
Still, steaks are the star of the show at Guard and Grace. Dry-aged for 21 days, they can be had in portions as small as four ounces, so you can have your steak and that globally-inspired shared plate, too. You can also choose if you want your meat cooked under a 1,200-degree broiler or on the wood-fired grill, and if you want grass-fed, angus or prime. And if you can’t decide, there’s always the filet-mignon flight so you can compare them side by side.
“I remember when I was a kid, a ‘big, special’ evening out was always at a steakhouse,” recalls Guard. Judging by his guests, that’s still true: Compared to his other restaurants, he notices a higher percentage of diners at Guard and Grace celebrating a special occasion. And it’s this sense of celebration that Swetnam will need to retain as he helps the Summit stick with the times.