Row 14 chef Jensen Cummings opening a fast-casual meatball shop

Jensencummingschef.jpg
Lori Midson
Rumors have been flying across Denver chef circles that Jensen Cummings, the executive chef of Row 14 Bistro & Wine Bar, was ditching his gig behind the line to open a new restaurant -- a rumor that's only half true.

See also:

- Contest: Guess the location of the Slotted Spoon Meatball Eatery, the new restaurant from Row 14 chef Jensen Cummings

"I'm not leaving Row 14, but I am opening a new, fast-casual meatball joint this summer," says Cummings, who hasn't nailed down a space, although he's scouring neighborhoods near the University of Denver. "We have the money, we have the people, but we want to be smart and patient, so we're not going to force the space or get too antsy -- but we know that this is the area where we'd like to open the first of many."

The quick-service concept, explains Cummings, is a collaboration between himself, Johnny Coast, the director of operations for Lotus Concepts and Alex Comisar, the former opening GM of TAG, all of whom, says Cummings, are meatball addicts. "We're three kids from different walks of life who all share a fascination for meatballs, and we all have stories about growing up and eating meatballs -- it's an iconic vessel of food -- and there's no meatball joint in Denver," says Cummings, who lives near DU.

"I love the DU area, Alex went to DU, and there a lot of businesses and residences within walking distance, lots of car traffic and lots of students, which is why we're concentrating on that neighborhood," notes Cummings, who will start with one before expanding, first locally, then nationally. "The goal is to open the first store, make it successful, then open stores in Boulder and Fort Collins and eventually expand across the country," he says. "This is a concept that we want to produce again and again."

And while Cummings and his sidekicks haven't settled on a name for the meatball emporium, they've been working on the concept for more than a year, and Cummings has been testing recipes for months. "I'm going to have seven, maybe eight, meatballs that are static on the menu, including harissa lamb meatballs, an adobo chicken, a quinoa-and-black-bean meatball and a sweet Italian pork version," he tells me. "And a lot of what we're doing will be geared around building your own -- pick your 'balls,' pick a sauce or a bread, pick your cheese and toppings."

Cummings emphasizes, too, that all of the balls will be gluten-free. "Gluten-free pizza is the fasting-growing food product in America right now, and while gluten-free meatballs are hard to do, we're going to get them right, making them egg-rich and meaty." Cummings will also offer gluten-free pastas and bread. "The sourcing of our products is going to be really important," he stresses. "While this may be a quick-service operation, it's also going to be chef-driven, thoughtful, approachable and playful -- that's our mantra."

And, says Cummings, it'll be the kind of fast-casual spot that won't force guests to stand around awkwardly while waiting for their grinder to go. "We'll have thirty to forty seats, but the grab-and-go component is really important for people who want to order on the run, so we'll have a waiting area where people can actually sit, and there will be a good flow and ease to the space, because that's just as important as the food," insists Cummings.

"It's gonna be a cool place with a hip, urban and playful vibe," he adds. "It'll have swag, but it'll also be sensible. And while we want the cool kids, we also want Ma and Pa to come in for balls and a beer."

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gluten free foods restaurants
gluten free foods restaurants

 Gluten free products are a prime example of how responsive the food industry has been to coeliac disease. Not only has it become easier for gluten intolerant foodies to shop, but also to dine outside the confines of your own home. There is no reason for the disease to limit your culinary explorations.

gluten free foods restaurants
gluten free foods restaurants

 Gluten free products are a prime example of how responsive the food industry has been to coeliac disease. Not only has it become easier for gluten intolerant foodies to shop, but also to dine outside the confines of your own home. There is no reason for the disease to limit your culinary explorations.

Wreckingball
Wreckingball

I've heard that some chefs use cornstarch to keep their meatballs from getting too sticky.perhaps Mistah Cummings is familiar with the practice?

Citizen Jenn
Citizen Jenn

Too...many...jokes...brain...overloaded...shut...down...

Theonegordo
Theonegordo

Good luck Jensen I'm sure it will be delicious, I'll be by for sure love me some meatballs

Anna
Anna

I have never seen so many comments about meatballs in my life! Egads! I guess this guy is on to a good idea then :)

5280MAN
5280MAN

Yes, this comment board would be better with less than more.  And since when do comments back and forth confirm that someone has a good idea?

steveville
steveville

I'm not sure what a "gluten free" meatball is because "gluten free" stuff is so out of control that no one knows for sure what that is anymore.  Since I live in the University Park neighborhood, I'll try this joint if and when it opens.  However, in this neighborhood, new restaurants simply don't last.

