Late last week, I was privy to a personal tour of Old Major, the restaurant that culinary patron saint Justin Brunson, who also owns Masterpiece Deli, is tentatively opening on February 24 in Highland. The space, innovatively designed by Fin Art, a local firm, is still undergoing construction, but Brunson and his formidable crew of heavy hitters, including GM Jonathan Greschler and pastry chef Nadine Donovan, are working around the clock to get their neighborhood restaurant -- surely the most anticipated new dining temple of 2013 -- open by their target date.
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And when it's finally unleashed, it'll feature dinner seven nights a week until Mother's Day, at which time Brunson and his staff will begin serving brunch on the weekends and lunch daily from the exhibition show kitchen, a gleaming display of enviable equipment that shares square footage with a wooden butcher's table that will double as a six- to eight-seat chef's table in the near future. Brunson also has an on-site meat locker dedicated solely to nose-to-tail butchery, as well as a USDA-approved charcuterie room that sits front and center in the sixty-seat dining room.
And the setting -- deep red walls tinged with just a hue of pastoral orange; reclaimed lumber from tear-downs that surface the slightly sloped barrel ceiling and much of the wall space; rusticated wooden chairs; original maple floors; corrugated steel accents; exposed duct piping; smoke stack light fixtures from old tractors; and wooden bench seating, above which is a long light board of antiquated black-and-white photos taken of Colorado's landscape from the airplanes of the United States Air Force -- is intended, says Greschler, to withstand the test of time. "All of the design elements were chosen on purpose to a make Old Major a comfort-driven environment that will last for years and years and years," he notes.
The dining room will also trumpet a custom-made harvest table devoted to wine -- an obsession of Greschler, who's a sommelier and Old Major's master grape guru. "It's going to be a gorgeous table that displays wines, decanters, aerators and high-end glassware," he says.
And the beverage program, which Greschler calls "focused and eclectic," is designed to showcase Brunson's elevated farmhouse cuisine, which will emphasize butchery, both seafood and meat. The restaurant will source from local farmers, as well as from its own 2,700-square-foot vegetable garden that sits on a plot at the Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery, in RiNo.
When Old Major opens, it's bound to be one of the most coveted reservations in the city, but while 75 percent of the dining room seating is dedicated to reservations, Greschler stresses that the remaining percentage will be saved for walk-ins -- and the bar, he reveals, is first-come, first-served. "We want to pay homage to the neighborhood, and we really want them to be a part of this, so we'll have a lot of open seating."
And that includes the tables on patios -- one directly in front of the restaurant, on the sidewalk, and a second, heated and soon-to-be canopied patio on the north side. The north-facing patio will also have stools that slide up into the inside/outside bar formation, which allows guests sitting on the outside to peer inside and guests perched inside to peer out, all via a sliding rail door. In addition, there's a garage door in the bar that opens to the front patio.
While the space is still a bit raw -- every day brings new design elements -- it's definitely coming to fruition, and when I stopped in to take a peek, it was clear that this is a restaurant that's determined to be an aesthetic triumph. And given Brunson's insatiable passion and virtuosity in the kitchen, my guess is that it'll be a transporting culinary odyssey, too.
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To survey the setting, click through the photos on the following pages.