Gayor Geller grew up in Harvard Gulch, a tree-lined neighborhood near the University of Denver, and Maddie's, the breakfast and lunch restaurant he's opening on Friday morning in that same 'hood, is a "family project," he says, that's been a dream for decades.
"I've lived in this neighborhood for most of my life, I went to DU, and 25 or 30 years ago, my mom had a dream that we'd someday open a family business," says Geller, who holds a law degree from DU, along with three other degrees, including an MBA and certified professional accreditation from the American Culinary Federation; he also went through the professional cooking program at the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts.
And Maddie's -- the restaurant is named after his two-year-old daughter -- is, he says, a "vibrant place that's all about good food, hospitality and music." The music portion of the equation, explains Geller, comes from a background of managing jam bands and music festivals across the country. "I was on the road all the time, but I also taught music at UCD, and I still produce concerts in Denver, and the space reflects my passion for music and food."
Music and concert posters hang from the putty-hued walls, and the quarters -- they're small and only seat sixteen (the patio can hold an additional dozen) -- are bedecked with candy-apple-red chairs, white tables and a few stools that sit below a TV that's tuned to the Food Network.
And breakfast is the main draw. "My parents are Israeli, and I grew up on Mediterranean food, so there's a bit of that inspiration on the menu, including our flight of housemade latkes," says Geller, who adds that his favorite meal of the day is breakfast. "I love breakfast, and while we're not reinventing the wheel with this menu, we're taking things that are really yummy and creating great flavor profiles," he says.
His chef, Ali Baca, who has a corporate and personal chef background, is also turning out pancake flights; challah French toast with macerated berries and crème Anglaise; a terrific breakfast quesadilla sandwiched with soft scrambled eggs, cheddar, potatoes and a choice of turkey sausage, ham or bacon; frittatas; bagels and lox; eggs Benedict; and housemade chicken schnitzel with country gravy. There's a lunch board, too, stamped with sandwiches and salads. "Ali is a great cook, and while this is kind of his coming-out party, when he cooked for me for his interview, he absolutely killed it," says Geller.
And Maddie's is just the beginning of Geller's plans for an enclave that he calls the "last big little strip in the neighborhood." He and his family also own the former autobody garage directly next door to Maddie's, and they have sweeping plans to turn the garage into a restaurant that Geller hopes to have completed by the end of the year. "We're working toward southern Mediterranean fare, so fresh grilled veggies, fish, quick-fired meats, flatbreads, salads, some seasonal changers and a fresh, clean presentation of foods from the south of France, Italy, Greece and Israel," Geller reveals, adding that he hasn't settled on a name yet.
"We're taking our time to make this a wonderful restaurant that's a great infill construction project with flying garage doors and visible kitchen," he adds. "We want to make a unique space in our neighborhood that everyone can be proud of and would enjoy -- amazing food, a beautiful outdoor atmosphere, and even a little music on the huge patio."
In the meantime, Maddie's opens on Friday to the public, and for every meal that Geller sells between then and Sunday, he'll donate a meal to the Denver Rescue Mission. Maddie's regular hours will be from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday though Sunday. "Monday is a family day, so we're taking that day off," he says.
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I had the opportunity to sample a slew of dishes at Maddie's last week, and if what I ate is any indication of what the 'hood can expect when Maddie's opens, it'll be a big hit. A taste of what's on the menu, along with photos of the space, are on the following pages.