Sometimes, it’s better to take the longer and winding road. The team behind The Way Back, comprised of Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti, and Jared Schwartz, hustled to earn respect as an acclaimed bar and restaurant before the Berkeley restaurant (temporarily) shuttered this July. WIth The Way Back’s reopening planned along Tennyson street for 2018, the team decided to keep themselves busy. Cue Wayward, a new restaurant that emphasizes responsible and approachable regional cuisine and moved into the 1610 Little Raven St. space in Riverfront Park (the former house of Zengo restaurant). Former Panzano executive chef Patrick Kelly leads the Wayward culinary team and takes inspiration from seasonal Colorado harvests into the dinner, dessert, and brunch menus. The dinner menu breaks down into four sections — bites, small plates, pasta and grains, and large plates — and even adds an $9 offer to buy a round of beers for the kitchen. Wayward’s cocktail program follows the boozy footsteps of The Way Back and incorporates local flavors into concoctions created by Alex Flower, formerly of Acorn. The “reverence” section salutes classic cocktails while the “wayward” section strays from the path of traditional drinks. Brunch recently debuted the weekend of Oct. 7 with a variety of dishes from your basic brunch to an interpretation of shakshuka.
With so many culinary players in the kitchen, how is Wayward faring weeks after its opening? Here’s what online reviews and critics have to say about Wayward:
A Breath of Fresh Air: The Wayward trio transformed the former Zengo space from a “very dark, avian-themed” design to a “sunny, homey, and vaguely mod” interior, according to The Denverite. The spacious restaurant is a “megaphone” for George, Gianinetti, and Schwartz to “preach [their] gospel” and share their vegetable-centric and market-driven fare. Since “it takes more than a village for a restaurant to be sustainable,” chef Kelly is working with different farms and cooperatives within 200 miles of Denver. The bittersweet symphony, a Brazilian rum cocktail made with strawberries and lime, farro risotto, and charred “fairytale” eggplant are early favorites for The Denverite. The large brick-and-mortar was an offer the Wayward team couldn’t refuse - and The Denverite is certainly glad they didn’t. [The Denverite]
Polished, Artful, and Hot: Zagat praised Wayward’s “streamlined style” reflected in the hyper-local New American dishes and “spruce, cool-toned design” that is “equally artful and modern.” In addition to investigating the restaurant in a thoughtful feature, Zagat included Wayward in various hot lists and dish round-ups. The Wayward burger, a “banging” burger composed of grass-fed beef and lamb, an aioli, house giardiniera, local lettuce and tomato on a ciabatta roll, stands on its own as the sole sandwich on an “otherwise elegant menu.” The burger even made its way onto a national round-up of the country’s top 15 new burgers. Wayward pops up in local and country-wide hot lists that highlight the restaurant’s roasted hot carrots and corn cake paired with honey-thyme ice cream. A tip from the pros: Wayward’s happy hour offers $20 bottomless offer that is more “mandatory rather than optional” for the Zagat crew. [Zagat]
Balancing Price Point with Portions: Enough OpenTable reviewers enjoyed their Wayward experience to allow the restaurant to culminate 4.4 stars on the website. Recent diners felt welcomed by the attentive yet engaging wait staff; staff steered many in the right direction during their meal. One diner recognized that the food’s range of intense and subtle flavors “was a true testament to the back of the house staff.” The simple drinks paired with their meal were so well-executed that “you knew you were drinking something well-made.” Out-of-town guests and large parties were easily accommodated in the large space, as well. Guest complaints primarily concerned the smaller portions and higher prices. One reviewer felt the “underwhelming” food was “[p]retty, but bland” for its price point. [OpenTable]
A Shift to the Approachable: George shared with 303 Magazine that revamped The Way Back will end up as “the geeky little brother” to Wayward. Rather than opt for the exotic ingredients reminiscent of The Way Back, the Wayward menu aims to be an approachable option for the neighborhood diner. The induction of Denver’s first bottomless happy hour offer - complete with nine drink options - is a prime example of catering to the local scene. 303 Magazine recommends the Where’s the Beach tropical, boozy kool-aid mixture and the Midnight Express, a “velvety dessert drink.” With the debut of Wayward, George, Gianinetti and Schwartz’s culinary vision is well on its way. [303 Magazine]