I had every opportunity to GTFO of Denver. Make my escape, as it were. Denver was composed of steak houses, fast-food restaurants, some decent mom and pops, but only a handful of ‘interesting’ restaurants – what the fuck was I going to do here? New York, L.A., Chicago, hell even Dallas was doing more important shit than here! I was young, dumb, and full of, myself…as it were. Sean Kelly saved me from myself. Sean had Aubergine Café, and I literally knocked on his door for a month – handing him a fresh new resume each time. That’s how we did shit back then. We begged. We humbled ourselves. We gave a fuck. Then, one day he called. My girlfriend answered the phone and I could tell from her face that it was him. I cried. She cried. We both knew what this meant. That my entire career was about to change. Sean was a working chef/owner of the best restaurant in Denver. That’s a fact. Look it up. Sean Kelly taught me more about food in my year there than any other chef – ever. He was tough – and I needed tough. He was passionate – and he showed me how to move that energy into something onto the plate. He was smart – and I love smart. He taught me a new way to care – and I needed every word, action, technique and ability that he gave me. Sean changed the menu everyday. Every. Fucking. Day. It was like working in ten of the best restaurants I could imagine in one year. I grew – and I needed to grow. I still have every menu I was ever a part of. It’s a huge stack of Aubergine’s history – my history. I’m forever in debt to Sean. He also makes the best porchetta sandwich in Denver.
Because Sean was my first real introduction into Denver’s dining scene, I stayed. I learned about the important pedigree from which he came and where we, as a city were headed. I was ambitious, and soon to find out, so were the chefs and restauranteurs that scraped a living from the 500 or so patrons that ‘Got it’ (Back then we called them the fickle 500). Kevin Taylor had Zenith, Eric Roeder had Micole, there was Chives, Barolo Grill, The Fourth Story, and so many others. I really had no idea…
J.E. Kunkle/Western History and Genealogy/Denver Public Library)
Larimer Street is an iconic paved piece of Denver’s history – It always has been. Back in the 90’s, it was a maze of ‘themed’ restaurants. That was the thing then – diners wanted to be entertained (remember Rainforest Café?). So, back then we had Soapy Smith’s, Mexicali’s, Tommy Tsunami’s (On Market Street…still counts, right?), Cadillac Ranch (It’s Tamayo now), Josephina’s and others that lined our Larimer Square. And it worked. We finally had Denver’s Rush Street, or Beale Street. A place for tourists, really – even if you were ‘visiting’ from the burbs. God fucking forbid anyone would live near there.
Then, something changed. A group of incredibly smart people had the foresight to make some drastic, and before-our-time types of decisions that not only shaped the way we eat in Denver, but the nation. The advent of chef driven restaurants was born. Now, it’s a culinary Mecca. Rioja, Bistro Vendome, Euclid Hall…all run by women – powerful, smart, innovative, and incredibly talented women. These women (and some men) were given the reigns of Larimer Street – and we’re a better city because of it.
On Monday, I interview a man that was more than instrumental in the process of the revitalizing our town and this street. John Imbergamo is the Godfather – at least that’s my opinion. He’s seen it all – every bit of our culinary history. Owner of the Imbergamo Group since 1989 – John has forgotten more about the Denver dining scene than most of us will ever know. The Imbergamo group represents some of Denver’s top critically acclaimed restaurants including, Rioja, Euclid Hall, Stoic & Genuine, and the Denver go-to standard, Racines. And, he’s exactly the man I want to talk to. We’ll discuss the evolution of Denver’s dining scene, the changes in food journalism over the years, the fast casual explosion, where are we now and where are we going? Are we oversaturated? And my favorite, professional restaurant criticism – is it more important than ever?
Tune in and find out here.