Year-End Accolades

Annette best restaurant in Denver, Zagat’s #4 food city.

Year-end proclamations of the best this or the top that are conversational fodder for the food-obsessed. I always eagerly read them and report them here. Here are two that just broke.

Zagat has declared Denver to be the country’s No. 4 food city — beating out the likes of San Francisco, Seattle and New Orleans. Pretty heady stuff. Ruth Tobias explained it thus:

No. 4: Denver, CO

If major restaurant openings were the only criterion for a hot food city, Denver would be a shoe-in for a top 2017 slot. Nearly every established chef or restaurateur of the past several years either launched or is about to launch a new, landscape-changing hot spot. Case in point: James Beard awardees Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson debuted ​Tavernetta. Fellow recipient Jennifer Jasinski opened Ultreia. Nationally recognized innovators like Justin Cucci, brought us eye-popping penthouse tapas bar El Five, and Robert Thompson, opened a 32,000-sq.-ft. Punch Bowl Social in the control tower of the former Stapleton airport, of all incredible places. And that’s just to name a few.

Meanwhile, luxury and boutique hotels went up all over town anchored by splashy, ambitious destinations like Hearth & Dram, Citizen Rail, Quality Italian, Urban FarmerKachina and 20th-floor rooftop bar 54thirty. Still to come are The Ramble Hotel, home to NY-import Death & Co and the aforementioned Super Mega Bien, and The Source Hotel, expanding the groundbreaking RiNo food hall it’s named for. Speaking of food halls, Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace created a thriving outlet for acclaimed and breakout chefs and food producers in a former aviation factory; next year, Zeppelin Station will do the same on the RiNo light-rail corridor — not far from upcoming branches of Tyson Cole’s celebrated Uchi and Shake Shack.

Yet major openings aren’t the only criterion. The executives at Slow Food named Denver the new home of international conference Slow Food Nations, held annually in July. The producers of Top Chef also decided to film Season 15 here. In fact, it was Tom Colicchio himself who observed that Denver’s strong network of cultural support would guarantee its future, nurturing the talents of tomorrow. In short, as food towns go, the Mile High City has just hit the stratosphere.

And in our fab food city, Eater Denver just named Annette, an eclectic comfort food eatery in the Stanley Marketplace, as the Restaurant of the Year. The reasons:

In her quiet, cheerful leadership, a headband and high bun, [Caroline] Glover sets the tone for Annette. Originally from College Station, Texas, she has worked her way from a local Chili’s to The Spotted Pig in New York. There, after graduating from culinary school, Glover found her career path: “I think it definitely formed my palate more than anything else,” she says of working for chef April Bloomfield at the famous West Village gastropub. “I loved April’s palate. I love it still. It’s very simple, and clean, and bright. That’s definitely where it started for me.”

While people might expect white table cloths and tiny portions at a buzzy new Denver restaurant, Glover insists she’s only doing comfort food with a different approach. She keeps high chairs and kids menus, and for the adults, dishes that spin off au gratin potatoes, grilled chicken, and pecan pie. “This is what I want to make at home,” a regular has told her more than once.

At Annette, Glover and her husband and business partner Nelson Harvey are paying all of their employees equally. Let that sink in: “Everybody’s making the same amount of money, everybody’s helping each other out, and everybody’s responsible for the guests’ happiness. It falls on (servers) and it falls on my cooks, as it should, and my dishwasher,” Glover says.

It starts with every employee earning the same base wage and then pooling tips evenly. From the servers to the dishwashers and cooks, Glover says her staff should never earn below $18 per hour, even on a slow night. The result, she says, is that cooks can survive on one job, and servers who stick around are more invested in theirs. “We almost went back so many times,” Glover says of the policy, “but this is something I’ve always felt so strongly about. How could I do that? I worked my whole entire life for $11 an hour and couldn’t make ends meet. I don’t want to put anybody else in that position.” Much of Glover’s staff, starting with general manager Daniel Seibel, previously worked with her at Acorn at The Source.

Last week, during a typical dinner service, Glover and her team had the chance to cook for New York Times columnist and former restaurant critic Frank Bruni. The opportunity was serendipitous for Glover, who had cooked for Bruni before, during his review of the Spotted Pig. In 2006, the critic took aim at the Pig’s ridiculous wait time and unruly front of house (which has new meaning given recent news events). But he extolled chef Bloomfield’s food, from the “fantastic gnudi” to a “luscious smoked trout.”

When Bruni walked into Annette in Aurora, more than a decade later on a dinner interview with a politician, Glover had a stressed but familiar feeling. She turned to chefs Chelsey Maschhoff and Michelle Senna, and she decided to take a minute with them: “We’re going to put out the same food that we put out every single night,” she told the two, “but this is really cool, this is a really special moment.” The chefs would then gather themselves and prepare a grilled beef tongue and bone marrow toast, also a wood-fired half chicken — “perfect,” Bruni would later Tweet. But before that last social media review came in, and amid the shower of other recent accolades, two weeks before the holidays and the close of their first business year, Glover turned to her chefs and stopped the line just for a moment. She wanted to remind them and perhaps also herself: “Take it in.”

One thought on “Year-End Accolades”

  1. Very interesting post, Claire. Wish I could dine out at your suggestions every night! You amaze me how you carry on year after year offering the best coverage of northern Colorado’s food scene from the hot dog to the sublime anywhere around. Looking forward to reading more in 2018–

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