"I started cooking because my parents wouldn't buy me a snowboard," says Joshua Bitz. And at the age of twelve, he was in his first kitchen, scrubbing plates to save money for a snowboard and lift tickets to get him on the hill. The kitchen, he says, has been his home ever since, and in mid-November, Bitz, along with his business partner Casey Karns (the younger brother, by the way, of Chris Karns, a DJ who won the 2011 DMC World DJ Championships), will open Meadowlark Kitchen at 2705 Larimer Street.
Bitz, who was a sous chef at the original Squeaky Bean in Highland, and again at the Squeaky Bean in LoDo, departed that kitchen in August, around he same time as executive Max MacKissock, who's now at Williams & Graham. "Max taught me just about everything I know about fine dining, and his treatment of ingredients, especially vegetables, was incredible," says Bitz.
Still, he admits that leaving the Bean was a decision based on a future of opportunity. "I left because I wanted to do my own thing, and I had a really unique situation that would allow me to do a project with one of my best friends. It's something we've been talking about for a long time," says Bitz.
He and Karns looked at spaces in Highland, but this address -- the former residence of Youth on Record, a nonprofit run by the Denver-based band, the Flobots -- caught his attention, and when he met the landlord, Loy Merck, who also owns the next-door Meadowlark Bar, his fate was solidified. "I remember walking back to the patio and meeting Loy, who said he wanted a kitchen in the space, and I told him I was his guy," recalls Bitz, adding that he "loves the feel of the building and the vibe of the neighborhood. There's just a culture to this neighborhood that's unique, and it felt right."
The quarters, which measure 1,200 square feet, excluding the covered back patio, which is about the same size as the interior and will undergo a remodel, will trumpet a twenty-seat bar that pours Colorado brews, wines on tap and a few craft cocktails, an open kitchen with a six-seat chef's counter, a big butcher's block and rustic decor that integrates wood, exposed brick, iron and cement. "It's going to be sexy," says Bitz.
And the concept? "Simple, affordable and approachable American classics," explains Bitz. "There's not going to be any wordy descriptions on the menu, and the ingredients will be familiar. There's not going to be anything haughty about it, nothing intimidating," he promises, adding that the board will emphasize smoked meats like brisket and ribs as well as vegetables. "We'll have two smokers out back, one dedicated to proteins and the other dedicated to vegetables -- it'll capture that cool campfire feel," he notes.
Bitz will be joined in the kitchen by Alan Youngerman, who also cooked at the Squeaky Bean, and Maya Tull, the ex-assistant pastry chef at Rioja, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendome. "I've got a killer team," says Bitz. "Alan and I agree on food 100 percent, and Maya is just an amazing pastry chef. I'm so exited to be working with both of them."
And, in fact, pastries will be a large part of Meadowlark Kitchen, which will open early every morning for baked goods and coffee. Lunch and dinner will also be served daily, and Bitz reveals, too, that he'll offer happy hour ("one hour of happiness, the way it should be," he says) and a late-night menu, as well as a pick-up window for those who want to grab a bite on the go. In addition, the kitchen will service Meadowlark Bar -- both the downstairs and the bar's patio. And Saturday and Sunday brunch is on the horizon, too. "We want to take care of the neighborhood," says Bitz. "And we'll be baking in the morning and hauling out the smokers in the afternoon, so this neighborhood is going to smell pretty damn good."
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Construction is just beginning on the space, but Bitz is targeting a mid-November opening date.