It’s the perfect recipe for success.
Two Philly guys lured to Colorado’s good life mix talent, skill and passion to create cool eats for people who love them. The result? Bocadillo: the newest addition to the rising cafe scene in Denver’s Highlands.
If you haven’t been to Spain to find out what all the gastronomic fuss has been for the past decade or so, you don’t have to. Bocadillo’s creators and operators, Andrew Minhinnick and Derek Dietz, have brought the genius of Basque and Barcelona to the mile-high region.
The art and joy of small bites has pretty much escaped Colorado up to now. Tapas and pinxtos (pronounced “peen-chose”) fronts come and go, but either the portions, the prices or the creations themselves have all been lost in the translation to Colorado’s otherwise red-hot restaurant scene.
The real deal, however, hasn’t escaped Dietz’s interpretation of some of the best food ideas on the planet.
For Dietz, it all starts with Colorado’s growing fervor for bringing organic, local farm foods to creative restaurant kitchens, bypassing the big food-industry purveyors and their warehouses of mediocrity. It’s not all that easy. But time spent with Boulder- and Denver-area farmers and farmer markets has got Minhinnick and Dietz getting jaw-dropping bright tomatoes and fruity beets into their north-Denver kitchen, onto wooden picks and into appreciative mouths — all within hours of these fruits and veggies having left their local stems.
The fluid menu is based on fresh, top-quality ingredients dressed up to play to their strengths in sizes that make you happy, and always wanting more.
This is a place where ham (real ham), bossy cheeses, coddled olives, fresh pickles, herbs, bread and subtle peppers are treated in the royal way they should be. Sunday in the tratoria-style cafe brought an attention-getting herbed goat-cheese fritter on top of Boulder-beet carpaccio and a more traditionally Basque crunchy slice of breaded eggplant under melted drunken cheese.
The heavens parted and the angels sang when Dietz’s sister — responsible for the African pasta via London she snagged last week that was the foundation for a large bowl of summer-veggie ratatouille — brought to the table a small, wooden altar for Dietz’s Asian Short Ribs. The world’s most tender short rib was resting on a spoonful of steamed white rice. The rib balanced a slice of shitakki mushroom and a perfectly poached quail egg in a feat not to be tried at home. All these flavors and textures were tied together with a soy reduction of what the mushrooms had bathed in just moments before.
While the star of the show here could well be Spanish ham, an especially tender and salty Serrano, Dietz is happy to expand on what the Spaniards invented with the idea of more eclectic bites and small sandwiches. His East Coast roots served him well with his interpretation of a Philly Cheesesteak Spring Roll. An astoundingly buttery foi gras found its way into a couple of places on the menu. At one point, one of Bocadillo’s little wooden slabs offered up sugar-cube-sized nuggets of peach aspic made from fruit snagged from a yard around the corner. Something faintly anisey in the jell nudged the flavor of the dark, Colorado cherry slice on top. Who knew?
Aside from the manageable selection of $1-$3 bites, tapas that hover around $5 each and sandwiches (bocadillos) on perfectly crusted baguettes for about $11 each, there’s the no-charge fresh-pickle bar and an array of fresh-juice-infusions for $2 for as much and many as you want.
Dietz’s girlfriend-pastry-chef offers up a changing menu of inspirations. Yesterday was a s’mores-like bite that was a homemade graham cracker under a slice of fudgy chocolate and a toasty homemade marshmallow with a dab of ganache.
It was serendipity that brought Bocadillo to Colorado. Minhinnick’s Phish-friendly life crossed paths with a man who happened to have a space on Tejon Street, and that was just what Dietz needed to work his Spanish-based magic.
The venue is small, which could be a problem when the place catches on even more than it already has. A blessing and a curse is the lack of liquor license so far. You can happily BYOB and end up with the perfect killer wine for one-tenth the cost of the usual drill. Colorado restaurants have an increasingly bad habit of stepping on wine so many times that it’s nearly killing the cost of a night out and making for a much less enjoyable dinner or lunch. The downside: You’ve got to remember to bring the bottle or choose from Kim’s slim selections at the friendly, blue-collar store next door.
But Dietz’s eye-popping offerings beg to be enjoyed with the grape. It’s all about the vibe here. These are fun mouthfuls created and served by friends who love life and love what they do. It really is a Colorado recipe for success.
4044 Tejon St. in Denver
Wednesday-Sunday, noon-8 p.m.
Credit cards OK. No booze. Menu changes daily.