There are a lot of buzzwords one could apply to the Wolf’s Tailor, a small restaurant by chef Kelly Whitaker opening this weekend in North Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. So here they go:
Zero waste! Natural wines! Japanese fusion! Italian fusion! Tasting menus! Large format! Omakase! House-made pasta! House-milled grains! Wood oven! Robata grill! Binchotan! Noodles! Vegetable-forward! Garden-grown! Meat-forward! Skewers! Craft cocktails! Savory desserts! A black sesame semifreddo!
The truth is the Wolf’s Tailor has all these things — but it’s also very hard to pinpoint. “It’s like, what grows together goes together,” Whitaker starts to explain, before shaking his head and cutting off mid-sentence. Regardless of how cool it all starts to sound, here is the type of restaurant that makes Denver’s dining scene better. And here’s why.
Whitaker is the mile-a-minute big thinker behind some of the area’s best food concepts. He owns the (wood-fired!) Italian restaurant Basta in Boulder, he started but later left beloved (shipping container!) pizza shop Cart-Driver in RiNo, and he consulted on nearby Call (a top 10 new restaurant! In the country!). The chef also founded the Noble Grain Alliance, which brings back to the region native wheat, corn, and seeds for growing and milling.
The Wolf’s Tailor is Whitaker’s first solo restaurant project in a while. He’s placed it in Sunnyside, on a quiet, walkable strip with just one other restaurant and a neighborhood coffee shop. He’s built a big gathering place in the form of a garden for eating meat skewers flavored over white charcoal. He’ll offer more complicated bites (see egg custard chawanmushi with Parmesan, corn pulp and dashi) to try at the bar or inside the restaurant.
For anyone looking to throw down on a group meal, big, flavorful plates are prepared, like clay-pot cooked acqua pazza with poached red snapper and tomato dashi, or brisket with farro and tomatoes in wagyu tallow. To get a good taste of the Wolf’s Tailor, though, one could just eat all the puffed and charred piada bread with eggplant dip, shaved cheese, and garlic. It carried over from Whitaker’s first, Italian restaurant. And like the pita bread at Denver’s new Safta, it’s worth coming back for.
What makes the Wolf’s Tailor a bigger deal, however, is that it’s way, way bigger than just its chef and owner. Whitaker assembled a ridiculous cast for this new spot. Among them, former Frasca chefs Kodi Simkins and Sean May are leading the kitchen, former Emmerson pastry chef Jeb Breakell is creating the desserts, and former Social (Fort Collins) bar manager Raffi Jergerian is making the cocktails.
Whitaker’s Id Est Hospitality attracted these and more talents with salaried roles or else a tiered pay structure that makes the restaurant’s wages livable. The team also pools tips, asking chefs (and servers) to be nimble, stepping out of the kitchen to speak more with customers. It’s a dynamic built into the design of the Wolf’s Tailor, raising a curtain in front of the industry while also respecting its hard workers.
At the center of this philosophy and the new restaurant is a sweeping glass window separating a spotlighted kitchen from the moody dining room that surrounds it. “It’s a big fish bowl,” Simkins explains, which is true, since all eyes are about to be on this unassuming new neighbor.
“We’re building for a longterm restaurant in this neighborhood,” Whitaker says, “and not just the next hot restaurant in Denver.”
Status: The Wolf’s Tailor opens for dinner Saturday, September 1 at 4058 Tejon Street. Dinner hours are 6 to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but the backyard opens for snacks starting at 4 p.m. Chef’s tasting menu reservations can be made online.