What: Honor Society Handcrafted Eatery, Chef Justin Brunson’s new take on a fast-casual concept with an elevated menu.
Where: 1900 16th St.,Denver
When: Anticipated opening is scheduled for late August. Regular hours; seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 7 a.m to 10 p.m.
Denver is no stranger to the fast-casual scene. With popular restaurants such as Chipotle, Smashburger, and Noodles & Company hailing from the Mile High City, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see another one of these restaurants opening. However, downtown’s newest addition—Honor Society Handcrafted Eatery—is breaking from the mold and elevating the concept with a new approach: fast-fine. The idea is to bring a seasonal and chef-driven menu to diners at the speed and prices you wouldn’t find at other fast-casual joints.
The space, designed by Rowland+Broughton Architecture and Urban Design, juxtaposes rustic, reclaimed woods with clean sightlines, creating a subtly upscale aesthetic. Upon walking in, diners will see Honor Society’s “honor thy belly” mantra painted on a wood-planked wall, letting them know the focus is on more than just quick food and drinks. “Honor Society is based on the idea that great food has the power to unite people and provide a path to a healthier lifestyle,” said Jonas Tempel, one of Honor Society’s founding partners. “It’s our humble belief that a productive life starts with your food and food choices. Our vision was to combine the best of fast-casual conveniences with the excellence and comfort of fine dining.”
In addition, Honor Society—which is one of the few non-chain restaurants to be LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certified—will use recycled and repurposed packaging materials in the restaurant, will seek out environmentally conscious vendors and suppliers, and will use conscientiously-sourced products.
Chef Justin Brunson of Old Major and Masterpiece Delicatessen spearheaded the menu creation and concept at Honor Society, with Executive Chef Craig Dixon—formerly of the BSide and Café Options—executing it daily. “This isn’t any different than the food I would cook at home,” said Brunson. “My wife is really into yoga, so we eat really healthy and keep ingredients fresh and simple.” The plan is to change the menu seasonally in order to use only the highest quality produce. Most dishes are seasoned with only salt, pepper, and olive oil, allowing the fresh, organic ingredients to shine on their own, further exemplifying the restaurant’s “eat with honor” philosophy. “We’re using premium, [conscientiously] -sourced, nutrient-dense ingredients, and preparing them in a simple way to bring out their natural, delicious flavors,” said Brunson
Options at Honor Society span from grilled proteins such as steak, salmon, and chicken to wood-fired flatbreads, salads, and breakfast burritos. Diners build their own meals, choosing a main protein and pairing it with a variety of hot and cold sides such as a salad of cremini mushroom, corn, and scallions. Standouts of the menu include a flatbread with edamame hummus, micro greens, and watermelon radish and a cedar plank salmon seasoned with salt, pepper, dill, and a squeeze of lemon. Dishes ring in between $8 and $14, allowing guests to feel confident they not only made a good culinary choice, but a financial one as well.
Unlike many other fast-casual concepts, Honor Society boasts a full bar with a cocktail program headed by Bar Manager Angie Batillo. The tap system is divided up between red wines, white wines, craft beers, and cocktails that are batched and kegged weekly. Much like the food menu, cocktails will change seasonally to better complement what is being served from the kitchen.
Featured summer cocktails include the Millennial Sour—a bright and boozy variation of a whiskey sour—which uses George Dickel 12-year rye, Angostura bitters, ginger juice, ginger beer, and a hint of lemon juice for an especially ginger-forward drink. Crisp and earthy notes can be found in the Green Goddess, which combines Death’s Door gin, lime, kale, and kombucha for a vibrant and tart sip of summer.
For those who want to forego booze but still get a taste of handcrafted beverages, Honor Society also offers an array of fresh lemonades and teas including a classic lemonade, mint-cucumber lemonade, carrot lemonade, black tea, hibiscus tea, and a house-made chai.
As Honor Society opens its doors in late August, it ushers Denver’s diners in a subtly different direction. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a new fast-fine style of service, we will see if the conscientious and casual restaurant can make its desired impact on how—and why—guests go out to eat.
All photography by Romeo Fernandez.