The Slotted Spoon, Denver's first bona fide meatball emporium, opens on Monday, February 4, and while that's more than a week away, co-owner and chef Jensen Cummings, along with his partners, Johnny Coast and Alex Comisar, are way ahead of the curve (ball).
See also: - Photos: Behind the scenes with the crew from Slotted Spoon Meatball Eatery - Exclusive: Jensen Cummings is leaving Row 14 to focus on meatballs and Revelry | Pangaean Eats, another new restaurant project
"Everything we've done has been purposeful and deliberate -- we don't want to be impatient," says Cummings, the former exec chef of Row 14, who left late last year to concentrate on slinging balls in a fast-casual environment.
"We care about the little details, and we want to be thorough and stay in front of all the issues that plague a restaurant when it opens, so we're taking our time to properly train our staff," he adds, noting that he and his partners have had their liquor license and CO for more than two weeks. "We won't be under the gun because we've had time to train everyone properly, and because we started early, we're working eight hours a day instead of sixteen so we don't burn out."
Nonetheless, the space -- simultaneously rustic, whimsical, sleek and industrial -- is complete. And the juxtaposition of light woods, exposed beams and metallic piping, black-and-white prints of slotted spoons, imperfect concrete floors, crimson chairs, each of which is constructed from 111 recycled Coca-Cola bottles and faux-granite bar that peeks into a large open kitchen incensed with the sniffs and whiffs of garlic, fresh herbs and simmering sauces, is indicative of a restaurant that takes design seriously -- but doesn't overreach.
"The open kitchen is a pretty big part of experience and design," says Cummings. "I'm really big on transparency, from the products in our kitchen to the actual processes that we use to create the food, and I want our guests and our team to be equally engaged with each other." He acknowledges, too, that spending "so many years trenching in the back of the house," limited his interaction with guests. "When I was in the back-of-the-house, all I ever heard was guest complaints, but now we get to see the good and the bad, and we get to publicly showcase our personalities and passion -- there's nowhere to hide," he points out.
And there will be plenty of opportunities to showcase his meatballs, too, all of which, says Cummings, "derived their inspiration from another country." And while he insists that none of the balls is exotic -- "the familiarity is there," promises Cummings -- they're not deprived of creativity. "We've got a fun and playful menu, but we're just not using a heavy hand. We want this to be a place that's approachable for everyone."
The menu, which trumpets pork, lamb, beef, chicken and bison balls -- all sourced locally -- emphasizes "flavor profiles that are fluid and poignant but customizable," explains Cummings. "Between all the different meatballs, eleven sauces, different vessels -- breads, pastas, bowls, salads -- and toppings, there are millions of combinations. I started counting and finally gave up," he jokes.
Over the next week, Cummings and his staff will spend time prepping, training, hosting friends and family dinners and a Heroes against Hunger charity event to benefit Share Our Strength, with whom the Slotted Spoon has partnered. They'll stay out of the restaurant on Sunday to "decompress and regroup and watch the Super Bowl," says Cummings and then open for lunch at 11 a.m. on Monday.
"I've been around this business a long time, I've opened a lot of restaurants, and I'm successful and driven, but these last few months have really felt like Christmas morning to me," Cummings tells me. "Sure, we all think we're badasses," he quips, "but we've been softened by this experience -- it's so empowering and humbling and inspiring and frightening at the same time -- and we're all giving each other the opportunity to be successful. I've asked my staff to dedicate themselves to me and I've promised to dedicate myself to them. I get to be a teacher and a student -- that's who I am at heart."
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I spent some time with Cummings and his staff over the weekend as they prepped for this week's events, and I also had the opportunity to check out the space; you can take a look at all the photos on the next few pages. And for more updates on the opening, wander over to the Slotted Spoon Facebook page.