Masterpiece Delicatessen stuffs a great sandwich

Justin Brunson and Steve Allee, the masters behind Masterpiece.
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Sriracha has become like a badge of craft among chefs slumming it on the wrong side of the culinary tracks. You see that bottle sitting on the table, lurking around the counter somewhere, and you know you’re in a place run by a guy (or guys) who know from the international flavor palate, who’ve maybe done some time in the aisles of the local Asian market. I’ve seen it on hot dog carts, at burger stands, in the condiment caddies of joints that want you to know that they’re in on the joke, too: that downscaling doesn’t always mean downscaling even when it looks like downscaling. Sriracha is the lemongrass, the arugula, of the twenty-first century -- a battle flag, not of nationality or revolutionary intent, but of taste. It says: We know the good stuff and we’ve got it here.

At the five-month-old Masterpiece Delicatessen at the edge of Highland, partners Justin Brunson and Steve Allee (both of them ex-chefs from elsewhere, both of them line dogs with years and addresses behind them) have the sriracha. It’s set on the counter among the specialty mustards, the pour-top of cane syrup, the straws and napkins and jug of self-serve ice water.

It’s not an obvious thing, but it’s there for those who know what’s good for them, what’s good for their sandwich. It’s there for a certain restaurant critic who, already blown away by the fact that this tiny kitchen at hipster ground-zero – 2,000 miles from Pittsburgh and Philly and Cleveland and Trenton – was actually serving Taylor pork roll on a breakfast sandwich, then turned just flat giddy to see the only condiment on earth appropriate for sliced and fried wads of pressed New Jersey pork product.

And the Taylor pork roll egg sandwich with sriracha was not the only great thing at Masterpiece. As a matter of fact, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with one thing that I didn’t like there while eating for this week's review. My only trouble with the place was having too much of a good thing (most notably illustrated by the truffled egg salad sandwich that, owing to the staying power of truffles, made me unfit company for man or beast for several hours following my final lunch there). And really? That’s more my problem than Masterpiece’s. I just never know when to quit.

In this week's Bite Me, I trace the culinary DNA that has made Masterpiece great. Seriously, this has got to be one of the best pedigreed sandwich crews in the country, with cooks poached or borrowed from places like Mizuna, Fruition and Barolo. And talking with owners Steve Allee and Justin Brunson—two hardcore food geeks, well-trained and, in their own way, kind of lost-puppy naïve about the rigors of opening and operating their own restaurant -- was was a blast.

With a little ink left in my pen, I went searching for news on the former North Star Brewery space a few blocks away from Masterpiece, looked into the non-opening at the new 8 Rivers in LoDo and poked around Alameda Square to see what was going to happen to some of the restaurants displaced by the coming of Brighton Corp. A full week, to say the least.

But in case that’s still not enough for you, my hungry little food monkeys, I even found the time and the space to re-visit Tacos D.F. in Aurora for one last sandwich: the best torta in Denver. Check it out here (or on your nearest newstand) on Thursday, kids. And keep your browsers pointed at Café Society for all the hot, steamin’ restaurant news you can stomach. -- Jason Sheehan

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