Mantonat
Mantonat

Yes, it's just out of control. It's also out of control to not know that meatballs are generally made with bread.

BallShack
BallShack

A gluten-free meatball would be a meatball without gluten to bind the meat together when you cook it. Meatballs usually use bread crumbs. 

yuck
yuck

which means yuck.  An Italian meatball needs some breadcrumbs.

jyee
jyee

Gluten doesn't bind meatballs. Gluten provides structure for breadcrumbs which are added to smooth texture and absorb juices/provide moisture. E.g. Swedish meatballs are characteristically soft and have a smooth texture because they're classically made with bread soaked in milk. So, if Jensen attempts a GF Swedish, chances are high that it won't be very good (at least in the classic Swedish style).

The natural occuring myosin in meat is what binds most meatballs together. Adding salt and massaging the meat helps draw out more of the protein, which is why you need to shape your burger patties, but don't want to over work them (too little myosin and your burger falls apart, too much and it gets tough). Egg is most often added as a binder when there's not enough myosin and because egg protiens create weaker bonds and allow you to have softer balls. Sometimes if there's not enough myosin, an enzyme call transglutaminase (aka meat glue) can be used to fuse meat.

Mantonat
Mantonat

I've had pretty good results at home just using Rudi's gluten-free bread.

-WFK-
-WFK-

i can't wait to eat Jensen's balls.... yeah, i said it... ha, sounds like a good concept good luck!

Ballboy
Ballboy

As long as it makes higher quality, delicious food available to the public, I'm all for it.  

Tandrews
Tandrews

Better to do it here now before the original Meatball Shop starts franchising the restaurant first!

David
David

This sounds incredible.  And to think that I felt I was the only one who liked meatballs.. guess they are getting trendy now.  First, fro-yo, second cupcakes, and finally meatballs!  Please ditch the DU idea and open this up in LoHi. 

Kimberly
Kimberly

Because LoHi doesn't have enough overcrowded eateries with crappy parking options already? Seriously!? Come on down to our neck of the woods for once. At least you can eat and park in the same zip code! 

David
David

We don't have any fast casual in LoHi!  Ahhh somebody please understand lol

Delores Tronco
Delores Tronco

Meatballs are great, but it seems obvious that this is a blatant rip off of The Meatball Shop in New York. Everything from the assemble your own aspect to calling the meatballs "balls" comes straight from the originality and creativity of two restaurateurs across the country. Come on, Jensen. Give us a break and come up with your own ideas.

Tandrews
Tandrews

Just admit that you like what those guys in NYC created and you want to recreate it here! Bold statement to say it's going to take over the country! Why don't you get one of them right first?

Jim Rome
Jim Rome

And Quizno's is a rip off of Subway and Chipotle is a rip off every Mission burrito shop. And your take is a rip off of someone else bitching about Bones being a rip off of Momofuku. 

Mantonat
Mantonat

Yes, because the use of the word balls to describe anything spherical is utterly original. Those guys in NY are probably getting ready to sue every junior high kid in America right now.

I for one will spit out any food that is remotely based on someone else's idea. What?! you mean someone else has shaped ground meat into spheres, cooked them, and smothered them in sauce?! Where are the pyramidal meatwads? Where are the tauric forcemeats? 

Jeff
Jeff

I would totally eat at a place called Pyramidal Meatwads.

WEEBA
WEEBA

Can't wait for my Balls! 

5280MAN
5280MAN

I feel like I have heard this all before on a stupid TV show called "America's Next Great Restaurant".   His idea was a shop called Saucy Balls, that was fast casual selling, you got it...MEATBALLS!  He didn't win and the judges including Bobby Flay and Chipotle founder Steve Ells didn't like it.  Apparently these shops are opening on the East Coast and DC as we speak.  Here comes the next food trend.  I guess it fits in with the Scandinavian food trend going on these days.

Mantonat
Mantonat

Who cares if it's a trend or if it's been on some TV reality show? The only things that should matter are: do you like meatballs? and are these particular meatballs good? If it's good food at a reasonable price, then spend your money there and enjoy it. Trendiness is irrelevant. 

5280MAN
5280MAN

Obviously I care if it's a trend.  There is always room for innovation.  I don't disagree that if it is good at a reasonable price, then enjoy!But we can hope for some originality based on our own local ideas and not just another knock-off of "the next thing coming".  Trendiness is so relevant that it subdues innovation to the point of just repeating what is safe and already tested.

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