Old Major has been open for only five and a half years at 3316 Tejon Street, but in that time, says chef/owner Justin Brunson, the neighborhood has changed — and with it his customer base. That's one of the big reasons he's been tinkering with the formula at his farm-to-fork eatery, and he's also introducing a new chef.
Southerner Jason Brown is the new chef de cuisine at Old Major, but don't expect the menu to go south. Brown also lived and worked as a chef in Sorrento, Italy, for nearly two years, and has spent time with the Big Red F restaurant group (at Jax Fish House, Centro Mexican Kitchen and even going back as far as Q's in the Hotel Boulderado). This is his second stop at Old Major; he was a line cook several years ago before heading to Bittersweet.
The biggest change that customers will notice is at the bar. Happy hour, previously an actual hour from 5 to 6 p.m., will now begin at 4 p.m. every Wednesday through Sunday. "People like to start drinking early in this neighborhood," Brunson explains. Specials include $6 cocktails and wines by the glass and a selection of $5 draft beers.
And Denverites in general love their sports, so the restaurateur has added a TV to the bar for the first time since Old Major opened. And to give guests a lower price point while hanging out over drinks and sports, there's also now a dedicated bar menu — dubbed the "Belly Up" menu — that won't be available in the dining room. Of note is the "Hamm's Sandwich" special: a house-cured ham and cheese biscuit with a can of Hamm's beer for $7. Old Major's notorious spicy fried chicken sandwich (a staple at lunch, which will continue to run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday) is also on the bar menu, along with wings, seafood fritters, smoked trout dip and a charcuterie plate — because you can't visit Old Major without indulging in cured meats.
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Those cured meats have always been a big part of Brunson's vision as a chef, and Old Major was one of Denver's first restaurants to have a fully licensed dry-curing room for the production of sausage and whole-muscle salumi in the Italian tradition. In 2016, he expanded the scope with Culture Meat & Cheese inside the Denver Central Market, where he sells Old Major's cured meats alongside other local and national producers. Next month, production will grow exponentially with the launch of River Bear American Meats, a wholesale meat company with a wide range of deli products and cured meats, from high-end hot dogs to Italian-style specialties like coppa and bresaola. The chef explains that he originally called the company Red Bear, but recently renamed it River Bear because he's an avid fly fisherman, so he will dedicate a portion of sales to Colorado river conservation organizations.
Since production of cured meats will be moving offsite, Brunson will be left with an empty temperature- and humidity-controlled room at Old Major, so he'll be converting that space to dry-aged beef and other meats, with a plan to offer steaks aged at various age intervals (some approaching a full year) on the restaurant's dinner menu.
As if all of this hasn't kept him busy enough, Brunson recently wrapped up filming several episodes of The Best Thing I Ever Ate with the Food Network; he's one of several go-to experts on the upcoming season, so some of his favorite Denver eats could be getting a little love on the nationally televised show.