"We're not chefs; we're cooks," insists Derek Dietz, the 23-year-old Philadelphia native who will open Bocadillo, a Spanish-influenced sandwich shop, tomorrow with partner Andrew Minhinnisk. "When we're fifty, we can call ourselves chefs -- that's what we're striving to become -- but this restaurant is our playground, our secondary schooling, and we're doing this to have fun, cook and learn."
"We're cooks, ingredient assemblers and farmer lovers," adds Minhinnisk, pointing to a chalkboard that gives shout-outs to the local producers, farmers and ranchers he and Dietz are using to source the ingredients that they're not making in-house. And those farmers and producers, says Minhinnisk, will dictate the menu. "We're talking to farmers, asking them what they're in love with, and that's what's driving our menu. If they stick a turnip in our mouths, and they're amazing, then we'll buy ten pounds of turnips -- and when they're gone, they're gone."
And that applies to the entire board, says Dietz, noting that "the menu will change on a whim. If we sell out of our chicken chili, we'll be done with it, and we'll add something new that's in season." And while the restaurant, which makes its own ketchup, pickles its own vegetables, including turnips, and grows its own herbs in an inside alcove illuminated by a grow light, specializes in sandwiches -- specifically Spanish bocadillos -- Dietz insists that his sandwiches are nothing short of "revolutionary."
"I want people to move away from the $5 foot-long and instead embrace the concept of a sandwich made with great ingredients that soars to the next level," says Dietz. "The idea of lunch has become all about cheap and fast, and we want to change that by offering food that's clean, artisanal and doesn't make you feel like you need to take a five-hour energy nap. We want to cook food that we want to eat -- food that makes us and our guests happy."
And that also includes pintxos -- the Basque equivalent to tapas. "We'll have six pintxos to start, all of which will be small bites served on skewers," says Dietz, adding that when Amber Otis, his girlfriend and pastry chef, moves to Denver from Philly, the restaurant will also hustle dessert pintxos. "She's an amazing pastry chef, and as soon as she gets here, which isn't soon enough, she'll be making doughnuts, pastries and all of our ice cream, which is fantastic."
But while the desserts will have longevity, the bocadillos and pintxos may disappear completely when Colorado's growing season goes dormant. "Once we can no longer get local produce, we'll substantially change things, and the menu will become something else entirely," reveals Dietz. "We'll leave the name -- signs are too expensive to change -- but come November, we might change the concept to a great southern barbecue joint with beef brisket, turkey legs and pulled pork, and then six months after that, we may go back to doing the bocadillos and pintxos, or we may have another wild idea that we'll implement. The whole idea is to have fun and experiment."
And on Sunday, when I stopped by for a tasting, that's exactly what Dietz and Minhinnisk were doing: playing around with food, most of which ended up in my mouth, and while just about everything I inhaled made me insatiably hungry for more, Dietz's cheesesteak spring rolls, which look like small weapons of mass destruction -- he calls them his "homage to Philly" -- would make mimics and imposters weep bitter tears of envy.
Flip through the following pages for all the food porn.
Herb garden and house-pickled vegetables. A chalkboard devoted to the farmers, purveyors and ranches that Dietz and Minhinnisk use to source what they don't make in-house. Pickled beet, arugula and goat cheese salad with dots of balsamic. Yellow heirloom tomatoes topped with tree ash goat cheese and boxwood basil and drizzled with a three-citrus balsamic vinegar. Philly cheesesteak spring roll, served on a wooden cutting board (as are all of the dishes here) swiped with a pickled jalapeno ketchup. A pintxo of roasted pork crowned with a quail egg. Butter- and soy-glazed shrimp with garlic-ginger pea shoots. A mini version of the hambone bocadillo: Jamón Serrano ham, manchego cheese, piquillo peppers and yerba aioli. A single, perfect beet haloed with crisp shallots. Each sandwich comes sided with a basket of chips: kettle, jalapeno or pita dusted with za'atar, all of which are made in-house. The miro sandwich, a vegetarian assemblage of sorrel, tomatoes, pickled red onions, pickled red beets, Emmental cheese and aged balsamic. Co-cook and co-owner Derek Dietz in the kitchen. Farm-fresh eggs, which Dietz and Minhinnisk get from a chicken farm in Englewood. Dietz calls his ever-changing board a "living menu," since it's dictated by what our local farmers have just plucked from the earth.
Bocadillo opens tomorrow; hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Call 720-242-6417 for more information.