Well worth your dime
Though The Nickel is shiny and new, this new space in the historic Hotel Teatro feels well seasoned. It evokes a maturity that says, “We know Colorado, and this is it.” What “it” is, has been somewhat elusive in our state until the last decade. Coloradoans have finally found their culinary voice and The Nickel is a new member of the Mountain West choir.
The restaurant describes itself as a chef-driven concept. And while most restaurants make similar claims, right out of the gate, The Nickel exudes Denver and Colorado’s unique sense of casual elegance. The décor, the menu and the staff’s affable and gracious style are a plus for hotel guests to see firsthand who we are. It’s also a boon for locals, as they will feel right at home for a breakfast or lunch meeting, a barrel-aged cocktail and dinner after work or an après theater small-plate meal.
Let’s set aside the food for a moment and talk concept. The Nickel is named for the building’s original purpose—the 1911 Tramway Building. Every nickel that Denverites paid to ride the streetcar was stored in a vault in the building. The new design, overseen by Denver’s Oz Architecture and Telluride-based Studio Frank, draws on the building’s past and the city’s industrial revolution heyday with wrap-around upholstered booths, repurposed oblong wood tables and period lighting. A rack of firewood shoulders the cozy bar and stands ready and waiting for the kitchen’s wood-fired oven.
Overall, the transformation of the first level of Hotel Teatro was like opening a window and letting in fresh air. What was Kevin Taylor’s high-end restaurant is now a casual lounge-slash-library and the old hotel-bar vibe across the foyer is gone. Not to sound too much like HGTV Property Brothers, but by taking down some walls, curtains, outdated lighting and the ceiling catwalk, and by pushing the bar back into a previously unused space, it opened up entirely new possibilities.
Along with the new décor, Chef Jake Linzinmeir and Chef Chris Thompson have added their own signature to what Colorado cuisine should taste like. Linzinmeir of Blau + Associates is the brains behind the concept, which is put into action by Thompson, the executive chef. Both have impressive portfolios. Linzinmeir was a sous chef at Calandre (three star Michelin in Italy) and numerous Telluride restaurants, and Thompson, a Telluride native, recently worked at A16 in San Francisco.
But it was their common Telluride connection that makes The Nickel shine. The menu is stripped down of anything too fussy, yet it is complex in surprising ways. For instance, the first item on the menu is Linzinmeir’s Aunt Helen’s Parker House rolls. For anyone old enough to remember, Parker House rolls were a big deal in the 1950s and ‘60s. It wasn’t Sunday dinner without them. The Nickel’s rolls have the same tender buttery crust his Aunt Helen must have taught her great nephew to achieve, but the chef put his own touch on the dough, a dusting of coarse smoked salt and dried herbs. I could have eaten the entire pan with a peach mint julep (made with Leopold’s Colorado peach whiskey) and been happy for the night. Thank you Aunt Helen.
Another impressively simple dish was Colorado Olathe-corn bisque with Dungenous crab, herbs and alepo pepper. It was light and velvety, without the cloying thickness often seen in bisques. My table guest paired it with a strawberry-basil martini, with Leopold’s silver tree vodka, infused with fresh berries and basil. It is a lady-like pink drink with a man-size kick.
Sassafras root beer barbeque lamb ribs fell away tender off the bone, as did the main dish—short ribs with sweet peaches and sharp horseradish. A freshly made ricotta, baked to an airy custard, captured late summer on a plate with paper-thin squash blossoms, shaved ribbons of yellow squash, tart vinaigrette and sweet raisins.
For entrees, our table was awestruck by the night’s special, a two-inch thick pork chop, with pickled-garlic, baby carrots and a silky carrot puree, served under a glass dome. The steamy, meaty aroma wafted out under the glass as the server lifted the lid.
Thompson sources beef from Emma Farms, an Aspen-based Wagyu cattle ranch. You’ll find it threaded on a skewer with avocado and black sesame seed, on a brioche bun as a burger, and as a perfectly seared steak with earthy wood-roasted mushrooms and grilled shishito peppers, topped with a bordelaise (which drew no complaints from our table).
Side dishes are a telltale sign of a chef who pays careful attention to the menu. At The Nickel, you’ll find dishes like wood grilled peaches with fig balsamic, Broken Shovel goat cheese and basil; Olathe sweet corn with a soft layer of chile lime butter, salty prosciutto and cilantro crema; and Wagyu tallow fingerlings with truffle and shaved Grana Padano. Each one is very Colorado, but good enough to stand up on its own.
Among the three desserts on the menu, Portuguese doughnuts with peach jam; panna cotta with peach granita; and sea salt, olive oil and chocolate budino, the latter was the winner. Sweet, salty, rich and creamy, need I say more?
Heads or tails, it is clear The Nickel is well on its way to paying off for Hotel Teatro. The remodel and new menu has peeled away the years and given the space a fresh new feel and taste. Well done.
1100 14th Street
Denver, CO 80202