Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra opened their second outpost of Tocabe American Indian Eatery in Greenwood Village last week, offering office workers and neighbors a taste of American Indian cooking, including fry bread, slow-cooked beans and three different bison preparations. The two opened the lunch and dinner fast-casual operation quietly, allowing word of mouth to attract new customers. "We have a network of friends and fans who are getting the word out," explains Jacobs.
Those familiar with the original Berkeley location will recognize the main menu, which features hunter (meat) and gatherer (vegetarian) options that can be added to fry bread to make an Indian taco or heaped on tortilla chips for Medicine Wheel nachos. A new item not on the Berkeley menu is grilled bannock bread, a traditional flatbread that picks up campfire flavors from the wood grill. Both the bannock bread and fry bread are cooked to order, as are cinnamon-sugar fry bread nuggets for dessert.
There's also a "bad hunter" salad (from the joke "What do you call an American Indian vegetarian?"), made with seasonal nuts, grains and vegetables, many of which come from Native sources. Maple syrup in one of the dressings is sourced from Ojibwe communities in the Great Lakes region, while corn for the salsas is grown by the Ute Mountain Ute tribe near Ignacio, Colorado. "The goal is to incorporate true American Indian ingredients," explains Jacobs. "We want to be much more than just fry bread.
"Matt and I have been able to do some traveling and have visited many Native communities," he continues. One thing they discovered was that cast-iron cookware was a common thread in American Indian communities across the country, whether in Denver, or Houma, Louisiana, or among the Pima people of Arizona. To reflect that theme in Tocabe's kitchen, Jacobs and Chandra added enamel-clad cast-iron pots as part of the ordering line. Beans, meats and green chile are kept simmering in blue pots that are the first thing customers see. "We want to try and replicate how we cook at home," Jacobs adds.
In addition to the regular menu, the kitchen cooks up weekly specials; the first of those, a chipotle bison chili, sold out before the end of the first week in business. Jacobs says they'll make more of that and are planning a batch of elk chili soon.
The interior is a little sparse right now, but wood cabinetry, tabletops and wall art stand out, created by local artist and woodworker James Clarke. A community wall features more art from a rotating list of native artists — right now its Walt Pourier — and a community board for neighborhood residents and businesses. Jacobs says that they plan to add more decorative items over time, in much the same way that the original restaurant's decor evolved. Among the plans are a set of shadowboxes along the wall where the line forms that will be filled with raw ingredients — mostly beans and grains — and labeled with descriptions of the tribes that they were grown by. "People in line will be able to read about where the food comes from before eating it," Jacobs explains.
Jacobs notes that the Tocabe idea is an extension of the Jacobs family's original Gray Horse: An American Indian Eatery, which opened in a food court off the 16th Street Mall in 1989 and ran for several years. Photos of his family's original restaurant will also be added to the walls at Tocabe.
The Greenwood Village Tocabe is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.