Ever since his days at Rebel Restaurant, and likely long before that, Bo Porytko has been a maverick. With the opening of Misfit Snack Bar in Colfax’s excellent dive-adjacent Middleman in 2019, Porytko continued to create some of the best food in the city while wittingly coloring outside the lines. His food has always been far out, though it’s never relied on novelty over quality.
In January, Porytko opened Molotov Kitschen + Cocktails a few doors down from Middleman in the cafe-sized room that used to house To the Wind Bistro. With Misfit, Porytko made almost psychedelic interpretations of bar snacks that smashed together global influences. Molotov focuses on small and large plates from Germany, Scandinavia and, most importantly, his fatherland Ukraine. “I always wanted to do my grandma’s cooking. That’s the whole reason I started cooking in the first place,” said Porytko, reminiscing about the kishka — a blood sausage made with buckwheat — his babusia used to feed him as a kid.
While the plates can be big, masculine affairs, Molotov is downright snug. “When it’s snowing, I want it to be the only place you think of going,” said Porytko. “A fancy Ukrainian cafe on East Colfax. It just feels right.”
The interior was designed and built out by Middleman owner Jareb Parker, with the aesthetic blending classic Ukrainian iconography with more aggressive elements. “I wanted it to have the impression of a place that was once great — kind of pre-fall of the Berlin Wall,” he continued. “We still wanted to evoke that punk spirit that Middleman has.” The cozy and the bellicose interplay is evident from the wallpaper down to each dish.
Food-wise, it’s essential to start with the spelt pelmeni with smoked pork pate and tarragon bearnaise. The large plates are robust indeed, with the elk sauerbraten with confit red cabbage, sweet vermouth dressing and pumpernickel dumplings being enough to fill folks up into the day after. For dessert, get the pistachio Neopolitan with pistachio cream, candied pistachios and brown butter ice cream. Porytko says he may start experimenting with moose and bear meat as the restaurant continues to get its sea legs.
As Porytko’s attention has shifted to Molotov, chef Dylan Rigolini has largely assumed the reigns at Misfit. He’s worked in the kitchen with Porytko for the better part of a year and a half, steadily introducing dishes to the menu as it became clear that he was a good fit to carry the vision. The latest list was composed entirely of Rigolini’s dishes, with the exception of the My Fucking Burger ($15), a Misfit day-one that has always been a menu staple. “For the past three menus, it’s been pretty much all me,” said Rigolini. “I’m like the executive chef, and he’s like the chef de cuisine,” added Porytko, who still tastes the dishes and contributes ideas.
Rigolini’s cooking has enough similarities to Porytko’s that the transition to a Misfit with him behind the wheel has been seamless. Both are technique driven. Both take things from opposite ends of the world and collide them into dishes with bold flavors. Both are jovial but unrelenting perfectionists.
Even so, Rigolini’s style is unique. He was born in Long Island and grew up largely in Stonington, Connecticut. He’s been in fine dining for much of his career, having worked for James Wayman’s Oyster Club and the Yellow House Hotel — a hyper-boutique spot roughly a mile from Taylor Swift’s house — while still living on the East Coast. Since moving to Denver, he spent four years with Rosenberg’s before refining his style at the now-closed The Way Back, where he did contemporary food which fused Italian and Japanese influences with French techniques. During COVID-19, he started his own pop-up project Parti. While Parti is now on hold, there’s plenty of evidence of its style laced throughout the Misfit menu.
The current menu, which Rigolini switches every four to six weeks, is the chef’s most refined yet. “I’m not trying to change the concept; I’m trying to hone the concept,” he said, noting that he’s been scaling down the size of dishes in hopes that guests will tailor their meals from an array of small plates. The lamb gyro ($16) — with sesame pita, housemade yogurt and a tzatziki pickle — is a good way to experience Rigolini’s knack for fermentation. Dessert is new to the menu. Save room for the blood orange upside-down cake ($8). A new menu is slated for mid-March.
While Molotov and Misfit are exceptional when enjoyed individually, they’re best as part of a progressive feast. “I’d like for you to be at Molotov and then come over here for something little after,” grinned Rigolini.
Molotov Kitschen + Cocktails is located at 3333 East Colfax Ave., Denver. It is open Wednesday – Sunday from 5 – 9 p.m.