Can there be a third act? That’s the question for the homegrown U Baron Group, which has mounted a string of restaurants in the former Lowenstein Theater complex since taking over a space there in 2012. The first run was Udi’s Pizza Cafe, which offered a combination of pizzas and globally inspired entrees. After the Udi’s name was sold to Smart Balance, the restaurant reopened in 2014 as Silvi’s Kitchen. Neither gained traction with the neighborhood, however, so last spring the group debuted a new concept: The Good Son, a watering hole specializing in burgers, sandwiches and Detroit-style pizza.
New is relative, of course. To be truly novel, the Good Son would have to dish up something completely different for the U Baron Group, like ramen or tikka masala, but that’s not the case here. Like a good costume designer, the group has instead restyled elements from other concepts: the pizza dough of Silvi’s, the beer and pub grub of its recently shuttered Braun Taphaus & Grille in Arvada. But the name isn’t the only thing that’s new. “We wanted something more casual, more for the neighborhood and more bar-centric,” says chief executive Etai Bar-on. “We needed something with a little more urban flair to it.” The result is a production that, while not entirely new, still manages to feel fresh.
The name certainly ups the freshness factor. In a break from tradition, the restaurant honors not a family member — e.g., CEO Etai, grandmother Silvi, etc. — but Helen Bonfils, whose Bonfils Theatre drew theater-goers to this corner of Colfax for decades. (Don’t see the connection? In French, “bon fils” means “good son.”) In vibe, too, the Good Son marks a dramatic change from the airy cafe-style decor of Etai’s and the sporty flair of Braun. Strings of red and white lights brighten one side of the long, windowed dining room. Red zebra-themed wallpaper adds a pop of color and eccentricity. Funky art from local artist Zoë Rayor hangs in mismatched frames, along with such offbeat sculptural elements as a wall-mounted plastic hand holding an ostrich egg. Theater-style seats rest on a platform opposite the bar, a nod to the building’s history.
The script has potential. With eighteen beers on tap and another 26 in bottles — some from local and national breweries, others from across the pond — there’s a drink for every occasion. (There’s also a short wine-by-the-glass list, but it seems like an afterthought, and when a friend tried to order from it, the glass he wanted wasn’t available.) One hot summer night, I wavered between the Breckenridge Agave Wheat and the Dogfish Head Festina Peche, ultimately going with the latter, a faintly sour brew with just enough peach that it tasted like summer. Paired with a few appetizers — deviled eggs topped with crispy bacon; tahini-rich hummus; and the Good Son salad, an intriguing mix of curried cauliflower, arugula, dates and pomegranate molasses — the opening food-and-drink act was what you want from a neighborhood spot: easy, familiar, with nothing to make you think too hard after a long day.
For the second act, there are burgers, sandwiches and a nightly blue-plate special. The Good Son burger brought bacon, Fontina and a hefty half-pound patty sandwiched in a brioche bun; instead of ketchup, mayo or mustard, the beef was slathered with “special sauce” modeled not after the stuff hawked by the clown, but the sauce at global phenom Shake Shack. Elsewhere, marinated sirloin came tucked between slices of focaccia as big as a Cadillac, with equally big flavors of horseradish and arugula. A fried-chicken sandwich had promise, with a generous piece of crispy, house-battered breast, but it needed more sauce and melted cheese to live up to its billing as a chicken parm. The blue-plate specials, such as battered or grilled fish tacos with a refreshing pineapple-cucumber slaw, give the board some heft, bringing the otherwise all-day menu into the terrain of the night.
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Regardless of when you order them, pizzas are the stars of the show. There are nine varieties, all with names related to the Motor City. Though made with the same dough used at Silvi’s Kitchen in Glendale and Arvada, the results are as different as Fords and Ferraris. At Silvi’s, pizzas look like standard American pies: not too thin, not too thick, with rounded edges and a circular shape. At the Good Son, the painstakingly fermented dough is spread an inch or more deep, then loaded with enough cheese to cover a hundred of the thin, scantily clad Neapolitan pies that have become so popular lately. Finally, it’s baked in a wood-fired oven in a steel bread pan doused with oil. Given the dough’s high hydration rate — up to 80 percent — the dough remains damp even when fully cooked, with a predominant deep-fried taste from all the oil that soaks into the bottom and edges.
That oil’s not entirely authentic, by the way. Pizza-makers at Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit, home of the original Detroit-style square pizza, told me that they don’t oil the pan at all. Granted, authenticity isn’t the be-all and end-all of great taste. But some nights, crusts at the Good Son had an oily tinge an eighth of an inch deep, as if the dough had gone into the oven bobbing in oil. On those nights, I left the restaurant feeling like I’d gorged on fried dough at the fair. But when made with slightly less oil, the pies were far better. The best of the bunch was the Buddy’s, named for the Michigan pizzeria that started it all. True to form, tomato sauce had been ladled over the cheese — though it was applied in square dollops, not in long, red rows, as it is at Buddy’s. The Spartan and the Tom Selleck were just as good, and for similar reasons: The assertive toppings — spinach-artichoke dip and smoked mozzarella in the former, and jalapeños, fresh pineapple, bacon and smoked mozzarella in the latter — were able to hold their own against so much dough.
Curious about the reason for the U Baron Group’s departure from tradition — especially on a menu that devotes a paragraph to describing Detroit-style pizza — I asked Etai why, aside from on the Buddy’s, tomato sauce wasn’t spread over the cheese, as custom dictates. “We wrestled back and forth,” he told me by phone. “Should the sauce be on top? Should we be traditional?” Ultimately, he said, his team did it this way because it’s what they liked best, “even though it’s not exactly the way Buddy’s does it.”
If everyone on staff — in the kitchen as well as in the front of the house — remembered their lines, the Good Son would be the kind of show you’d see over and over. But for a restaurant that opened early last spring, it seems stuck in dress rehearsals, even after sous Walter Harvey was promoted to executive chef in July. Pizzas that were supposed to be made with smoked mozzarella didn’t taste smoky. Some pies were burned. Celery and carrots served with the hummus dripped puddles of water that gummed up the focaccia on the same plate. A salad of wilted kale tasted like it had seen the inside of a deep fryer. Bread pudding described as having raspberry in it had caramel instead. Drinks ordered under the premise of happy hour arrived so late due to an inattentive server that we were charged full price, and a second pint arrived not with dinner, but as we sat waiting for dessert. A fly bobbed in our water, and the server took it away like it was a joke — a feeling my friend, who’d drunk half of it before finding the creature, didn’t share.
The U Baron Group has poured time and energy into crafting a performance that caters to the neighborhood. But if the restaurant is going to enjoy a long run in the former Lowenstein Theater, it will require the same amount of time and energy put into the production day in and day out. Only then will we see if it gets that third act.
The Good Son
2550 East Colfax Avenue
Deviled eggs $3
Hummus dip $6.50
Good Son salad $9.50
Kale salad $10
Good Son burger $11
Steak sandwich $11
Chicken parmesan $10
Fish tacos $12
Bread pudding $7
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday (bar open until 11 p.m.), 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday (bar open until midnight), 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday (bar open until midnight), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Learn more at thegoodsontap.com.