You only get one first — and the original Sassafras in Jefferson Park was my first true brunch love in Denver. But let’s be real: it’s hard not to fall in love with chocolate bacon milkshakes, a wraparound patio that would make any Southern belle swoon, a cloth napkin lovingly adorned in Spider-Man print (each one is different), hand-labeled homemade hot sauces and jams, and whimsical cartoon salt shakers.
When popular Southern haunt opened a second location on Colfax last summer – closer, bigger, and (gasp) with alcohol — I was giddy but cautiously optimistic since restaurant expansions are notoriously hit or miss. Not wanting my love to fade, I patiently waited several months to ensure the new crew had worked out any potential kinks before braving brunch at the new address, scared to taint my impression of the original or be forced abruptly out of our honeymoon phase. Thankfully, my worries were unfounded and the new Sassafras lives up to — and even improves on — the original, despite a lack of exterior charm.
Both the Capitol Hill and Jefferson Park locations are open for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. A little-known trick at the first location is that you can call ahead to put your name on the wait list, which can stretch beyond an hour. It's not exactly a reservation, but you can call from the comfort of your own bed and give an approximate time you’ll be arriving. Stoked that the same loophole held true at the new Colfax spot, I was shocked to learn when I called, we were told that there was actually no wait at 10 a.m. When we actually stumbled in about two hours later, it was a brief 15 minutes before we were seated. Because of the much more spacious dining room, wait times are considerably less than at the Jefferson Park spot. Major win.
Keep your eyes peeled because it’s easy to drive right by the new location, which we did, twice, even knowing where it was. Looking for something similar to the iconic brown 1800s Victorian that’s so eye-catching in Jefferson Park, we could barely distinguish the Colfax branch from the other dingy Colfax establishments, doing nothing to calm my nerves. But step through the doors and it’s a completely different world. The interior is huge — two stories — with towering ceilings and various rooms drawing your eye in a million different directions.
The owners have done their best to transport the homey feel to Cap Hill, complete with brightly colored accent walls, patterned curtains, draperies, a chandelier, and all the appropriate accoutrements to make it feel like Granny’s house: display cases with painted plates, wall sconces and various other tchotchkes. Once you get over the odd juxtaposition of the neighborhood and the completely unexpected interior, it’s a pretty great ambiance to settle into. On the left, they even tried to emulate their fabulous patio setup with a makeshift garden room, bringing the outdoors in with airy white draped curtains, a birdhouse, hanging plants, and a dark floral mural with an almost jungle vibe. Upstairs in the waiting area, you can sit and mingle over cocktails, but there’s another surprise waiting. Painted street signs and Mardi Gras props Designed to look like old-school New Orleans are setup like a makeshift photo wall, perfect for passing the time while imagining relaxing in the Big Easy.
When the new Sassafras opened in a spot already gifted with a liquor license, the bar program did not take its entrance into the cocktail game lightly. With Big Easy favorites like the Hurricane and French 75 along with new mason jar creations, the brunch drinks are on point: creative, colorful and downright delicious — and like the food menu, you’ll find it nearly impossible to pick just one.
Four Bloody Mary creations, each sounding better than the last, feature unique garnishes and scratch-made blends. The signature Sassafras sports a pickled quail egg and bacon over a homemade garlic- and dill-infused vodka base; the Garden variation is made with a crisp marjoram and thyme vodka with pickled beets; the BBQ features a roasted chili and tomato juice blend and vodka infused with pickled pigs feet; and the Voodoo Queen herself, Marie Laveau, is reincarnated in liquid form. For true heat fans, this one gets its burn from a ghost chile and tomato base and pickled pepper-infused vodka. The garnish is an edible voodoo doll carved from a green pepper with a fresno chile heart that is actually too cute to eat (although we bit off the head for good measure). I wanted to try them all, but with a $9 price tag, one Sassafras original was enough (although I vowed to return for the the others), but it was definitely a good one, with just the right tang and spice.
Mimosa fans also have four flavor choices: fresh squeezed OJ, grapefruit, cranberry or prickly pear. All are available by the glass, half carafe, or full carafe. If you can’t decide, you can opt for the ménage a tois, a blend of the cranberry, grapefruit and OJ that finishes perfectly crisp and smooth. Both locations also have signature milkshakes and smoothies, a tribute to childhood, with Cap’n crunch, Twix, and Reese’s pieces the hardest to resist.
The menus at both locations were revamped with the opening of the second restaurant so you have the same selection of old favorites and Cajun staples at either one. The Deep South Benedict is a standout with flavorful, stringy marinated pulled pork that melts in your mouth, collared greens and pickled pepper jam piled high with two poached eggs atop corn bread slices. The Cajun Benny with gulf shrimp and crab cakes tussled into a crawfish hash with a cayenne Hollandaise is another favorite, with a ridiculously smoky note that tastes almost like its infused with mescal.
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The fried green tomato Benedict came with the most perfectly poached eggs of the bunch, drizzled with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette perched on two crisp tomato slices in place of any kind of grain (but don’t despair, there’s a lonely wedge of cornbread on the side). All the Bennies are served either with either potato au gratin casserole or buttered grits (the cheesy casserole won my attention). Another favorite is the Eggs Sardou, with triangles of firm scallion grits over creamed spinach and artichoke, poached eggs slathered in fresno chile Hollandaise, and two cornmeal-crusted fried oysters. My first love will always be the original Sassafras, but I may dally with the newer Colfax spot for a while — this one treats me just right.