Old Major, the restaurant that chef Justin Brunson opens tonight in LoHi, has been ready to roll for several days. Since Tuesday, the crew hosted private parties and friends and family, preparing to open its doors to the public tonight. Old Major will serve dinner seven nights a week and the menu is extensive and complex.
The dinner menu is broken down into five sections, starting with small plates, a section that includes a wide selection from wood-fired PEI mussels to lobster pot pie, crispy pork cheeks, and a meaty French onion soup. Next there are three sections with catchy names: the Farmer, the Butcher, and the Monger. In the Farmer section, guests will find a vegetarian three-course menu, as well as a couple of salads. The Butcher section features several pork dishes, a duck cassoulet, and a serious 24 ounce wood-fired bone-in rib-eye that racks up a $60 line on the bill, by far the priciest item on the menu.
Brunson is known for his affinity for pork and the pork osso bucco does the swine justice. A pork shank is brined with several spices, then seared and braised in pork stock, white wine, and veal stock until appropriate tenderness is achieved. The shank is served with house-made garlic sausage, smoked ham, choucroute, the French-braised cabbage, mustard-seed demi-glace, and garnished with parsley.
The other thing that chef Brunson promised for Old Major was a significant seafood section and the Monger section does that promise justice, by highlighting main courses that range from scallops, a wood-grilled sturgeon, and a hearty Cioppino. In the local category, the pan-roasted Colorado striped bass is seared skin on and pan roasted with bastings of thyme, sage, shallot, and butter, and served with lemon risotto, roasted baby turnips, baby beets, and braised leeks. Table-side, the bass is garnished with lemon juice, verjus, and chives.
The last section, the Sides, includes, among others, duck fat French fries and braised beluga lentils.
Pastry chef Nadine Donovan crafted a five-item dessert menu aimed at each taste category. The menu includes versions of classics that Donovan adapted, like the Baked Alaska and Apple Beignets, as well as more daring dishes like the Maple Bacon Creme Caramel, a dish that incorporates Brunson's bacon from Denver Bacon Company.
There is a ten item bar menu that includes pork belly nuggets, smoked sturgeon rillettes, chicken liver mousse, and a porchetta burger.
The space is finished and it features ample seating, designed in collaboration with FinArt with one goal in mind: a comfortable experience for the guest. There are 90 seats in the dining room, 30 in a large bar area, and soon-to-be 45 more seats on a patio that will be heated and covered and will allow guests to enjoy dining outside more than a regular patio. The tables, chairs, hosted stand, and many of the design elements have been created in collaboration with FinArt, a local designer and fabricator that chef Brunson previously worked with at Wild Catch.
For restaurant geeks and gear-heads, the kitchen at Old Major is a fascinating item. This is, arguably, the best restaurant kitchen in Denver, equipped with a variety of bells and whistles that would make most chefs wish they got to play there. The gas-fired kitchen with wood-assist in several areas includes four Jade ranges- two French flat tops and two six-burners, a chipwood broiler - gas assist with wood chips, a smoker that can handle up to 200 pounds of meat, two fryers, a combi oven, a paco jet and ice cream freezer, a sausage stuffer, a meat saw, three immersion circulators, and a wood-assisted pizza oven.
The kitchen is flanked by a heavy wood butchery table that will also serve as a chefs table for six to eight guests. Also, right outside the kitchen, Brunson, with able assistance from a variety of pros, including Mark DeNittis of the now defunct Il Mondo Vecchio, built a salami and meat curing room. This room is in the process of receiving its HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points to ensure food safety) permit, which will make Old Major the second restaurant in town to hold the certification and be able to make and sell its own cured meats.