Seventh Avenue near Governors Park hasn't had much change in its restaurant scene in recent years; stalwarts Luca, Mizuna, Benny's, Racine's and Govnr's Park have held down spots for years, while even relative newcomers like Vesper Lounge and Lala's have settled into the neighborhood, taking the place of older establishments. Four years ago, a craft beer tap room called Cold Comfort tried to open at the corner of 7th Avenue and Sherman Street, but the liquor license was denied, primarily due to a lack of parking and a large number of existing liquor licenses in the neighborhood. But times are changing and growth is the name of the game in Denver. Max's Wine Dive, a Texas-based wine bar and Southern food concept from owners Jerry and Laura Lasco (who operate eight other Max's around the country as well as several other restaurants), is nearly ready for an April 14 opening in the building that was once a laundromat.
The goal is to combine a casual, lived-in atmosphere with a comfort-food menu with the intent of taking some of the seriousness out of wine drinking. Although Max's works with more than thirty wine producers around the world to offer proprietary labels you won't find outside of the restaurant group, the menu also suggests pairing the company's signature fried chicken with Dom Perignon (available by the glass).
That chicken is prepared a little different than standard restaurant fried bird; the chicken is marinated for 24 hours before being cooked low and slow at 250 degrees, so that the meat comes out with a braised texture while the crust remains crispy. Max's menu is divided into a section of "classics," available at all of the Max's locations, and seasonal specials from chef Shane Way, a Colorado native who describes his cooking style as "simplicated," — highlighting fresh, seasonal ingredients with chef-y touches. Way says his favorite cooking ingredient is water, because it makes everything else possible and because of its importance in the food production cycle, which he witnessed first-hand hauling hay on his family's ranch in Kiowa.
The classic menu includes shrimp and grits, a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup combo and bison sliders in addition to that fried chicken (which can be ordered gluten-free). Way's contributions include curried leg of lamb with garlic naan, gnocchi with spring peas and sage-mint brown butter, and half-baked oysters with dill and shrimp butter.
Although the place is teeming with final construction, menu preparation and staff training right now, the 80-seat dining room and bar will be ready for regular hours starting next Tuesday at 4 p.m. Max's stays open until 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, midnight Thursday through Saturday, and 10 p.m Sundays. Brunch will be served beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and for those who just can't get enough, there's also a Monday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.