Steven Redzikowski struck a chord with Colorado diners with his original venture OAK at 14th in Boulder. HE further cemented his position as one of the state’s great chefs with the opening of his celebrated collaboration with co-owner and beverage director Bryan Dayton — The Source-based Acorn. A lot has changed since the spot began serving food in 2013, and a lot has stayed the same. Since Ian Palazzola took the helm in 2017 he has steadily been updating the selections. But recently the young executive chef enacted the most major overhaul to the restaurant’s menu since the spot opened its doors. While a few of the original menu items remain, the chef says nearly 80 percent of the current list is fresh.
Palazzola — a veteran of such famed kitchens as Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, The Little Nell in Aspen and Mourad in San Francisco — favors Southern traditions but acts in line with Acorn’s well-loved ethos by using Colorado ingredients and bold, global flavors. The multifaceted cuisine he produces — approached with expert technique and an informed creative scope — is original, playful and usually remarkably eye-catching.
The food — divided between 14 shared and four large plates — has been well designed for communal indulgence. The heirloom blue cornbread ($10.50) — with surryano ham and red eye butter — and the heirloom grits ($17.50) — with aged cheese, yellow corn, shallot and a healthy dose of summer truffle — are the most obvious nods to Palazzola’s Virginia roots. Each dish is beautifully plated and both manage to significantly reimagine the classic recipe that inspired them while still keeping a kernel of tradition. This is where much of the menu succeeds — Palazzola’s ability to be innovative while still retaining a great deal of nostalgia gives the cuisine a cozy familiarity despite its forward-thinking approach.
More far-out items like the cured trout ($16.50) — elegantly stacked with fresh horseradish, thinly-sliced green apples, dill, celery and dark rye — and the red beets ($17.50) — with golden honey, crushed hazelnut, coffee, dainty popped sorrel and blueberry — still feel like comfort food despite their range of disparate ingredients. The starters — including the coffee and black salt-covered candied pecans ($3.50), and the pork rinds ($5.50) with nutritional yeast, black pepper and gouda — manage to be some of the most unmissable items on the menu.
The mains are all gargantuan and are best when shared. The 16-ounce lamb shank ($34.50) comes bone-in with sweet onion, ginger and medjool dates. The meat is so tender it becomes almost hard to differentiate from the sweet sauce that surrounds it. The 24-ounce bone-in dry aged cab ribeye ($94.50) — straight from the spot’s newly added meat locker — comes with lettuce, horseradish and tallow vinaigrette.
Come fall the restaurant is planning a fairly substantial remodel. The renovations will include a new temperature-controlled wine room, additional tables in the dining room, new bar stools, a glass wall upstairs to allow diners to look down onto the space below and high tops in the bar area. The design hopes to add a greater sense of connection between the up and downstairs.
Acorn’s ambiance has always been a significant part of the experience, even with the food packing such an impressive punch. The interior overhaul will be an appropriate and exciting way to segue into the fall season. In the meanwhile, Palazzola’s menu is enough reason to draw new diners or convince seasoned vets to return to reexperience what has proven to be one of Denver’s most dynamic lasting concepts.
Acorn is located in The Source at 3350 Brighton Blvd., Denver. It is open Tuesday – Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
All photography courtesy of Acorn.