Ever been to Pete's Kitchen at 2 a.m.? Packed like Whole Foods on Thanksgiving. Breakfast King at 3 a.m.? Not an empty seat in the house. And given Denver's love affair with late-night grubbing, you can bet your chicken-fried steak that when Tom's Urban 24 opens on Larimer Square on Halloween, it, too, will generate throngs of late-night revelers, especially given its prime location on one of the city's most booze-soaked blocks.
Denver doesn't lay claim to a whole lot of 24/7 joints -- there are none downtown -- but Tom Ryan, a Denver-based visionary who Gourmet magazine named one of the top 25 food entrepreneurs in America, and the founder of Smashburger (not to mention the creator of the McGriddle breakfast sandwich and dollar menu at McDonald's and the stuffed-crust pizza at Pizza Hut), realized that Denver's nucleus was a magnet for locals and tourists alike hankering for good food in the wee hours of the morning -- and every other time of the day or night.
"There's a great confluence of people in LoDo, and there's a ton of foot traffic, plus it's a haven for the industry crowd, people who go to the sports venues and the comedy club, CU students, late-night clubbers and early-morning breakfast-goers," says Ryan, who describes himself as a "food geek" and struts a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry.
Ryan's eponymous restaurant, which he describes as "comfort food with an urban twist," resides in the former Samba Room space, but beyond the historic stone exterior, there's little that remains from the prior tenant. Instead, the two-tiered space, which seats close to 200, is a groovy mix of retro and modern, with whimsical crescent-shaped tangerine-and-cream booths etched with the sun and the moon occupying the first floor that's flanked by a u-shaped bar faced with beetle-kill pine and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Larimer Square streetscape. And the upper level, nicknamed the "Perch," is a glass-encased expanse, bedecked with round tables and banquettes, that peers over the main floor.
But the real conversation piece is a wall-mounted, kaleidoscopic, acrylic-on-metal map of Colorado, studded with moveable icons and flags that tells diners where their food -- local food -- comes from. "We want to do as many local things as possible," stresses Ryan, "and we commissioned a local artist to create a stylized map of Colorado to designate where we're getting our local ingredients," 70 percent of which, he estimates, are from our own back yard.
And his menu, which is one of the most expansive I've seen in a long time, zigzags between house-baked doughnuts and four-egg omelets, Reubens and Cubans, Korean carnitas and Vietnamese pho. "I really wanted to do a concept that romances familiar foods in a modern way," explains Ryan, adding that diners will "recognize every noun on the menu, but the adjectives might make you pause and say, 'Hmm, that's really cool.'"
The goal, he adds, "is to bring everyday, affordable food and a level of casualness to Larimer Square." And, of course, to feed people morning, noon and night. "We're doing everything from a whole line of Boulder-based granola and yogurts and housemade pop tarts to a full line of signature salads to urban pizzas" -- pizzas, says Ryan, that are anything but typical. "These have a whole different shape to what most people have seen; they're long, narrow, substantive and Neapolitan in style."
Breakfast will be served from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. during the week, noon on weekends; the lunch menu, a spread of mix-and-match tacos, sandwiches, pho, huge burgers and salads, will be available until 4 p.m.; and dinner, he notes, trumpets snacks, appetizers, small plates and entrees, including a braise of the day. "We'll always feature a daily braise -- slow-cooked lamb, beef or pork," says Ryan. And from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., the kitchen will feature what Ryan calls the "best of all our menu items."
The bar program, spearheaded by Ken Kodys, one of Denver's top bartenders (he just waltzed away with his third 42Below Cocktail World Cup title), is every bit as eclectic as Ryan's menus. "He brings a ton of mixology talent to the table, and he's been collaborating with our team on making some really amazing cocktails -- a tomatillo version of a bloody Mary, for example," reveals Ryan, adding that several of Kodys's cocktails will sell for a mere $6. The bar will also feature twelve beers on tap, most of which are local craft beers, as well as bottles, cans and bombers, plus wines, all of which are available by the glass.
In addition, the restaurant will boast a take-away option from a separate side entrance, aptly named the Side Door. "As we looked at the space, we noticed an interesting hallway that runs along the perimeter of 15th Street, and we've made that into a to-go aspect of the restaurant," says Ryan. "You'll be able to get everything from our daily doughnuts to hot oatmeal to breakfast burritos, and everything is packaged to go -- it's all food that's designed to to be eaten while you're walking down the street."
Ryan's project is an ambitious undertaking, but the innovator and entrepreneur, who clearly knows a thing or ten about successful restaurant concepts (by the end of the year, he'll have opened 200 Smashburgers across the country), is confident that his namesake restaurant is exactly what Larimer Square needs. "We're serving great food and drinks that won't break the bank, and when we first stood in front of this space, we knew it was the right location. Given the number of people down here, it makes perfect sense," he says. And given his track record, he may do more. "Stay tuned," teases Ryan. "If it does well, the plan is to to see how it might play out in different cities."
Tom's will do a series of private parties prior to its opening on Halloween, but I got a first look at the space, the photos of which are on the following pages. And later this week, I'll have a food-porn post that will take you through the menus.
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For more info on Tom's, call 720-214-0516.