Tocabe brings Native American food to the Denver dining scene

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Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery opens tomorrow at 3536 West 44th Avenue, and even in a city stuffed with restaurants, it has the potential to set itself apart. The creation of Ben Jacobs, a member of the Osage tribe whose home is in northeast Oklahoma, Tocabe (the word is Osage for "'blue", Jacob's mom's favorite color) will be a fast-casual place, similar to Chipotle, but serving strictly Native American food. 

Jacobs has lived in Denver since he was three, though, attending East High School and the University of Denver, where he majored in history with an emphasis in Native American studies. And he studied traditional foods to create his menu, which includes Medicine Wheel Nachos and a variety of soups: sweet corn soup, green chile stew and clam chowder with green chile.

But the real draw are the fry-bread meals, created in a manner similar to the assembly line at Chipotle.

"Well, we make the dough [for the fry bread] from scratch, and the main thing is, we don't deep-fry, we flash-fry," explains Jacobs. "We modified our recipe so it would only make 25 pieces at a time, so we'll be making fresh dough throughout the day. We'll have stuffed fry breads, similar to a calzone, and ground beef, shredded beef, ground buffalo and grilled chicken to go in it."

This is the 25-year-old's first shot at owning a restaurant, though he's been in the business since he was fifteen and did a five-year stint at Lime. His family owned Grayhorse, a spot on the 16th Street Mall, about twenty years ago; the menu there helped inspire the lineup at Tocabe. Jacobs says his recipes are authentic Osage (with a few showing the influences of other tribes), and that he received help compiling them from his mother, who lives in Oklahoma. 

Jacobs eventually wants to use products from his tribe to supply the restaurant. He can't yet, due to issues of consistency, but he's  determined to support and promote his background. There's even a Native American winery that he's looking at -- but for now, wine is a moot point, since Tocabe doesn't yet have its liquor license.
"Our hearing will be December 29, and then if we're approved, it'll be a few weeks after that," Jacobs says. "But we're okay with not having any liquor at first, because we want people to remember: Our focus here is the food."

I love that. It's ironic that Native American food isn't more popular, considering that it's the most traditional of American foods. And the price is right, with entrees hovering around the $7 range. With any luck, Tocabe will become another homegrown success story, just like Chipotle.
Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery will be open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 720-524-8282. -- Tyler Nemkov

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