On Saturday, January 27, Caribbean-inspired food will come to Capitol Hill with the opening of Bang Up to the Elephant!, but, if you ask owner Kevin Delk, he’ll tell you they’re calling it “Calypso cuisine.”
“’Calypso Cuisine’ is made up,” he explained. Delk recognizes that although he’s spent plenty of time down in the islands, he isn’t pretending to have an authentic Carribean restaurant.
“I’d like to say we are the first Carribean restaurant in Denver but that is far from the truth… What we’re trying to do is authentically inauthentic. Don’t judge us if you’ve been down to the islands and say that this is not the same. Because it isn’t.”
They chose the term Calypso cuisine because of the inspiration they pulled from Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1900s, when the African-influenced Caribbean music was considered the “punk rock of the Caribbean” — challenging authority while celebrating the liveliness of the region. Delk explained that the team hopes to bring that culture to the entire restaurant — from the space to the food— but in their own way.
Delk, who is also known for Beatrice & Woodsley, has a penchant for whimsical concepts. The name “Bang Up to the Elephant” is a nod to Victorian-era slang. It means “complete, perfect and properly done.” He has long been inspired by the cultural melting pot of the Carribean, and he says that he chose the name because, of all of his projects, this feels like the Goldilocks kind of “just right.”
Walking out of the snowy Cap Hill streets and into Bang Up to the Elephant! is a transformative experience. The 6,000-square-foot space feels like a vacation — it’s open and colorfully lit, with hundreds of live plants filling the space through concrete structures and a drip irrigation system that Delk designed himself.
In the front, Bang Up to the Elephant! has a cafe with a walk-up window, serving doughnuts, coffee and other grab-and-go food for early morning treats. Towards the afternoon each day, the giant sliding doors will open to the dining room and a 21-seat cocktail bar.
In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, Bang Up to the Elephant! plans to host live music whenever possible, offering a quick escape for Cap Hill visitors.
“Capitol Hill is my favorite neighborhood in Denver,” said Delk. “With tree-lined streets, haunted mansions, insolent energy-crisis architecture and insane squirrels bouncing around, it is by far the best for the naturally off-beat.”
The Food & Drinks
“The Carribean is a melting pot of cuisine,” Delk explained. “There’s Indian influence, Chinese influence, African influence. It’s all of these countries pouring into each other. We want to celebrate those cultures here and give each a voice at the table.”
To help execute the culinary vision, Delk hired executive chef Travis Messervey.
The influences are clear, with the menu including everything from a Bowl-O-Chow Mein ($13) and curries to pimento-wood smoked jerk chicken ($13) with rice, peas, slaw and grilled pineapple. Flavor, spice and colorful fruits and vegetables are present — especially in our of our favorites, the kale & plantains salad ($9) with kale, fried sweet plantains, queso fresco, pickled red onion, jicama and a hot pepper vinaigrette.
A number of ingredients will ship directly from the islands that inspired the concept, as are many of the dish names. For example, the “Bake and Shark” ($10) was named after dish from a street food vendor on Maracas Beach in Trinidad — it features your choice of seafood (catfish, kingfish or stringray) served between fried bread with chadon beni sauce, slaw, sliced tomato and occasionally pineapple.
If you love a good beach cocktail like we do, you’ll want to head to the bar, lining the back left side of the restaurant. Each of the cocktails is fruity while remaining balanced for those who don’t like a sugar bomb. Our favorite was the Nose Ender ($14), with tequila, cream of coconut, lime and serrano pepper, served — of course — in a coconut.
Like Beatrice & Woodsley, Bang up To The Elephant! is sure to bring an added layer of quirk to Capitol Hill, defining a cuisine all its own. The restaurant opens this Saturday, with dinner service only through the weekend and the cafe opening on Monday at 7 a.m.
Bang Up to the Elephant! is located at 1310 Pearl St., Denver.
All photography by Amanda Piela.