Hey Kiddo is located above a boutique hotel, but it's not a hotel restaurant. It includes a tucked-away bar that feels like a secret, but it's not a speakeasy. And it serves Korean fried chicken, pasta and caviar, but it's not fusion.
"Everyone can try to label us again, like they did with the Wolf's Tailor," says Id Est Hospitality
founder Kelly Whitaker of the group's newest project, Hey Kiddo
, and its attached bar and rooftop space, which open January 24 at 4337 Tennyson Street. "People want to call it New American, but we're starting to think of it more like true American. ... There's fusion ideas, but there are lots of true places where this food is coming from."
When the group, which includes Bruto as well as Boulder's Basta and Dry Storage, opened the Wolf's Tailor
in 2018, the food there was often referred to as Japanese/Italian fusion. Even as people struggled to define the zero-waste concept behind a menu filled with housemade pastas and binchotan-grilled skewers, the Wolf's Tailor garnered a lot of buzz and was named one of the ten best new restaurants in the country
by Bon Appétit
In the years since, the Wolf's Tailor has evolved alongside Id Est as a whole. When it returned after the mandatory pandemic closure, the eatery had scaled back the number of guests it was serving each night and swapped its menu of small plates for a multi-course dining experience that changes seasonally. "We're not even fully actualized in that restaurant, and it's just getting better and better. How far we're thinking things out right now, that has a massive impact," Whitaker notes.
Korean fried chicken is one of the core offerings at Hey Kiddo.
Id Est is thinking about the future in other big ways, too. Its restaurants serve more as research and development for Whitaker's larger mission to strengthen local food systems; its grain company, Dry Storage, is the backbone of that idea
. Along with director of fermentation Mara King, Whitaker and his teams take an ingredient- and technique-driven approach to food, crisscrossing cuisines in the process.
Hey Kiddo incorporate all of the practices that Id Est has developed over the years, from an emphasis on regenerative agriculture to embracing unique ingredients, but with a concentration on something a little simpler: fun. "This whole thing is wrapped in the idea of good and fun. Some fun places just aren't good, and some good places just aren't fun," Whitaker explains.
And so, three stories above Tennyson Street, perched above the Asher,
Whitaker is ready to introduce Id Est's latest, not-so-easy-to-define concepts.
Guests step off the elevator into Hey Kiddo's space, which has about 45 seats and a large open kitchen. While reservations will be available for large groups, most of the seats are available for walk-ins. The core menu is centered on Korean fried chicken made using heirloom grains, oysters, caviar and bread; it was developed in collaboration with San Francisco chef Deuki Hong, author of Koreatown: A Cookbook
, with whom Whitaker has done pop-ups in Denver.
The rest of the menu is split into shareables, larger "center pieces" and accompaniments. "It's sort of based on Korean dining, where you order some proteins and add some accoutrements to it. It's kind of a build-your-own adventure," Whitaker explains. While it will become more produce-centric once farms begin harvesting this spring, the opening menu is "a little more protein-heavy," he notes. And with chef de cuisine Jonas Zukosky on hand, who previously ran the pasta program at the Wolf's Tailor, expect plenty of pasta to make appearances, as well.
A large block of ice is the centerpiece at Ok Yeah.
You can opt to start with chicken-liver mousse and Texas toast before digging into a half lobster with kosho butter alongside bucatini with fermented black-bean paste. Or snack on a serving of Korean popcorn chicken and milk rolls with cultured butter — or perhaps caviar and skin-contact wine is more your mood. Beyond the printed menu, rotating specials boards are also central to the concept. "It's fun being in a space where we can just rip through food again," Whitaker adds.
Hey Kiddo will be serving that food later than most places in the area. "We're going to be there for the industry," Whitaker says. "We'll be cooking until midnight."
At the back of the dining room, a short corridor leads to the back bar, Ok Yeah. "We've never, in our group, done something this drink-forward," Whitaker notes. A large block of ice is the centerpiece, where bartenders carve cubes and craft libations for patrons without a set menu, led by bar manager Davey Anderson, formerly of Death & Co. Reservations for this space are available for up to six guests, and along with custom drinks, it also serves a selection of hand rolls. "We're aiming to be up there with our favorite bars in Denver," he adds.
There's also a third space that offers a look at Denver most people have never seen. Simply dubbed the Rooftop, it offers "an amazing view of Tennyson Street, an awesome iconic street that you never really get to see from up here," Whitaker notes, not to mention a clear view of the Rockies. Along with its own bar, dim sum style snacks will be offered on the roof; in the summer, expect spritz carts to begin rolling, too.
With a whole lot of ideas swirling around three relatively small spaces, Hey Kiddo, Ok Yeah and the Rooftop may be hard to pin down. But one thing's for sure: They're not like any other places to eat and drink in the city.
Hey Kiddo and Ok Yeah are located on the third floor of 4337 Tennyson Street and are open from 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit hk-oy.com.