Denver, says Dean Simon, is prime culinary territory for a "markedly unique concept," in this case, a fast-casual, gourmet waffle sandwich shop that goes by the name of Bruxie, the "i" of which is roofed with black, red and yellow dots, the colors of which are representative of Belgium, home, of course, to the prized Belgian waffle.
Simon, along with his co-partner (and coffee connoisseur) Kelly Mullarney opened the first Bruxie store in Orange, California, in a 400-square-foot space that formerly held the city's original walk-up hamburger shack. Since then, the co-founders have opened an additional five stores across Southern California, choosing Denver as its first out-of-state location in which to share the waffle love. "We knew we wanted to take our concept out of Orange County, and as we were thinking of cities that really appreciate good food, Denver, from our perspective, was front and center as a city that's food- and chef-centric and would appreciate our concept," explains Simon. And the fact that he and Mullarney knew that they had two other very capable partners in Colorado, Jeff Goodman and Matt Stein -- both with formidable restaurant backgrounds -- just added more validity to their decision.
"At one point, we all knew each other and worked together in Southern California, and we're really excited about the formation of this partnership," says Stein, a chef who put in time at Le Cirque and the 101 Club in New York, Water Grill in Los Angeles and at the long-gone Gordon's in Aspen, a restaurant that earned the chef a coveted spot on Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef roster. "Dean and Kelly created an amazing fast-casual concept with Bruxie: gourmet food with great guest service," adds Stein.
Goodman, for his part, managed the Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia and opened a second one in Manhattan; oversaw operations and the wine program at various Morton's The Steakhouse restaurants; worked alongside Stephen Starr and assumed the role of director of restaurants -- and later vice president of strategic development and strategic planning -- for Starr's empire; and, most recently, held the position of COO of King's Seafood Company, which owns Water Grill.
And all four men have an unwavering affinity for the "bold fold" -- Bruxie jargon for the waffle sandwich. "From the outside -- not as a founder, but as chef -- it's all about making a great dish into a sandwich," says Stein. "It's about well thought out and composed flavors that really pop and explode, and it's about creating sandwiches where every ingredient has a purpose and the compelling flavors move you to the next bite," he notes.
And to that end, Bruxie's menu is chock-block with waffle sandwiches that do just that, zigzagging from savory waffles hugging grilled ham, Tilamook cheddar, eggs and a vibrant pesto arugula made with arugula to subtly sweet lemon cream-smeared waffles thumped with fresh blueberries. Waffle-cut fries double as nachos, the rippled potato slices painted with a Gruyere-and-cheddar cheese sauce and topped with shards of smoked bacon, snips of chives and squiggles of sour cream. And if for some crazy reason, waffles aren't in your food group, the restaurant also offers a slew of salads. Local products, including Red Bird chicken, jams made on the Western Slope and Haystack Mountain goat cheese, also make an appearance, and as the seasons change, so do the waffles, which, come peak fruit season, will take advantage of the fruit bounty of Palisades.
Sixteen custom-crafted waffle makers take up most of the kitchen space, the bulk of which are designated for what Simon calls "authentic light, airy, crispy and yeasty Belgian waffles" -- those that eventually become the vessels for the sandwiches. The other two waffle makers are specifically for liège-style Belgian waffle with caramelized sugar nibs. "Unlike the sandwich waffles, which are made with batter, the liège waffles are made with a yeast-risen dough, and while they're sweeter, we put very little sugar in the dough, so most of the sweetness comes from the sugar nibs," explains Simon.
In addition to the regular menu, there will be daily waffle specials, and there's a "secret" menu, too, reveals Simon. "It's always Elvis's birthday here," he jokes, "so we have an off-menu waffle with bacon, applewood-smoked bacon, honey and peanut butter -- just ask for it." And, in the near future, adds Simon, he and his staff will develop additional waffle recipes that symbolize Colorado food obsessions: green chile, for example. "We're thinking about doing a green chile waffle; it could definitely happen," says Simon.
Bruxi's also trumpets bona fide barista service, a particular passion of Mullarney. "He spent a year creating our coffee program, and they all have bold flavors and some spicy notes," says Simon, adding that they source their beans from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Sumatra and Costa Rica. "Each single origin bean has its own roasting process, and they're all fair-trade coffees," he notes. There's a strong tea program, too.
The space, which is decked out in the same black, red and yellow hues that emblem the Belgian flag, seats 56 inside and 42 outside, and guests, in typical fast-casual fashion, order at the counter. "When you come in, you're greeted by our ambassadors about the process and then order at the counter -- and the best advice we can give to you is to bring a group and share," advises Simon, who also reveals that he's already inked a deal on a second space at the Twenty-Ninth Street mall in Boulder, in the former Smiling Moose space.
"We'll start with these two and see how it goes," says Simon. "If the concept is embraced well, we'll continue to expand in Colorado. We're confident that we'll execute at a high level and that everything will work out well," he concludes.
In the meantime, the Denver store will open on Tuesday, March 25 for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert seven days a week.
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