On Tuesday, the daytime diner Wendell’s opened on Tennyson Street, and it’s a sweet little breakfast and lunch space backed by a big cast of Denver food folks. Patrick O’Neill of Avanti F&B, Kade Gianinetti of The Way Back, and consulting chef Eric Lee, formerly head chef at Linger, have combined forces for this new Berkeley restaurant. The name Wendell’s is a reference to writer Wendell Berry and also a throwback to those “classic spots where I used to hang out with my grandad as a kid,” O’Neill said.
Wendell’s took over a space that for 12 years housed DJ’s Cafe, until that restaurant closed suddenly last December. Flanked on either side by the Berkeley Inn and brand new construction, the diner could now serve as a bridge between old and new Tennyson. O’Neill and Gianinetti both live close by and wanted to continue DJ’s tradition. But diners at this updated version will find a classic American theme made modern from the decor to the brunch dishes.
“It was this really kind of cathartic experience,” Lee said of creating Wendell’s menu. The chef has worked in Denver kitchens from Linger to Z Cuisine, The Kitchen, and Jax Fish House. He was also one of the founding owners of Cafe Aion in Boulder. All of those influences are noted at Wendell’s, where Lee says he really got back to his roots creating plates like stacked pancakes, chicken fried steak, and scrambles. Then there’s also breakfast poutine, three types of toasts topped in lox rillette or pork belly or, yes, avocado; and a side dish of Rosenberg’s bagel chips served with tomato bacon jam. To drink, the usual breakfast suspects are all here, as well as a special loaded bloody mary with a High Life pony, and house spritzes, martinis, and palomas. Like any brunch place worth its salt, there is a kids menu but there also is a decent cocktail, beer, and wine list.
The cozy 60-seat space has been transformed by Scout Interiors and Raw Creative. A powder blue bar and red swivel stools lining a community table will provide some of the best perches in the house for coffee and socializing. Booths wrap around the room’s perimeter, and an outdoor patio serves as spillover seating during a waitlist and offers group dining under the shade of a pergola. The focal point of the restaurant, though, is Berkeley-based graphic artist Evan Hecox’s full back-wall mural. His cityscape depicts a north Denver streetcar from the early 1900s. Just like Wendell’s, it’s a reminder of the history of the neighborhood as well as where it’s headed.
Status: Wendell’s opens for breakfast, brunch, and lunch daily, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and until 3 p.m. on weekends. Find it at 3838 Tennyson Street and online at wendellsbreakfast.com.