"The Bean is back."
That was the overriding footnote last night at the Squeaky Bean, the tongue-in-cheek restaurant that Bean king Johnny Ballen originally unleashed in Highland in May of 2009. And during the three years that the Squeaky Bean resided in Highland, it generated a cult following, thanks to a staff, led by Ballen, that made damn sure that you had a great time, and Max MacKissock, the executive chef of the Squeaky Bean, whose whimsical, astonishingly innovative cooking, echoed in seasonal dedication, is beyond reproach.
And the new Squeaky Bean, which opens Monday in the historic Saddlery building at 1500 Wynkoop Street following two nights of practice dinners and the weekend to recuperate, is everything (and more) that Ballen, MacKissock and the Bean team -- many of whom were staff at the original Bean, including the entire kitchen crew -- envisioned. "The Bean is three peas in a pod: pride personality and passion," says Ballen, "and while it took us a while to find the right space and to open, it gave us all time to sit down and really think about what we wanted to do, and we knew that we wanted it to have the seem feeling as the old Bean, and I think we've more than accomplished that."
The space, which exposes wooden floors and beams, a horseshoe-shaped bar, wooden tables and crescent-shaped booths, floor-to-ceiling windows and an exhibition kitchen with counter seating, is far larger than the old Bean, but the convivial vibrancy, the irreverent accents (like the nine-shooter retro autobar that Ballen picked for his host stand) and the same guts and glory have been preserved -- and, if anything, surpassed. "I think people will like this Bean better than the first one," predicts Ballen. "There are so many things that we couldn't do at the old Bean -- we weren't even set up to scramble eggs -- and now we can do just about everything," he adds, including accommodating larger parties and giving guests a place to hang if there's a wait list.
He notes, too, that there's no artwork mounted to the walls, a conscientious decision that was made so that guests would focus on the food in front of them. "The artwork is on the plate," points out Ballen, referring to the strikingly composed dishes that emerge from MacKissock's kitchen.
"I'm a perfectionist, and I have high expectations," admits MacKissock, who credits his staff for pumping creativity into his veins. "My team is really special," he adds, pointing to his sous chef, Blake Edmunds, an alum of Fruition, who MacKissock insists will one day become "one of the best executive chefs in Denver, hands down." MacKissock also gives shout-outs to his other sous chef, Josh Bitz, a guy who MacKissock calls his "right-hand man who anticipates my every need."
MacKissock recently hired Darren Pusateri, formerly of the Den Corner Restaurant Group (Sushi Den, Izakaka Den) as a line cook, and Josh Olsen, who oversees Squeaky Acre, the Bean's ten-acre farm in Lakewood, is his kitchen manager. "Darren is awesome and can kill a station every single day, and Josh is our puppeteer and the hardest-working guy I've ever met in my life," says MacKissock.
"We just want to expose people to different types of fun in really fun ways," stresses MacKissock. "We want to be the restaurant that doesn't follow the rules, and because we don't have boundaries, we can do that. We want what everyone else doesn't have."
I had the opportunity to stalk the new Squeaky Bean yesterday afternoon, and it was awesome to see MacKissock in his new kitchen, which has everything the old Bean kitchen didn't, including a French top. "I'm pretty happy that we have air conditioning, but my favorite piece of equipment is definitely my French top. I've always loved this classic, classic piece of equipment. It's incredibly useful, although I gotta say that I'm having fun playing around with all my new stuff," he says.
The Bean will roll out cocktail hour in a few weeks, a program spearheaded by Sean Kenyon, who also tends bar at Williams & Graham, and by mid-July, the kitchen will add Saturday and Sunday brunch. "The cocktail program is unlike anything Sean has ever done -- it's going to blow people away," says MacKissock.
In the same way, I imagine, that the space -- and MacKissock's food -- blew me away last night. Herewith, the photos of the new Squeaky Bean.
The host stand, a refurbished autobar that's stocked with (empty) liquor bottles. Carrots done three ways: roasted, blanched and dehydrated and plated with citrus peanuts, kafir lime leaf ice cream and potage de Crecy. Duck breast and achiote duck heart with molten cornbread and an avocado and corn relish. The dining room. Brioche wrapped in lardo and served with peas and their tendrils, fava beans and their leaves, blots of Fruition Farms ricotta and beach mushrooms. Carne salata plated with a 100-year egg, peas, lemon and potatoes. MacKissock's gleaming new kitchen. The Squeaky Bean is the only restaurant in Denver to have a cheese cart. "We wanted to go for a few fine-dining touches, but still make things accessible and super-fun, so we have a cheese cart service to expose people to some really incredible cheeses," says MacKissock, adding that all the cheeses come from the Truffle. The cheeses, which will change according to what's available at the Truffle. Pastry chef Matthew Thompson (left) and line cook Jeffrey Weston -- or just "Weston." Executive chef Max MacKissock. Bread service with goat-cheese butter and herbs, which starts off every dinner. MacKissock's highly organized spice rack. A champagne-spritzed vinaigrette dresses a salad of leaves, flowers and herbs -- more than twenty different ingredients -- that were plucked from Squeaky Bean Acre. Owner Johnny Ballen in his refurbished vintage Bevador cooler, which will be used to store beer and white wine. "It's from the late '40s, and I got it in Indianapolis, shipped it to Chicago, where it was restored, and then had it shipped here," says Ballen, who's crazy for the color. Beets with Gouda, basil pudding and nut butter. Bar manager Sean Kenyon demonstrates how to chop ice off a block. Bone marrow and octopus with celery, brioche and tomato vinaigrette. Duck foie and rillettes terrine with vermouth-soaked cherries, housemade mustard and butter-glossed bread. The kitchen staff. Kona kampachi with charred and composed melon gazpacho, radish flowers, coriander and whipped verjus. Sweetbreads, corned shoulder, little gems (miniature green romaine), zucchini pickle and sauce Dijonnaise. And for a sweet finale, the "gilded cherry," a chocolate puff pastry torte with cherry butter creme, ganache, mousse and shavings of gold.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.