Bob Reiter's new restaurant, American Elm, at 4132 West 38th Avenue, comes across as understated and minimalist. Walls painted slate gray intersect with what appear to be weathered copper panels. Black chairs and bar stools are tucked neatly under blond-wood tables. A few prints, a small stretch of wallpaper and some black and white tiles surrounding the bar add just a hint of visual interest. It's the kind of place you could sink into after a couple of happy-hour cocktails, especially if the garage doors are open and a breeze from the backyard-style patio stirs the air.
Beneath the big elm that gives the restaurant its name, there's not much to distract from a menu that executive chef Brent Turnipseede describes as comforting but that in reality hides flourishes certain to attract food-savvy customers. Sure, you can keep things simple with those happy-hour cocktails (when a Pimm's Cup or an Old Fashioned will ring in at $5), $2 oysters, some roasted olives and nuts, or a plate of deviled eggs.
But the deviled eggs hide a smoky secret, and the list of bar snacks also includes "Animal Crackers" — crunchy bits of pork, beef and duck with lime salt and hot sauce. And even something as simple as pasta carbonara gets a bright-yellow dusting of cured egg yolk.
These are the flourishes of someone going well beyond the basics of neighborhood restaurant grub. Turnipseede was last at Guard and Grace, but his roots are in the South, and he's also worked at other big-name Colorado restaurants, including Sweet Basil in Vail. "I've been doing 300-plus covers for the better part of my career, so I'm excited to do something smaller for the neighborhood," he explains.
Other items he's been working on include a tomato salad with hazelnut vinaigrette and creamy stracciatella (a cheese similar to burrata) from Italian cheese import company La Mozzarella, and seared scallops with a hyper-seasonal butter-bean succotash and smoked tomato beurre blanc. The menu descriptions may read as a little complicated, but the ingredients come together seamlessly in a way that's — as the chef intends — comforting.
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The bar program also sticks with the classics while incorporating captivating details. "We're a bar that's rooted in the fundamentals and that does the classics right," explains bar manager Jesse Torres, who has also mixed cocktails at Poka Lola and Tavernetta. A "captain's list" of about a dozen drinks starts with the time-honored Sazerac and Negroni and veers into "modern classics" such as the mezcal-based Naked and Famous. Beers skew seasonal and local (though not exclusively), and wines by the glass are selected to stand on their own or complement the food.
Reiter purchased the building and then installed a brand-new kitchen where a food truck once served as the kitchen at the previous restaurant, the Way Back. Other upgrades include a new heating and air-conditioning system (Reiter says things were getting a little muggy with just an evaporative cooler), a slightly larger dining room and a new front door so guests don't stack up at the bar.
American Elm opens Thursday, August 22, at 4 p.m. and then will be open daily thereafter. Happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Sunday brunch will launch on September 8. Reiter also hopes to launch a late-night menu with a limited food menu for guests coming in after 10 p.m. — or for those who just settle in and can't pull themselves away.
Visit the American Elm website or call 720-749-3186 for details and reservations.