Charlie Palmer’s District Meats Opening on Monday

District Meats fills Big Game’s big space and big shoes

A year and a half ago, I was part of the throng at the preview party for a new restaurant at 1631 Wazee Street in LoDo. The restaurant was Big Game, a sports bar on steroids — huge and loud, with several mammoth screens, Wii games and the feeling of a very fancy frat house party. In short, it was planned as a LoD0 happening place seemingly aimed at young males. The owners were Jeffrey Chodorow of the TurnTable Restaurant Group and his 20-something son Zach, who seemed both the target demographic as well as the designated manager.

Chodorow Senior’s place in American restaurant lore was as Rocco de Spirito’s partner who had a very public falling out on “The Restaurant,” which ran on NBC in 2003-04. Chodorow Junior’s tenure running a LoDo restaurant was brief. ABout 15 months after it opened, Big Game suddenly closed. I don’t know whether there were financial problems, whether Junior just got bored being a Denver restaurateur or something else, but poof! I was gone.

Enter Charlie Palmer, a highly respected chef and restaurateur who took over the vast space, subdivided it smartly and is opening his 14th restaurant there on Monday.  It won’t be another Aureole, an expensive fine-dining original that launched Palmer’s American Progressive culinary style or any of his rsetaurants, hotels, floating restaurants aboard Seaborn’s luxury cruise ships or hotels. It will be the one and only District Meats,  loosely inspired by hearty  mid-century roadhouse fare. Palmer said that he will be around a fair amount during the launch period but less so once it gets going — except in winter, because he and his teenage sons like to ski. Jeff Russell will be he chef in charge.

The grill line in the semi-open kitchen has been pretty much inherited from Big Game.

It was with a bit of déja vue that I attended District Meats’ Thursday launch party, which was considerably quieter and less jammed than Big Game’s had been. Well, maybe not quieter near the remaining super-size screen where the Broncos game was being shown. The event featured drinks and passed hors c’oeuvre  some of which appear on the regular menu. Below is  some of what the kitchen produced, most of which I didn’t to taste. The waitstaff was so very efficient that they moved almost everything out as soon as took a picture:

Marinated olive medley that can be seasoned to taste.
A pasta called garganelli with veal, sage, heirloom carrots and lemon zest.
Sliders of some sort. They were whisked by very quickly.
This is probably a bisque or cream of something soup --or maybe a dessert. I don't know, because I didn't get a chance to taste it or even ask.
House-made chips topped with tuna (I think). A waiter hustled the plate away right after I snapped the picture.
Veal and ricotta meatballs with Fontina cheese on a polenta pillow.
Rich pork pate (which the waiter called it) or terrine (which is on the menu).

The District Meats menu looks intriguing, and hopefully, I’ll get back sometime to have more than a nibble. Having dined at Aureole in Las Vegas several years ago (for a convention; I’m not a gambler), I have mega-confidence in what a Charlie Palmer restaurant can produce — even at a more casual, less expensive place. And even though  the waitstaff tended to rush past me or pull platters away without offering me a bite, Palmer did spare a moment for me. He said that he continue to explore more off-cuts of meats — flavorful shanks, trotters, shoulder, organ meats — to keep the menu interesting and prices moderate. And that’s good news in LoDo.

Price check: Snack/Share, $2-$9; starters, $7-$12; $18-$32 (most under $25, plus a Kansas City strip steak for two at $62); burgers and sandwiches, $12-$13; sides, $7-$9.

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