100 Favorite Dishes: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle

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No. 94 Head cheese at Beast + Bottle
719 East 17th Avenue
303-623-3223

Beast + Bottle has been garnering acclaim almost since the day it opened, most recently winning the Exceptional Newcomer Award from the Colorado Restaurant Association. Chef and co-owner Paul Reilly's ever-changing menu of creative yet approachable plates focuses on whole animal butchery, ultra-seasonal produce -- recently, foraged wild watercress -- and flavor combinations that make sense, even if some of them are new to diners. But the staff is always eager to explain exotic ingredients, whether on the food or cocktail menu. Some items have become year-round favorites, like the fig and pig flatbread, while others re-emerge occasionally, dressed in the season's finery.

See also: Best By-the-Glass Wine List 2014 - Beast + Bottle

Such is the case with the kitchen's take on head cheese, which has popped up on previous menus, always coated in bread crumbs and fried to a golden and almost palate-shredding crunch. This season's version came with bitter frisee, duck-egg gribiche and green-tomato chutney. Part of the charm of the dish is the simple yet potent flavors of each ingredient.

Even the frisee, normally a throwaway garnish at most restaurants, speaks of its pedigree with fresh-from-the-ground crispness and earthy flavor. The green-tomato chutney, perfect as a mid-summer tart foil to the richness of the pork and duck egg, has just enough sweetness and spice to accent the pork of the head cheese, a scary name for what's nothing more than tender pork meat from the head of the pig meticulously transformed into flavorful charcuterie.

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The goofy fun of the cocktail menu -- with drink names like "You Give Me the Swedish Taboo" -- and airy atmosphere of the diminutive dining room keep the food themes from seeming too serious or heavy handed. But behind the fun and light spirit lies dedication to impeccable ingredients and cooking technique. The fried head cheese is the perfect embodiment of everything that's right about Beast + Bottle.

In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're already loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next nine months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at cafe@westword.com.

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta
No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant
No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class
No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch
No 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa
No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's



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