Chef Tim Kuklinski was recently promoted from head chef of Rioja to culinary director over this one and four other locations in Jennifer Jasinski's Crafted Concepts restaurant group, where he has worked for the last twelve years. “This is a great environment, where we build relationships through food, which has made us into a family," Kuklinski says of the Rioja team and its guests. “We’re proud of our food. Our ethos is that food is a catalyst, and we want to use food to make your day better. And if you come in for brunch, we can start your day off great."
Speaking of croutons, Rioja welcomes brunch customers with the same complimentary bread service that you've experienced if you've ever come for dinner. Options include sourdough, olive, multi-grain, and a rosemary biscuit. The biscuit was light and herbal, but I also helped myself to the flavorful sourdough, which I can never pass up.
Moving on to brunchier things, the Eggs in Purgatory (eggs in spicy tomato sauce) were served on a base of goat-cheese grits, with tomato-olive ragu and baked eggs on top. Despite the name, Rioja's version isn't too spicy, so if grits and tomato sauce sound appealing, I recommend giving it a try. The dish is garnished with a piece of grilled focaccia, great for mopping up the silky rich sauce.
Now for my favorite part, and arguably the best part of any meal: something breaded and fried. Rioja's chicken-fried steak with eggs is far from rustic country fare, instead coming out beautifully plated and made with tender bavette steak. It's still recognizable as chicken-fried steak, though, pounded thin, breaded in panko crumbs and sautéed to a golden crisp. The crunch panko coating stands up to a layer of mild green chile swimming with pulled pork. A side of Brussels sprout slaw and two sunny-side-up eggs round out the dish, a must-have for seekers of chicken fried steak.
For drinks, a Bloody Mary flight makes for a colorful trio, with a classic Mary, a kumquat Mary (a mix of kumquats, orange juice, tomato, cilantro, chiles with spices), and a tomatillo Mary (tomatillos, cucumber, dill, kiwi and spices). The Grapefruit Granita is an elegant option, combining shaved grapefruit ice with champagne, and Rioja also serves a daily rotating punch.
Rioja is located at 1431 Larimer Street and serves breakfast on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information, call 303-820-2282 or visit www.riojadenver.com. Hot tip: Rioja hosts wine-appreciation classes, with the next two dedicated to Champagne and roses; register on the Rioja website.