Diner-style food typically evokes feelings of comfort and nostalgia and makes you feel at home in a time where many restaurants are focusing on complicated, trendy concepts to stand out. Yet many diner-style restaurants use low quality ingredients, lack exciting flavor profiles and utilize uniform techniques that can make every item on the menu taste similar and lack depth. McGregor Square’s newest restaurant — The Original — unites the best of both worlds by marrying the no-frills style of cooking reminiscent of childhood meals at home with high-quality ingredients and inventive methods to put a, well, original spin on diner food.
The Original — the newest concept from Sage Restaurant Concepts — is located within the Rally Hotel in the heart of LoDo. With Executive Chef Denis Zvekic at the helm, the restaurant brings a modern, fun approach to classic Americana fare. “Inspiration for this menu was born at the most micro-level of ingredients,” said Zvekic. “The impeccable quality of the food is what I am most proud of, and our guests can take comfort in knowing they are not only indulging in dishes that make them feel good on a nostalgic level, but also that these dishes are thoughtful and rooted in character.”
Zvekic has operated several Sage Restaurant Concepts restaurants over the past 12 years and enjoys elevating familiar, classic cuisine by utilizing fresh, local ingredients and adding a bit of flare.
“Food should be approachable, simple and showcase the quality of the ingredients, as well as a chef’s skill in working with those elements,” Zvekic said. “Cooking should not be ego-driven — we find balance in what our guests are looking for and present the product without pretension. To me, dining should be all about creating or recreating memorable experiences. Our sense of hospitality is at the core of how we make people feel welcome and at home.”
Zvekic’s appreciation for each individual ingredient comes from his humble beginnings growing up on a farm in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This environment taught him how to make use of every aspect of an ingredient and maintain its integrity when cooking. In the ’90s his family fled to the island of Sardinia to escape the Civil War in then-Yugoslavia where Zvekic was exposed to authentic Italian cuisine and learned how to make handmade pasta and prepare fresh seafood. At just 16 years old, he moved to Denver and started working as a dishwasher at Tuscany restaurant before working his way up to line cook and simultaneously earning his degree at the American Culinary Federation in 2003. Since 2008, Zvekic has worked at a handful of restaurants under the Sage Restaurant Concepts umbrella before being tapped to open The Original this year.
From the kitschy decor on the walls to the comfortable booths and nostalgic menu items, The Original’s inspiration from ’50s diners and rail cars is evident. “We are taking classic Americana style and adding a Denver flare to it. It’s simple and not pretentious,” said Zvekic. The menu includes shareables such as charred carrots ($10) with pistachio pesto and goat cheese, ricotta toast ($8) with seasonal fruit compote and “everything bagel” deviled eggs ($9) with the unique addition of salmon bacon that adds the perfect amount of salt along with a great crunch. The sweet and savory croughnut sliders ($9) are Zvekic’s take on doughnut sliders that are made with croissant dough instead of a doughnut — a sweet and salty combination that will have you craving them long after dinner is over.
As far as entrees go, you’ll notice familiar items with slight differences in preparation. The All-American cheeseburger ($12) uses a Wagyu beef patty to give it more depth and that melt-in-your-mouth sensation while the short rib stroganoff ($25) is a deconstructed version of the beef stroganoff your mom used to make with a 24-hour braised short rib claiming most of the attention. Desserts are also a can’t miss part of the meal with boozy milkshakes ($7), a brownie sundae ($8) and a root beer float ($7) to round out the food menu.
Before you head over to The Original — or if there is a wait when you arrive — you can grab a cocktail at The Rally Bar next door. The bar is situated across the hotel hall from The Original and has a simple yet delicious list of cocktails to choose from. The Golden Sombrero ($13) is similar to a spicy margarita with the addition of spicy bitters to give it an extra kick while the Rally Up ($11) is a refreshingly pungent option that’s perfect for a hot day. The Rally Bar also serves several appetizers including Johnny Dogs ($12) — a version of mini corn dogs — beet tartare ($10), a pretzel-crusted scotch egg ($14) and a burger ($15), if you’re really hungry.
If you’re craving comfort food but want a fun atmosphere, elevated ingredients and great cocktails, The Original is the place to go. The warm atmosphere, exciting take on familiar ingredients and sentimental decor will have you coming back for more than just the food.
The Original is located inside the Rally Hotel at 1600 20th St, Denver. Open Tuesday – Sunday 3 – 10 p.m.