If there's one thing we know about 2014, it's that Denver will be a banner year for restaurant openings, and Jimmy Callahan, who owns Prohibition on East Colfax Avenue, is just one of dozens of restaurateurs and bar owners who are making sure that we're not exaggerating. Callahan, along with his chef at Prohibition, Toby Prout, are opening Leña (the name means "firewood" in Spanish), a two-tiered Latin restaurant, in late May/early June at 24 Broadway, in the former space of Lee Alex Modern Vintage.
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"We started looking for something new about a year and a half ago, and when my my real estate person showed me the Broadway spot late last year, I knew it was the right space; I knew this was the one," says Callahan. "I love the fact that we're not by ourselves — that there are lots of other bars and restaurants on the same block. I like the walkability factor and the street exposure — and the space itself, with its tin ceiling and mezzanine, is absolutely beautiful," he adds.
And while it's a buildout, Callahan says that he'll preserve what he can, including the weathered hardwood floors. "The floors are in good shape, so we're leaving those, but we're exposing the brick on one of the walls and adding garage doors, and we're putting in a twenty-foot bar, a communal table, high-tops and banquettes, plus we'll have seating both upstairs and downstairs, and at the bar," he notes, adding that, in total, he'll have just over 100 seats. "That's our sweet spot: It's not too big, and it's not too small."
Callahan will oversee the front of the house, while Prout, who also did time at Izakaya Den, Prima, Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House, and in Florida, where he worked at the Rtiz-Carlton and for celebrity chef Norman Van Aken, will command the kitchen — a kitchen that will focus on Latin cuisine. "Toby and I recently went to San Francisco to check out some Latin restaurants, including Nopalito, an incredible restaurant that even grinds its own corn for its tortillas, and while we were initially looking at both a Latin concept and a casual-Italian concept, the trip to San Francisco sealed the deal for us. We think, too, that the Broadway location lends itself to a Latin restaurant, especially since there's nothing else similar in that neighborhood," he says.
"We're still in developmental menu stages, but the emphasis will be on a wood-fired grill, which will be the centerpiece of the kitchen," says Prout, who will be joined in the kitchen by Prohibition sous-chef Jerry Mansfield. His food, he adds, will bend toward techniques that favor asado — the standard Argentinian term for both a social gathering and barbecue.
"We're doing grilled, lightly seasoned, Argentinian-style meats; fish wrapped in banana leaves; different styles of ceviche; and tamales, sopas, Ecuadorian llapingacho and empanadas," reveals Prout, noting that nearly everything will be made in-house, including his breads, tortillas, sausages and chorizo. "We want to showcase food from all over the Latin world, and we're super-excited about bringing this to Broadway, plus it's a whole new animal for us," he explains.
The menu, adds Callahan, "emphasizes our favorite dishes from South and Central America, all the way to the tip of Argentina, and the meats will all be served on wooden cutting boards. Expect, he says, a dozen or so starters; eight to twelve grilled items; two to three seafood dishes; and three to four desserts. "It's a menu that's designed so that guests can sample a bunch of different things," he stresses.
The beverage program, adds Callahan, will focus on mezcals, tequilas and barrel-aged cocktails. "We'll have a great selection of mezcal and tequila, a handful of modern specialty cocktails, as well as a wine list that will definitely complement the food," he says.
When it opens, Leña will serve dinner nightly, and in September, says Callahan, he'll add brunch. Happy hour and a late-night menu are also part of the lineup.
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"I'm super-super-excited — so excited, in fact, that I can't sleep at night," admits Callahan. "I love the early stages of building a restaurant, from picking out the decor and tables to nailing down the food and drinks, and we're not holding back," he promises. "We're going to bring it."