With a positive review of Argyll from our restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurtz, and Punch Bowl Social packing in the crowd at its hot Broadway location, it would be easy for CEO and founder Robert Thompson and his team to rest on their laurels. Instead, they're striving for improvement and expanding the Punch Bowl concept with a new chef, big menu changes and plans for growth -- nationally as well as here in Denver.
New executive chef Jeff Grimm, most recently of P17, has only been in the kitchen for a couple of weeks, but he's focusing his attention on quality and consistency for the new menu items that PBS culinary director Sergio Romero says fit into the "gastro-diner" concept of lighter and healthier takes on traditional diner fare. Some dishes are re-boots of classics, like the Big Windy dog, which pairs an all-beef hot dog with a Grateful Bread bun and pile of house-pickled vegetables -- carrots, cauliflower, celery and red onion -- or a chipotle burger made with ground turkey instead of beef, a sandwich Romero says is selling better than Punch Bowl's regular hamburger. Other dishes, like a vegetarian sandwich stuffed with sweet potato and a couscous salad loaded with shrimp, fennel and sheep-milk feta, offer lighter textures and flavors for active bowlers and video-gamers visiting the restaurant and game hall. Don't worry, though; crowd-pleasers like chicken and waffles and boozy soft-serve milkshakes can still be found.
Thompson and Romero have been busy readying the next Punch Bowl that will open in Detroit later this year. Portland and Austin are already home to two more locations, and Chicago is next on the list for 2015. After that, Thompson has plans for another six PBS locations before the end of 2016, including a second one for Denver. "I can't reveal the location yet," he says "but people in Denver are going to like it."
Romero says menu development for each new city is based on locally available products and regional tastes. There's a core menu for all the Punch Bowl locations, but the Denver location gets buffalo meatloaf, for example, while clam chowder sells better in Portland: "I had to take the clam chowder off the menu here," he notes, "but our tortilla soup does much better in Denver."
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And if that's not enough, Robert Thompson will personally make your cotton candy. Well, not really, but for two dollars, the cotton-candy machine does a pretty good job. Another insider tip: there's a coffee table in the back room with a hidden marbles playing board under a removable cover. Just ask at the bar and they'll hook you up with a couple of bags of marbles.