First look: Chef Peter Ryan opens the Plimoth in North City Park
Four years ago, when I interviewed Peter Ryan, then the executive chef/instructor at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts, I asked him what he wished would disappear from Denver's culinary landscape. "Acceptance of a lousy performance by a restaurant," he told me. "Everything counts in the hospitality industry, but a lot of diners just accept mediocrity. They'll go out to dinner, shrug and say it was just okay, but then they'll go back again. That needs to change."
Ryan, who also quarterbacked the kitchens at Z Cuisine and the Village Cork, now has the opportunity to practice what he preaches. On Saturday, he opened his own restaurant: the Plimoth, an off-the-beaten-path, forty-seater in North City Park, on a stretch of asphalt that's completely barren of food temples.
"We're doing approachable and classical European food in a relaxed and chill space," says Ryan, who shares his open kitchen, ceilinged with an expansive copper rack dangling with pots and pans, with his co-chef Charles MacDonald, chef de cuisine Javier Cruz, sous chef Ben Susnick and pastry chef Lucy Strumbos, all of whom are Z Cuisine alums. "This is simple food -- there are no spun sugar towers here -- done really well, and I have the most amazing staff with me," adds Ryan. "We're cooking the food we like to eat, and we hope that everyone else will want to join us."
The 1,200-square-foot space, which dates back to the late 1900s, was once home to an assembly church, a wreckage store, a drug store and a VFW post, and many of the original design elements remain, including the porcelain, Italian tiled floor and a weathered brick wall, which provides the backdrop to the bar, the foot rail of which is welded from the old trolley that once chugged down 28th Avenue. Hunter green wall coverings, splashed with a black kaleidoscope design, Edison lights and bare, reclaimed wooden tables complete the quarters.
Ryan's menu, which will change with the seasons, is brief and focused, showcasing five starters, including a faultless cauliflower and turnip gratinee crowned with wild mushrooms and an equally mesmerizing country-style terrine paired with a warm cabbage-and-apple salad festooned with slivers of tongue. A chicken breast -- not what I would usually order -- is brought to new heights, its skin beautifully crisped in a cast-iron skillet. It shares the plate with an herbed spaetzle rich with goat's mill crema. Other main dishes include a braised beef shank, cooked a la matignon, a French technique that incorporates finely diced carrots and onions with the meat, which is then deglaced. Ryan serves it with wilted bitter greens and butter ball potatoes.
The wine list, like Ryan's menu, concentrates on quality -- not quantity. They are just a dozen bottlings, but each is also available by the glass, and the menu recommends favored pairings. "It's a small, eclectic list with some great choices," says Ryan. Two local beers -- Prost and Black Shirt Brewery -- and cider from Colorado Cider Company, are poured on tap, and another eight beers are available by the bottle. Six cocktails, none of which incorporates more than a few ingredients, round out the bar program. "There's no mixology program here -- just well-made classic cocktails," Ryan notes.
I had the opportunity to work my way through several of Ryan's dishes, taste a cocktail or two and get a firsthand look at the space, the photos of which are on the following pages.