It comes as a relief, really, that owners Terese and Mark Nery resisted the temptation to keep up with the Joneses. In a city where it’s become all too common to convert shipping containers and join the gentrifying parade in RiNo, they set up shop in an unremarkable strip across from the medical complex on East 18th Avenue, making themselves at home in a former Quiznos. Even more gutsy is the fact that they tied the success of their venture to no more than a handful of dishes served until 2 p.m. — dishes that count as breakfast all day, not the gold mine that is brunch. And don’t try ordering decaf or an espresso drink with hearts foamed in crema: Onefold doesn’t pour either one, though both would probably please the crowd.
Talk about putting all of your eggs in one basket — and not just metaphorically. Eggs are the focal point of five of the six — that’s right, six — main courses at Onefold. They’re folded into breakfast burritos, spooned into tacos, served diner-style with potatoes and your choice of meat. If those eggs weren’t all they’re cracked up to be, Onefold would indeed have been a cautionary tale of a dropped basket and broken eggs — or rather, of novices getting in over their heads. The Nerys are newcomers to the food business; Terese is an architect and Mark is a software consultant. “We thought it would be really fun,” says Terese, who laughs as she explains that there were “no years of planning, no business model, no lifelong dream” behind the restaurant.
But Onefold isn’t that kind of story, largely because these aren’t just any eggs. To begin with, they’re cage-free and organic; the latter is also true of the majority of ingredients in this kitchen, from potatoes to maple syrup to the condensed milk used in Vietnamese iced coffee. While that’s important for the chickens that laid the eggs, what’s even more important is how sous-chef Neo Cruz, who collaborated with Mark on the menu and does most of the cooking, handles them. Rather than being cooked in butter or oil, they’re bathed in duck and/or pork fat, depending on the dish. This added richness does for eggs what pats of butter do for steaks: It makes the ordinary extraordinary. Scrambled eggs in breakfast burritos and tacos become an envoy of flavor. Fried eggs over rice become dual-purpose dignitaries, existing not just to release their golden yolks into the grains below, but to entice you to eat the whites that so often are overlooked. Combine them with potatoes fried in more animal fat — diced potatoes in the burrito, grated russets sprinkled over the taco — and you see what a difference a little thing like fat can make.
So the eggs are good. But that’s not the only reason that Onefold has developed a cult-like following, attracting not just scrub-clad workers who push together the dining room’s few tables and settle in, but breakfast lovers from as far away as Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. It helps that the restaurant — which gets crowded quickly and will grow increasingly so when cold weather shuts down the patio — feels homey and friendly, with a contemporary-farmhouse feeling created by the white Windsor chairs, fresh flowers and vintage metal stools that look like they were pulled from a tractor. Even if you took away the wood furniture and did away with the garage doors that bathe the room in cheerful light, though, you’d still have the “it” factor that makes Onefold stand out: its quirkiness. This isn’t a restaurant that’s serving what everyone else is serving, just because everyone else is doing it. What’s on the menu is here simply because Terese and Mark like it — so much, in fact, that it’s what they cook at home.
That’s why the slender menu includes a breakfast burrito, which they offer largely because they grew up in Denver and can’t imagine breakfast without one. The move could have backfired; after all, there’s no shortage of competition in town. Instead, the burrito arrives with the swagger of the self-confident, plumped with those duck-fat eggs and potatoes, every bite smoky with Tender Belly bacon. Even that favorite condiment, green chile, gets extra love, thickened with a lard- (not butter-) based roux. You can get many of the same ingredients on a simple breakfast plate, but why bother when you can have the tacos instead? Once again, the little touches make the difference — not just the duck fat that the eggs are cooked in, but the wisps of crispy potatoes, the strips of griddled mozzarella blanketing the eggs, the scratch tomatillo and tomato-red-chile salsas, all wrapped in flour tortillas so fluffy, you know they didn’t come from a bag.
When you first step up to the counter to place your order, you might be disappointed by the size of the menu. There are no eggs Benedict, no yogurt and granola, no pancakes or waffles, though there is a fine crepe topped with Noosa yogurt and organic berries. Quickly, however, you see the benefits of such a small roster. For starters, you don’t have to wade through the bad stuff to get to the good. And the quirky dishes that you might otherwise skip have a way of staring you down, taunting you to push old habits aside and make new ones.
One such dish is bone broth, which had five minutes of fame last winter — nationally and internationally, not just in Denver — as if it were the new magic bullet, like a drinkable goji berry. In fact, the broth isn’t much different from consommé, only at Onefold the broth (made from roasted chicken and grass-fed beef bones) isn’t clarified according to classic French technique. The result may not be crystal-clear, but it’s still alluring, accented with ginger and star anise, like pho before the herbs and noodles. Unlike other restaurants that got on the bone-broth bandwagon, however, Onefold has no condiment bar where you can gussy up the broth and make it more like soup; the brown liquid comes unadorned in a cup.
Bacon fried rice is another quirky breakfast option. Drizzled with soy sauce and chile oil, it makes a convincing case for why you should ditch spuds in favor of grains for your morning carbs — and that’s saying something, considering the fine state of Onefold’s spuds. Best of all is the congee, not widely seen outside of Chinese restaurants. Even if oatmeal and other porridge-like grains aren’t on your list of breakfast favorites, you have to try this hot, rice-based dish, a staple of Terese’s childhood. “Most kids got cereal,” she says, but not in her Chinese-American home. “I was like, ‘I want Froot Loops,’ but I got congee.” But once you try Onefold’s congee, you’ll appreciate how lucky she was.
The kitchen has tinkered with the recipe numerous times since opening, but the current version includes jasmine rice cooked until the grains form a thick, comforting stew that’s finished with chicken confit, soy sauce, chile oil and ginger. Add a poached egg and you understand why congee is my new favorite way to start the day.
But maybe there’s caution lurking in Onefold’s tale after all. After seven months of focusing on breakfast fare, the Nerys are now expanding to dinner, adding drinks and a roster of small plates showcasing Mark’s Filipino heritage. As the restaurant evolves, though, it can’t afford to lose sight of its basic strengths: This town already has enough Joneses.
1420 East 18th Avenue
Bone broth, small $3.99
Bacon fried rice $9.49
Breakfast burrito $9.99
Breakfast tacos $9.99
Vietnamese iced coffee $4.95
Onefold is open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Learn more at onefolddenver.com.