Southern food has been in the national culinary spotlight in recent years, and Denver restaurants are responding with more and more examples of heartland cooking. Grind Kitchen + Watering Hole, which opens tonight in Cherry Creek North, isn't what you'd call a Southern eatery, but chef/owner Preston Phillips draws inspiration from his Alabama roots to add a dash of Dixie to a smart board of good-time bar fare balanced with more sophisticated offerings suitable for the Cherry Creek North setting.
Phillips, his father and one younger brother took possession of the garden-level spot that was previously a Peruvian restaurant and transformed it into a cozy, low-slung bar and dining room decorated with vintage photos and prints, rustic light fixtures made from Mason jars and bright pickled vegetables in quart-sized containers. Although the space is below street level, windows on the south and west walls let in a surprising amount of sunlight, giving a warm glow to reclaimed barnwood and weathered tin siding.
In the kitchen, Phillips has added chef Ashley Free, who worked at New York City's Eleven Madison Park after culinary school, as his wing man, and has also hired Claire Fields, most recently of Sugarmill, as Grind's pastry chef.
The big bar area that greets customers as they come in the door is like an open invitation to tuck into a double cheeseburger made with house-ground chuck bolstered with a touch of pork fat. Phillips sears his patties hard for a deep-brown crust and serves the burger simply with American cheese, grilled onion, shredded lettuce and special sauce on a Grateful Bread Company brioche bun. Other beer-friendly starters include a sampler of housemade sausages, lamb meatballs and an assortment of hot sandwiches. Lighter bites showcase local produce, like a beet salad with Haystack Mountain chèvre and rhubarb vinaigrette and a rotating vegetarian small plate of the day.
Bigger appetites will find comfort in Grind's fried chicken, brined and then soaked in buttermilk before being encrusted in a crunchy jacket tinted a rusty hue from generous seasonings. Phillips sides his chicken — an homage to Alabama gas-station bird — with a squeeze bottle of buttery wing sauce taken from his grandmother's repertoire. Artisan Southern ingredients show up on the plate, too, with Carolina gold rice and Sea Island red peas, an heirloom varietal similar to black-eyed peas.
While the fried chicken stands out as one of the chef's childhood favorites, he also works with seasonal ingredients to construct more elaborate plates, like a seldom-seen teres major steak with rutabaga mash and fresh greens dressed in warm bacon vinaigrette, and a double-duck dish with risotto and beets.
At the bar, Grind offers a small range of draft beers, with a bigger selection primarily in cans, which Phillips sees as a more sustainable packaging method than glass bottles. Craft cocktails will be bolstered by housemade sodas, which can be ordered with or without added alcohol.
Grind opens tonight at 5 p.m. and will continue with dinner hours Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays). Lunch hours will be added soon, as well. Keep reading for more photos from Cherry Creek's newest restaurant.