First look: Acorn opens in the Source (and is seeking a stallion in the dish pit)
All photos by Lori Midson.
"No, no, no, no, no!" That was the initial response from Steve Redzikowski, co-owner and chef of Boulder's Oak at Fourteenth, when Bryan Dayton, his business partner and beverage director, first approached him about opening a new restaurant in the Source, a smorgasbord of independent restaurants, specialty food and bottle shops, distilleries and taprooms that subsume the 25,000-square foot culinary marketplace in River North that's continuing to flourish with new tenants, including Comida Cantina, Mondo Market, and now, Acorn, which opened yesterday.
"I have no idea what the hell I was thinking when I signed on to do this, but when I opened Oak in Boulder -- and then reopened after the fire -- I swore that I'd never open another restaurant ever again," says Redzikowski, who faults a trip to New York late last year for his change of heart. "Whenever I go to New York, I always feel like I'm way behind the curve, and that gets me into trouble. I should be grounded from ever going there, because it gives me too much motivation, which is how I ended up here," he cracks, while standing in the confines of his open kitchen, rocking a mohawk and a grey headband. "New York just has this way of kicking me in the pants, so when I got back to Denver, I figured that as long as I'm still young, I may as well do this thing."
And in February of this year, he signed the lease on the two-tiered space, enlisting the talents of Amos Watts, formerly of Jax Fish House, to be his chef. The two had cooked together preciously at Cyrus, a now-closed restaurant in Healdsburg, California that was commanded by Douglas Keane, a four-star chef who's now a contestant on Top Chef Masters, where he's battling against Rioja chef/owner Jennifer Jasinki for the top prize. "It's great working with Steve in the kitchen again, and this is a really, really cool concept -- who wouldn't want to be a part of it?" deadpans Watts.
"Amos is the real chef, the beast -- I just own the place and pay the bills," quips Redzikowski, adding that Acorn embodies the same "wood-fired seasonal cooking" that's made Oak one of Boulder's most inspiring -- and popular -- restaurants. "It's going to take a while -- months -- to get this to where I want it to be, just as it did Oak, but I'm a firm believer in that you're only as good as the people around you, and I'm surrounded by amazing cooks and people, both in Boulder and in Denver, and part of the reason why I decided to go ahead with this project is that if I didn't expand, I'd risk losing those people, so it was really important to me to find a place for them to grow," explains Redzikowski, whose staff is turning out a lovely litany of shareable small plates (the braised octopus pooled in roasted red pepper curry is one of the best dishes I've had all year), coupled with medieval-size plates -- a Tender Belly, prime-grade, thirty-ounce ribeye, and a 56-ounce, bone-in pork shoulder, for example -- that are meant to be shared among many.