If you keep up with Denver’s food scene at all, you know Kelly Whitaker has been busy this year. On top of Dry Storage taking off and the Wolf’s Tailor named one of America’s 10 best new restaurants by Bon Appétit, Whitaker is partnering with Raan Parton, co-founder of Free Market, to bring a test-kitchen, grain-focused, counter-service restaurant to the Diary Block.
The name, BRUTØ, is a Spanish word that means crude or straight from the earth. So Whitaker created a menu around heirloom grains and fresh ingredients, either left raw or cooked with fire in a wood oven.
Though nothing Whitaker does could be considered ordinary, BRUTØ certainly is not your average downtown restaurant. As a big fan of heirloom grain, Whitaker wanted to plant a field of wheat and open his new enterprise when the crops came to harvest – so that’s what he did.
Working directly with farmers in the San Luis Valley, Whitaker’s crops covered about 60 acres and yielded around 200,000 pounds of grain last week. This partnership supports both rural farming and regenerative agriculture and allows BRUTØ to focus on sustainability through direct and local sourcing.
“We’re rethinking grain,” Whitaker said, and in addition to growing their own grain, they’re milling it too. The chef brought four mills into Free Market to mill grains like quinoa, rice, corn, wheat and chickpeas on site. The mill room is located right on the alley, so passersby have a view and shoppers at the market can smell the freshly cracked grain as they wander the market.
“I think it’s really important that people see the process of milling flour,” Whitaker explained. When the mills are not being used, the mill room will act as a test kitchen and educational space for a natural wine class, mezcal bar or polenta tasting. Whitaker’s idea for BRUTØ and BØH, the coffee counter located next to the mill room, is to have a constant evolution of offerings. Free Market’s own unique concept gives Whitaker the perfect space to test out ideas that may not work elsewhere.
With BRUTØ and the BØH test kitchen space, Whitaker wants to challenge chefs and eaters to come and experience something that they may never be able to again because it’s constantly evolving. “Watching the restaurant come up with the harvest right now is pretty insane for a concept that’s in downtown Denver,” Whitaker commented.
Food From the Earth
At the heart of all Whitaker’s menus is quality grain and fresh meat and seafood, and for BRUTØ he’s adding a rich, smoky spin with a wood fire oven and a small menu. A three-day sourdough piada is at the top of the list, with a number of variations guests can order including a plum caponata with eggplant and tomato or barbacoa inspired ragú-pan scraps. A gluten-free socca option is also available, made from house-milled chickpea flour.
The other section of the menu boasts a number of plates, including a few raw options. Direct ship oysters ($3 each) come in a half or full dozen with a yuzu mignonette and pickled horseradish. Cutting out the middleman, Whitaker wants the oysters to be as fresh as possible – only being out of the water for three to five days at the most.
Tiradito-raw bass ($8) is a spin on a Japanese-influenced Peruvian dish and will be served with a spicy sauce. BRUTØ is also offering fresh vegetable-forward plates including a cucumber salad ($4), a carrot and fennel salad ($10) and a crudité platter ($9) with hummus and bagna cauda.
From the wood oven, Whitaker is offering a few simple spins on classic international dishes like an al pastor calzone ($14) prepared untraditonally with pineapple and local pork or okonomiyaki ($12), a savory pancake with mushrooms, cabbage and tomatillo.
Whitaker is also particularly excited about the smoked chicken and rice ($17), which he believes to be one of his best chicken preparations. A small number of chickens will be cooked each day, starting with a slow smoke early in the morning and is served over cracked rice.
For dessert, Jeb Breakell of Id Est Hospitality has free reign. Like Whitaker, Breakell likes to challenge himself to always try something new. So at BRUTØ and the associated coffee counter, BØH, Breakell will be using grain from the mill to make ice cream soft serve in flavors like masa or taro root. He’ll also use ingredients like blue corn to make grain-based pastries, available for dine-in or take-away at BØH.
Though the menu is small, Whitaker and his team wanted to focus on a few items and make them the best and most interesting they could be. While his partner Parton likened BRUTØ to a “Michelin star vending machine,” Whitaker calls it “fun and simple and delicious.” One thing is for sure: the Bon Appétit award winner has created a unique place to dine in downtown Denver.
A New Challenge
Whitaker knows that with most of his projects – Basta, Dry Storage, the Wolf’s Tailor – he’s reaching a specific audience. With BRUTØ, the chef wanted to stretch both his reach and his food portfolio to create an atmosphere that’s new, exciting and always changing. Working with Parton allowed him to do just that.
“[Being] outside of my comfort zone is what I’m always looking to do,” Whitaker commented. And at BRUTØ, he’s excited to be plating up in front of an Aesop store – a brand that Whitaker admires for its design and philosophy. “[It’s] just not normal, you know, it’s not where chefs are going, and that’s exactly where I want to be. Always,” he added.
For that reason, Whitaker is playing with BRUTØ’s dining format and adopting Free Market’s hours for the time being. Tuesday through Sunday, the counter-service restaurant will serve lunch from 11 a.m to 3 p.m., switching over to a midday menu until close at 7 p.m. During the afternoon hours, Whitaker hopes guests will stay awhile and enjoy an array of plates and a few bottles of wine while relaxing in the bright atmosphere of the market.
For dinner, Whitaker plans to host ticketed dinners on weekend nights. After hours at Free Market means he can take over the space and sit everyone at a large family-style table. These dinner parties will have an affordable tasting menu of whatever the kitchen wants to cook that night. “We keep trying to do what we want,” Whitaker commented, “and then things like [Bon Appétit’s list comes out] that really helps.”
Hospitality at the Core
As partners in Free Market, Parton and Whitaker both put hospitality at the top of their priority list. The market space itself is inviting, but they are always looking to do more to make shoppers and diners feel welcome and at home. On high shopping days, they’ll have a trolley with prosecco and oysters on the half shell for customers to enjoy, “bringing an elegant level of hospitality” to a day of shopping, Parton explained.
“We’re going to constantly activate rotating ideas,” Whitaker commented, both in the restaurant and in the market. And now that BRUTØ is open, every event at Free Market will have an element of food and beverage, including wellness events or a Museum of Contemporary Art installation. At BRUTØ and Free Market, you’ll never know what to expect – and that’s exactly why you’ll love it.
Free Market is located at 1801 Blake St., Denver and is open daily from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. BØH is also open seven days a week, and BRUTØ is closed on Monday.
Photos by @thenewguru. All photos courtesy of Sprocket PR.