A year ago when Scott Procop was writing the menu for his soon-to-open Cedar Creek Pub, he didn’t just want to give dishes cool, Colorado-y names like the San Juan Burger.
He wanted to go absolutely, totally local.
He found local elk for what’s become his bestselling item at the Cedar Creek Pub: BBQ Colorado elk burger with Cheddar cheese and bacon. “I like elk better than buffalo,” he said, adding that he had tasted enough buffalo while managing locations of the bison-centric Ted’s Montana Grill.
“From the beginning I searched out Colorado suppliers because I wanted to support them,” he said. So all of the bread is from his favorite dough artisan, Michael Bortz’s City Bakery in Denver.
“I figured they could bake better bread than I could,” he said. For that pub necessity, bangers and mash, he found his Scottish sausages at Denver’s acclaimed Continental Sausage.
The Aurora restaurant’s fish and chips are made are made to order with moist cod fried in a light batter flavored with Dale’s Pale Ale (born in Lyons) and served with fresh cut, skin-on fries or chips made with the same Kennebec spuds used by In-N-Out Burgers.
That fresh-is-best prime directive means making everything in-house including salad dressings. The pub’s green chile, full of house-roasted peppers and shredded pork, made by Hector Segura, Procop’s main man in the kitchen.
The only thing in the eatery’s one tiny freezer is bags of sweet potato fries. “We just haven’t figured out yet how to do fresh sweet potato fries,” he said.
When it came to his bar area, Procop focused almost solely on state-brewed ales, local wines from Infinite Monkey Theorem to Colterris, and state-distilled vodkas from 303 and Spring 44 as well as Colorado gins, rums and bourbons. The kids sip Oogave, the local agave-sweetened sodas.
“I also wanted real table service,” Procop said. “I wanted servers with personality who weren’t robots in the dining room, people who knew the food because they’d tasted it.”
Although Procop sounds like he’s a foodie, he insists he really isn’t one.
Frankly, Procop is as surprised as anyone that he’s here at all. He grew up in Ohio and earned a degree in hotel management at the University of Toledo. He went to work for the Marriott hotel chain. “They kept putting me in charge of the hotel restaurants,” he said.
“I came to love that part of the business.”
He later managed for the Romano’s Macaroni Grill chain and Ted’s Montana Grill. “I also worked at the Wynkoop Brewing Company back in the day when (now- Gov. John) Hickenlooper owned it,” Procop said. “I really learned a lot about the pub business there.”
When the opportunity arose to open the pub, he looked around and was inspired by what chefs like Matt Selby and Jennifer Jasinski did at their casual pub/eateries — Steuben’s and Euclid Hall, respectively. “They serve great fresh food in a good atmosphere,” he said.
He’s also not running one of those pricey chef-driven, farm-to-table organic bistros. It’s a pub.
“Our competition is the Chipotles and Paneras of the world,” he said.
Cedar Creek Pub celebrates its first anniversary Nov. 7 as the only full-service independent restaurant on Aurora’s sprawling medical and research campus. As he sits down to talk at the pub located in one of the new 21 Fitzsimons luxury apartment buildings, regulars file in and fill the seats as happy hour begins. Cedar Creek also holds the only liquor license in the vicinity.
Cedar Creek’s customers include students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, employees of the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado, workers for the businesses at the Colorado Science and Technology Park and apartment dwellers.
Some clientele are medical students who may be in Aurora for eight years. “They don’t have a lot of money so we have kept the prices down,” Procop said. The most expensive item is $14 and most are $10 and under with happy hour items like meat pops — meatballs on a stick or super-crisp red chile chips made from Denver-baked Rachelita’s corn tortillas dipped in a good salsa.
So far only a limited number of Aurora and Stapleton residents have made their way into Mr. Procop’s neighborhood for street fish tacos and a Breckenridge Agave Wheat ale. He attributes that to the public’s unfamiliarity with the area and the fact that the campus is still under construction with limited road access, a challenge for a restaurant that’s not that easy to find in the first place. So instead of the typical one-year business plan, Procop started with a 5-year plan which coincides with the development of the area. “When the entire campus is built out including the Veterans Administration Hospital it will be different,” he said.
To date most of the business has been at lunch and happy hour with a small dinner crowd except for big football games shown on big flat-screen TVs that dot the bar area.
If the National Hockey League actually plays this season, he said, “I’ll have to get the NHL package.” The reason, is that almost the entire, mainly Canadian squad, for Denver’s new Central Hockey League team, the Denver Cutthroats, is being housed in the nearby apartments. That’s why Cedar Creek one of the few taverns in Denver that have Molson Canadian Beer on tap. Chicken Parmesan will be on the menu regularly as a blue plate special along with chicken-fried chicken and shepherd’s pie in part because chicken Parmesan is the universally preferred pre-game fare for hockey players.
Procop has also made friends with Colorado’s legion of craft brew geeks, even though Procop didn’t want to run a bewpub. “I really wanted to tap into the craft brew industry,” he said. The bar features local brews from Odell’s, New Belgium, New Planet, Avery, Great Divide and others.
Because everything in his education and training involved hotel management, “I didn’t think I’d ever own an independent restaurant because it’s such a risk.”
Now that’s he on the other side of the chain-independent restaurant divide, he said, “I get mad at all the advertising and marketing power they have.”
Twelve months into the process, Procop’s will allow that “it’s going well but it’s nowhere near a goldmine yet … but it will be,” he said.
Cedar Creek Pub
2100 N. Ursula St., Aurora