What: MAX’s Wine Dive, a new restaurant in Capitol Hill, brings an elevated wine list with a menu of fun variations on comfort food.
Where: 696 Sherman St., Denver
Neighborhood: Capitol Hill/ Governor’s Park
Pro: The approachable menu of comfort food has big standouts including the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetarian collard greens. A chef-created menu and industrial design keeps the restaurant from feeling like a chain restaurant.
Con: Execution on some brunch dishes falls flat. Lack of a cocktail program leaves a hole for spirit drinkers.
Nine years ago, the first location of MAX’s Wine Dive opened in Houston. Since then, eight more locations have opened, with Denver’s Capitol Hill location — opening today — being the most recent. As Denverites, we pride ourselves in our unique and local restaurants and often stray from chain establishments. So what’s the big deal about this small chain?
At MAX’s, each location is unique in its design and chefs are given the culinary creative freedom to develop half of the menu, resulting in a locally focused experience. The menu features 20 dishes, three desserts, and a wine list that is priced on the same model as retail wines. A casual atmosphere, exposed brick, open kitchen and dark wood accents all lend themselves to making Denver’s location of MAX’s Wine Dive feel like it is one of our own homegrown restaurants.
MAX’s juxtaposes an extensive wine list with an approachable two-page menu of elevated comfort food, all executed by Executive Chef Shane Way and his crew. On the left-hand side of the menu, you’ll find the Wine Dive Classics — a menu of 10 items that can be found at all MAX’s locations. These dishes include tried-and-true favorites such as the pulled pork stuffed piquillo peppers ($12) and MAX ’n cheese ($12). The true star of the left side, however, is the famous southern fried chicken ($17). Three pieces of chicken are marinated in a jalapeño-buttermilk blend then fried and served with mashed potatoes and collard greens. Try the gluten-friendly version made with rice and chickpea flours and cauliflower.
The right-hand side of the menu is a seasonal menu created by Chef Way. His creative freedom shines with dishes like the drunken noodles ($12) made with baby bok choy, baby corn, lime, Thai basil and rice chips. It’s an unlikely dish to find at a wine-focused restaurant, but its playful presentation and subtle spice is a representation of the approachable and fun environment MAX’s intends create. For a heightened look at Chef Way’s culinary skills, the sherry-and-port braised short rib ($25) entrée brings a hearty bite of tender meat that is balanced with whipped potatoes and roasted orange-rosemary baby carrots.
Plans for MAX’s include brunch service running Saturday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. featuring dishes such as the s’mores French toast ($12) — a heaping plate of creme brûlée-battered toast, a Nutella caramel, graham cracker crumble and house-made marshmallows. The seemingly sugary dish actually meets your palate with a balanced sweetness that will have you going back for just one more bite.
With wine in its name, MAX’s delivers with its wine program. The list features 110 labels — 30 of which are proprietary to MAX’s, including Jakkals, a South African red blend made using the grape stomping method. Diving into a list like that can be tricky for some when looking for the perfect pairing — especially if you’re looking to pair your drunken noodles — but the staff has you covered. While it is a fun environment with a casual feel, servers have serious knowledge of the list— they go through a six month wine course — and will help direct you to the glass or bottle that completes your meal. If you’re not quite the oenophile, MAX’s offers a small selection of Colorado craft beers on tap to take care of your thirst.
Drop in for happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. and enjoy specials on wines by the glass and a soon-to-come menu of bar bites.
All photography by Kim Baker