When the pandemic called a halt to indoor dining in March 2020, it also sidelined many chef/owners who suddenly had to spend all of their time navigating the logistics of operations — and not getting creative in the kitchen. That was the case for Dana Rodriguez, who recently introduced new menu items at her first two eateries, Work & Class at 2500 Larimer Street and the nearby Super Mega Bien inside the Ramble Hotel, for the first time in two and a half years.
"Everybody was down. You lose the passion for what you used to do," Rodriguez admits. But now that passion is back.
Many of the Work & Class menu items had been unchanged since the eatery opened in 2014, including the mac and cheese. Although it had been a longtime guest favorite, Rodriguez says she was excited to "try something different" with the dish. Now it's made with smoked Gouda and served with parmesan crisps on top; like all the sides, it's $8 for a small and $15 for a large.
The brown butter chicken, too, got an update — it's now made with lemon pepper seasoning (starting at $7.75 for a quarter). Rodriguez also took off the longstanding goat offering, because the meat had become too expensive to have as a regular menu item, though she does plan to offer it as an occasional special. In its place is slow-cooked, achiote-braised cochinita pibil (starting at $12.75 for a quarter pound), as well as red wine-braised short ribs (starting at $14.75 for a quarter pound).
Also new at Work & Class: the prices, which hadn't changed in years but have recently increased. Cost of goods was a driving factor. Lamb, for example, was around $4.75 per pound when the restaurant opened. Now, it's upwards of $14 per pound. But Rodriguez promises that the original idea of offering "a square meal and a stiff drink at a fair price" remains intact.
Prices will stay steady at Super Mega Bien, which opened just three years ago, but Rodriguez decided to make some other changes. "The first year at Super Mega Bien was hard because people didn't get the idea of Latin dim sum," she says, so she wanted to hold steady as guests got to know the place. Now, though, seems like the right time for updates.
Fresh additions to the small plates include a spicy mix of glass noodles and chipotle shrimp ($13) which replaced a shrimp soup ("I know some people miss the soup, but it's summer," she explains) and saffron arancini with salsa brava ($10).
So far, feedback on the new menus has been positive. "I'm very happy that people are excited to try everything," Rodriguez says.
Next up for the chef, who also opened Cantina Loca in January: gearing up for the eventual opening of Casa Bonita, where she will serve as executive chef. She's not sure when, exactly, it will open, but she is excited about the team, which includes some longtime staff members, and what's taking shape there.
Work & Class is located at 2500 Larimer Street and is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit workandclassdenver.com.
Super Mega Bien is located at 1260 25th Street and is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit supermegabien.com.