"No, no, no, no, no!" That was the initial response from Steve Redzikowski, co-owner and chef of Boulder's Oak at Fourteenth, when Bryan Dayton, his business partner and beverage director, first approached him about opening a new restaurant in the Source, a smorgasbord of independent restaurants, specialty food and bottle shops, distilleries and taprooms that subsume the 25,000-square foot culinary marketplace in River North that's continuing to flourish with new tenants, including Comida Cantina, Mondo Market, and now, Acorn, which opened yesterday.
"I have no idea what the hell I was thinking when I signed on to do this, but when I opened Oak in Boulder -- and then reopened after the fire -- I swore that I'd never open another restaurant ever again," says Redzikowski, who faults a trip to New York late last year for his change of heart. "Whenever I go to New York, I always feel like I'm way behind the curve, and that gets me into trouble. I should be grounded from ever going there, because it gives me too much motivation, which is how I ended up here," he cracks, while standing in the confines of his open kitchen, rocking a mohawk and a grey headband. "New York just has this way of kicking me in the pants, so when I got back to Denver, I figured that as long as I'm still young, I may as well do this thing."
And in February of this year, he signed the lease on the two-tiered space, enlisting the talents of Amos Watts, formerly of Jax Fish House, to be his chef. The two had cooked together preciously at Cyrus, a now-closed restaurant in Healdsburg, California that was commanded by Douglas Keane, a four-star chef who's now a contestant on Top Chef Masters, where he's battling against Rioja chef/owner Jennifer Jasinki for the top prize. "It's great working with Steve in the kitchen again, and this is a really, really cool concept -- who wouldn't want to be a part of it?" deadpans Watts.
"Amos is the real chef, the beast -- I just own the place and pay the bills," quips Redzikowski, adding that Acorn embodies the same "wood-fired seasonal cooking" that's made Oak one of Boulder's most inspiring -- and popular -- restaurants. "It's going to take a while -- months -- to get this to where I want it to be, just as it did Oak, but I'm a firm believer in that you're only as good as the people around you, and I'm surrounded by amazing cooks and people, both in Boulder and in Denver, and part of the reason why I decided to go ahead with this project is that if I didn't expand, I'd risk losing those people, so it was really important to me to find a place for them to grow," explains Redzikowski, whose staff is turning out a lovely litany of shareable small plates (the braised octopus pooled in roasted red pepper curry is one of the best dishes I've had all year), coupled with medieval-size plates -- a Tender Belly, prime-grade, thirty-ounce ribeye, and a 56-ounce, bone-in pork shoulder, for example -- that are meant to be shared among many.
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"This concept is a little more simplified that Oak, which, frankly, has become an animal, and we had to streamline a few things here, mostly because we're lacking storage space, but we're doing the same kind of food, and most of it, like at Oak, is wood-fired, either on the grill or in the oven," says Redzikowski, adding that the most notable difference between the two restaurants resides in the cocktail program, which will be more prominent at Acorn. "There's definitely more of an emphasis on cocktails here," notes Redzikowski, adding that Dayton, whose cocktails -- alcoholic and non -- are pure wizardry, will also offer beers and wines on tap, along with his brilliant housemade sodas.
The space, which features a chef's counter, a wooden work table, separate bar area, a garage door that opens to a patio and a kaleidoscopic graffitied wall that's a holdover from the original brick structure, also includes a mezzanine that overlooks the flurry of activity below, which was buzzing over the weekend. "I think I made the right decision in opening here," admits Redzikowski. "We're all pushing each other to do really well, and we can all learn from one another. This is the kind of place where there are like-minded people who all hang out with each other and have these great conversations about what we do. It's terrific to be a part of it," he concludes.
Acorn, which is open for dinner seven nights a week beginning at 5:30, will start serving lunch in October, but in the meantime, Redzikowski and his crew are on the hunt for a "stallion in the dish pit -- a powerhouse dishwasher," so if that's you, head over there today.
And now...the photo gallery.