What: Culinary Dropout
Where: 4141 East Ninth Avenue
When: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday starting November 3.
For more info: Visit culinarydropout.com
Culinary Dropout brings even more dining options to the area near Rose Medical Center. There's plenty of room for all, and enough food choices that everyone can find something — or many things — they want to eat. Both Culinary Dropout and its new, next-door sister restaurant Blanco Cocina + Cantina are owned and operated by Fox Restaurant Concepts, a company based in Arizona that also own North Italia and Flower Child.
While there are seven other Culinary Dropout locations (six in Arizona plus one in Austin, Texas), the Denver outpost includes some one-up touches. The most notable is the giant Converse high-top art piece comprising hundreds of hand-decorated shoes, many created by employees of other restaurants in the family. This three-dimensional wall mural is unique to this location, and diners can spend a good portion of the meal investigating the intricacy of each shoe. Or they can take in the towering ceiling and birdcage-shaped light fixtures dangling near the bar. The space is artsy without being over the top, in the same way that the menu is interesting without being gimmicky.
The potent Paloma Spritz ($13), for example, is a take on the classic tequila and grapefruit cocktail but made fresh with sparkling wine and a dash of pink salt. Many of the cocktails have whimsical names that play off pop culture and films, such as the Two to Mango ($12.50), with vodka, mango White Claw, pineapple, orange and guava; and the Two Birds, One Stone(d) ($13), with gin, hemp orange bitters, pressed lemon and hopped honey tipple.
What surprised us: The sheer size of Culinary Dropout stands out. There are so many roomy places to sit, you could get a totally different view each visit. This includes the front area's booths, a large indoor/outdoor bar, curved booths along one wall, high-top tables and a sprawling covered patio complete with fire pits and cornhole. There's also a stage at the back of the restaurant where live bands will play once the venue has fully opened.
Like the space, the menu options are vast and the portions larger than one might expect, even when going out for classic American cuisine. An appetizer of pillowy pretzel rolls with provolone fondue ($14) could easily feed a hungry party of four, especially if a side of spicy gochujang Brussels sprouts ($6) and tantalizing agrodolce sweet potatoes with pine nuts ($6) are added on. Other starters include charcuterie options ($4 to $7 per item), onion rings with bacon barbecue sauce ($7), housemade potato chips with onion dip ($8), truffle-laced deviled eggs with crispy prosciutto ($5) and more.
Then there's the rest of the menu, which features Detroit-style pizzas (starting at $16); five types of salads to which extra protein can be added added ($6.50 to $16.50); sandwiches (starting at $14.50); and entrees ($15 to $29.50). The turkey pastrami sandwich ($14.50) came on a super-soft pretzel roll layered with sliced pastrami-spiced turkey, a pile of crispy coleslaw and Swiss cheese. It was simple yet complex, with a freshness not always associated with a sandwich like this. Bonus: It came with perfect fries made even better by adding on a side of the restaurant's housemade ranch to dip them in.
The chopped chicken salad ($16.50) was supposed to be our healthy option. But while it was a salad, the hearty chunks of bacon, white cheddar, luscious deviled egg and bacon-barbecue ranch dressing elevated it to the comfort-food category. Equally satisfying is the fried chicken, which, when ordered off the brunch menu (available 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday), comes as a fillet over two biscuits with a spicy, umami-filled gravy flavored with Old Bay seasoning.
This place is a winner for families, too. There's so much space, kids can meander and look at the art without crowding other tables. Or parents can take them outside to play endless rounds of cornhole. Culinary Dropout is a laid-back eatery, and the music is loud enough to drown out even the most vocal of children. Plus, with a $7.50 kids' menu that includes macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers and chicken tenders, children will be just as happy with their repast as the adults are.