Chef and culinary instructor Stephen Kleinman, whose lengthy Denver career includes heading up Centerplate Catering and the food program for the Colorado Convention Center, has been out of restaurant kitchens for some time. But a visit to his son Ian Kleinman's new dessert bar, the Inventing Room, last fall was enough to lure him back in. While there, he found out that Lower48 Kitchen next door was closing, and a quick peek inside the space a month or so later sealed the deal. He went home that night and began writing a menu for what will soon become Pop's Place.
"There's still such a fire inside," Kleinman explains. "I'm not ready to hang 'em up." He adds that the vacant restaurant space held an immediate appeal for him that proved impossible to resist.
Pop's will be an all-day eatery serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. The chef has partnered with Jim Pittenger, founder of Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, who will head up the breakfast program. "I've been wanting to do breakfast for a long time," notes Pittenger.
When asked to describe the overall menu, Kleinman describes it as "dishes that can be accomplished through a great knowledge of the food that goes into it," adding that there will be a focus on "food that chefs really want to eat. There's such a tight community in this town."
Pittenger has a shorter summation: "Accessible but quirky."
Starting with breakfast, Pittenger describes reindeer-sausage breakfast burritos, sour-cream cardamom waffles with chicken-thigh confit, a hush-puppy breakfast sandwich (yes, that's an egg sandwich built on a giant, halved hush puppy) and lots of pancakes — including sourdough flapjacks and vegan pancakes that he's perfected after years of cooking them for his wife. What else? Pittenger throws out the notion of chilaquiles shakshuka, if only because it's so fun to say (though there's little doubt that the Ballpark neighborhood's reigning sausage king could pull off a tasty Mexican-Moroccan mash-up).
Lunch and dinner fall easily into the New American heading: carefully sourced regional dishes from around the country combined with international ingredients and techniques. Broadbent ham and homemade biscuits, wharf-style cioppino, and pork green chile stew share space with Tuscan bean soup, salt-and-pepper squid in a sweet soy reduction, and Szechuan chicken tacos. Kleinman has tapped chef Sean Bedford, former executive sous-chef at the Stanley Hotel, to be his right-hand man in the kitchen.
The interior of Pop's will capture a subtle take on a 1930s expat-in-Paris vibe, with interior decor from Denver artist Matt O'Neill, whose commercial work can be seen at other Denver restaurants, like the original Biker Jim's and Mezcal.
Kleinman and Pittenger are aiming for an early-April opening but will hold a special pre-opening event timed for this Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade downtown. The bar will be open, and Pop's will be serving a range of sliders, tacos and other parade-friendly munchies for the crowd that will descend on the city that day. After that, the team will regroup and open officially in April, and is planning a few events — like Easter brunch — to introduce Pop's to neighbors in the building and in nearby condos and apartments.
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