The muffled uproar that occurred across Denver’s dining circles when Rebel Restaurant closed its doors in August 2018 was large. It was more grumbles than shouts — fans knew that even all the love they had for the place could not stop the inevitable. People complained, mourned and ultimately acquiesced to the fact that the eatery from Dan Lasiy and Bo Porytko — known for its boundary-pushing, occasionally confrontational menu — would no longer be challenging and delighting diners with an ever-changing roster of offal, roast pig head and innovative bar snacks. Fortunately, on Friday, December 6 Porytko will be taking over the kitchen at Middleman, introducing Misfit Snack Bar. Served counter-style from a small window at the bar’s entrance, the menu delivers a selection of exclusively small plates presented with the same kind of creativity that made Rebel great. When ordering, patrons will be given cards to signify their order — rather than numbers. Famous misfits, including Nicolas Cage and Glenn Danzig, will alert guests that their food is ready.
Roughly half of the current menu is made up of items Porytko recycled from Rebel. While the chef will still employ the same high-concept, unpredictable cooking style, there will be no larger plates, limiting the fine-dining scope that brought his first restaurant much of its recognition and notoriety. “I’m making sort of a brand new street food, nostalgia flavors from every country,” said Porytko of the cuisine. The offerings not only defy regional constraints but seem to intentionally eschew any sort of culinary traditionalism. Dishes inspire a vague familiarity, providing almost dream-like renditions of childhood favorites, approached with the same lack of inhibition found when kids enthusiastically take to the kitchen.
Since Rebel closed Porytko did a stint at The Bindery, the Hartwood in Tulum and worked the line at Middleman’s next-door neighbor Q House, accruing inspiration along the way. Up until just a little over two months ago, bar owner Jareb Parker’s brother manned Middleman’s small kitchen — serving up New Mexico-style cuisine. The decision for Porytko to take over happened organically, and fast — the chef says he’s only really been developing the concept for about six weeks. While Rebel gave Porytko a platform to test the boundaries of Denver’s dining public, the chef says his new project isn’t about standing on a soapbox. “Rebel was me five years ago, Middleman is more me now,” he elaborated.
The pepperoni popcorn ($6) — a Rebel favorite — comes laced with pizza seasoning and crunchy pepperoni croutons then drizzled with aromatic pepperoni oil. The curried popcorn ($6) is topped with spicy curry seasoning, fried chickpeas, dried fenugreek leaves and a ghee drizzle. The kimchi croquettes — another Rebel staple — comes with shaved spam, nori, sambal aioli and Togarashi. The house-made kimchi has all the essential funk, with the spam and nori giving a delicate nod to musubi. The unmissable country-fried short rib sandwich comes with Welsh cheddar pimento cheese and dilly coleslaw. While there is certainly a variety of sturdy meat dishes, Porytko promises there will be plenty of vegetarian options gracing the whimsical menu. Happy hours — one from 6 – 8 p.m., the other 10 p.m. – close — will see $2 off all plates.
The good news doesn’t end there — Porytko is planning on opening an Eastern European Deli in fall of 2020. Called Baba Yaga — a Slavick specter that is said to have inspired the witch in Hansel and Gretel — the space is set to deliver innovative renditions of traditional meat products, pierogi and sides. While Misfit’s opening menu is a bit more restrained than Rebel’s, Porytko has made it clear that offal is not off the table.
Misfit Snackbar is located in Middleman at 3401 East Colfax Ave., Denver. It is open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m., and Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. – 1 a.m. It is closed on Tuesday.
All photography by Kori Hazel.