Woodie Fisher, the new restaurant built into the shell of the former Hose House No. 1 building (one of the oldest structures in the vicinity of Union Station), got off to a slow start when it quietly opened last month. But after a change of chefs, a new menu has been unveiled, and the eatery is planning a grand-opening celebration for Monday, July 1.
The new chef is Franco Ruiz, former chef de cuisine at Fruition, where he worked for six years before taking the Woodie Fisher job. "I had about a month to think about a new menu," Ruiz says of the transition, "and about six days to execute it."
While Denver diners know the chef for his work at Fruition under chef/owner Alex Seidel, his culinary experience covers far more ground. Ruiz's dad was a chef for Wolfgang Puck in the 1980s, and father and son cooked together extensively when Ruiz was still a teenager. "I learned Italian cuisine from my father and Mexican traditions from my mother and grandmother," the chef explains. He also helped open Hops & Pie with his friend who owns the beer bar and pizzeria, and has traveled in Europe working in Michelin-starred eateries in Spain and France.
Ruiz describes the food at Woodie Fisher as "very ingredient- and technique-driven, with an emphasis on sustainability, locality and seasonality." He plans to change the menu four or five times a year — "enough to keep the public engaged," he adds.
The range of dishes is eclectic, but with a clear focus on regional American cuisine, though Italian influences also crop up. Smoke and fire play an important role, a nod to the building's firehouse past. For example, an appetizer of cured steelhead trout carries a hint of smoke, and the plate is built to evoke a toasted bagel with lox and cream cheese. And an entree of pork short rib (an uncommon cut that Ruiz says includes the last three ribs on the rack, plus a meaty portion of belly) is also lightly smoked and draws inspiration from North Carolina, with bread and butter pickle relish, Carolina barbecue sauce and cheddar grits.
Flatbreads emerge from the 600-degree oven with a hint of char and sporting the likes of charred broccolini, roasted oyster mushrooms or margherita toppings that include Colorado tomatoes.
Food and beverage director Daniel Hyman (a chef himself, with 25 years of experience in Chicago and Denver), says a new cocktail menu is being designed with the kitchen in mind, so that Ruiz's cuisine and the house mixed drinks will pair effortlessly. Also coming are more local beers, since Hyman believes that Woodie Fisher is first and foremost a restaurant for the neighborhood.
While Woodie Fisher is certainly well placed to receive guests from the many new apartments and condos in the neighborhood between Union Station and Coors Field, folks from further afield will want to experience the gorgeous interior, complete with a vaulted skylight that makes the main dining room feel more like a glassed-in atrium or greenhouse; there's even a tree growing in the center of the space.
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The name Woodie Fisher comes from Redwood "Woodie" Fisher, a Denver firefighter in the late 1800s who gave his life stopping a runaway horse-drawn fire wagon. The building was home to Denver's first volunteer fire department, and vintage elements now decorate the refurbished space, some salvaged from the building, including a bar top made from boxcar flooring, wooden doors connected into a patchwork design above the bar, and chandeliers made from old pulley chains.
A private dining room houses a ceiling fixture made from vintage firehoses, and there's also a chef's counter looking from that private room into the kitchen. A courtyard facing 20th Street makes a great perch for watching Rockies fans streaming into the ballpark on game days.
Currently Woodie Fisher is open for dinner only, from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Lunch and brunch will be added later this summer, and Ruiz says he'd like to add breakfast at some point, too. The Hilton Garden Inn Union Station is attached to the restaurant, so hotel guests can enjoy room service from Ruiz's menu. Call 720-643-1909 or visit Woodie Fisher's website for details and reservations.