Clay Markwell, former sous at TAG, opening Scratch Burrito & Happy Tap in the former Shazz space
It's no secret that Denver is one of the nation's burrito capitals -- a fervent mecca of seam-busting tortillas jammed with everything but the kitchen sink. And while there's nothing wrong with that distinction, the beans-rice-cheese combination isn't exactly groundbreaking territory. And that's one reason why Clay Markwell is making it his mission to rethink -- and revamp -- the Mexican staple.
Markwell, a former sous chef at TAG, was born and raised in a small town in Indiana -- hardly burrito country -- but in college, his refrigerator was stashed with tortillas, a typical cheap choice of poor college students who spend most of their spare change on beer. And Markwell made the most of those tortillas, rolling them with whatever else he had lurking in his refrigerator; he discovered along the way that they lent themselves to just about every foodstuff out there. Tortillas, he realized, were an untouched slate on which to stamp whatever creative or crazy ingredient popped into your head. "Tortillas are like bread," says Markwell. "They're a vehicle in which to deliver food to your mouth using whatever you want."
In October of last year, he signed a lease on the former Shazz Cafe space (4262 Lowell Boulevard) in Berkeley, where he'll open Scratch Burrito & Happy Tap, a restaurant and bar that turns the burrito on its head. "It's an idea that was bouncing around my brain for the better part of a decade, but I wanted to do it in a way that broke the mold," says Markwell. "To me, a tortilla is a blank canvas, and the combination of colors and hues to which it's subject is as endless as a painter's palette."
To that end, Markwell plans to lambast his tortillas with global ingredients -- ingredients, he explains, that "channel different cuisines and different food cultures in ways that create one harmonious bite of food in burrito form." Think roasted brown-sugared pork with edamame beans, pickled chiles, cucumbers, radishes, sushi rice, kimchi and cilantro; or cornmeal-crusted catfish with pickled corn, red pepper salsa, red beans, rice and Old Bay red cabbage slaw, the latter of which, notes Markwell, is a play on his southern roots.
But while re-imagined burritos will be the focus, Markwell also says that he'll bust out empanadas and dumplings, too, because, well, "they're things stuffed with other things, and there's synergy there."
In addition to serving lunch and dinner seven days a week and breakfast on the weekends, the restaurant will have a deli case with grab-and-go items, including seasonal salads, which will change weekly and both fresh and fermented pickles; hot sauces -- some vinegar-based, others similar to a chimichurri or a salsa verde and fermented chiles -- will also be part of the lineup. "We'll put a lot of thought into our condiments and we'll have a handful of available hot sauces, plus we plan to use fresh herbs and vegetables from my own garden, and we'll have herbs, a few fruiting plans and lettuce planters outside the restaurant," he adds, noting, too, that he's building a thirty-seat patio with picnic tables and possibly a Ping-Pong table.