Brazen Neighborhood Eatery has been a part of the West Highland’s adored Tennyson stretch of restaurants since 2014. It has since been a noted piece of the Denver culinary scene. In 2017 a new face appeared behind the restaurant’s chef’s counter — chef Derek Ray. The Nebraska native is known for his stints at Venice Restauranté and Argyll Whiskey Beer — has tightened the reigns on the back-of-house and reinvented the concept behind Brazen’s menu.
The food in Denver is largely composed of transplant culture. Yes, we have Mexican and Native American cuisines that have been a part of the wild west for centuries, and the lovely melting pot of cultures settled in our city offers a wide spread variety to choose from — but Colorado cuisine itself has largely been left in need of reinvention. Ray is committed to creating a Denver cuisine our city can proudly call its own.
The cuisine’s personality depends largely on cooking with seasonal, local and foraged ingredients — hand selected based on their representation of Colorado flavors. The food aims to tour diners through the terroir of the state — meaning Ray creates and experiments with a focus on the context of the cuisine as well as the habitat, the environment and the origin of each ingredient. This is what Colorado tastes like.
The staff makes routine visits to the hills to forage more than a dozen ingredients right out of the wilderness — including herbs, weeds and mushrooms. Golden rod, choke cherry, perslaine, wood sorrel, milkweed bud and nodding onion tops are just a few ready and available edible plants foraged from around the Denver and great plains area. Each of these greens offers a flavor profile unique to our city. The kitchen currently has porcini and lobster mushrooms on the menu — these high-altitude, Front Range mushrooms are umami to the maximum and truly something special to stumble upon in the wild. These local ingredients are used in a multitude of applications on the menu including pickling juices, sauces, gelees, wines, dehydrated and as raw colorful garnishes.
Brazen uses a head to tail program when it comes to butchering, dry-aging and charcuterie. Corner Post Meats of Colorado Springs is the restaurant’s meat purveyor — supplying local lamb and pork for the menu on a weekly basis. The animals on the farm feed off the land during the summer and are fed grain sourced from local breweries during the winter season — which is intended to give the livestock a unique terroir. The restaurant hangs and dries a range of charcuterie including lengua (beef tongue), face bacon (pork) and coppa.
The team is due to introduce a 6-course tasting menu starting in September (beginning at $50 a head) and it is designed to showcase the wild flavors of colorful Colorado. Ray invited us to sneak a peek at several of the items on the tasting menu including the must-have appetizer that’s also available on the regular menu — the spring ceviche ($12). Rockfish fillet is finished with cilantro buttermilk sauce and topped with lemon cucumber and gooseberry that makes for a complex, zippy-acidic delight.
The melon salad ($9) is as beautiful as it is delicious and unique — compressed melon comes seasoned with coriander and chili for spice and completed with a tangy house made labneh (goat yogurt). The chili speaks to the Mexican/Spanish heritage of the Western Slope and ignites a sweet and spicy folly that pairs wonderfully with the sour-tart cultured pinch of the goat labneh. The lamb’s quarters tellarini (available with tasting menu only) — a foraged wild spinach pasta — is plated with goat crema, charred Colorado corn, brown butter powder and corn butter sauce. This is a sweet and savory dish with charred earth tones that reflect the sweet corn season.
Things at Brazen really get weird when it comes to shrooming. An exclusive foraged mountain mushroom (available with tasting menu only) brings foraged porcini and lobster mushrooms straight from the High Country to your dinner table. The dish is simple, has tons of umami and is absolutely beautiful. A house yogurt and wild wood sorrels give the dish a deep savory quality that will have you salivating for the following course.
Chef Ray and Brazen Neighborhood Eatery have aimed at defining some of the flavors and ingredients that constitute a unique, Rocky Mountain terroir. The team is actively working to bring organic and sustainable Colorado food to the table and — from the taste of it — they are heading in the right direction. The tasting menu offerings (and much of the dinner menu) will give guests and food enthusiasts a chance to taste some pure, modern Coloradan cuisine. This is a Michelin Star approach to an untamed wild western food culture.
Brazen Neighborhood Eatery is located at 4450 W. 38th Ave. in Denver. It is open for dinner Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. until midnight, on Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight and on Sunday 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Brazen also serves brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. through 2 p.m.
All Photography by Tyler Wernet