Breakfast: Welcome Home to Sassafras

Sassafras inspires people to sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience.

Authored by Kerrie Lee Brown
Photography by Joni Schrantz

Sassafras is a breakfast and lunch restaurant with two locations in Denver and one in Golden. The original location in the Jefferson Park neighborhood has since moved to West 32nd Avenue in West Highlands. The Capitol Hill location on historic Colfax Avenue opened its doors in 2014. Their menu boasts an amazing array of comfort food influenced by Southern American cooking traditions using locally sourced and organic ingredients— and their famous cocktail menu features made-from-scratch Bloody Marys, mimosas, and other crafted drinks. Here are a few fantastic dishes off the menu.

Photo by Joni Schrantz

Chicken Pimento Biscuit & Sassafras Mary

SKILLET FRIED CHICKEN INGREDIENTS:
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. paprika
½ Tbsp. cayenne
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
3 lbs. bone-out chicken thighs
1½ c. canola oil

DIRECTIONS:
Combine the flour, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper into a bowl. Pat chicken thighs with a paper towel. Dip them in the bowl of dry ingredients until they are completely covered. In a large skillet add the canola oil. There should be about ¼ inch of oil in the skillet (add more if needed). Heat up the canola oil and add the coated chicken thighs. Reduce heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes and then flip the chicken over. Cook for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is at least 165 degrees.

COUNTRY GRAVY INGREDIENTS:
½ c. bacon or duck fat
½ c. flour
2 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

DIRECTIONS:
In a skillet, place the bacon/duck fat and turn on low to medium heat. Slowly add the flour in while whisking. Slowly add milk and stir continually until the roux simmers. Add salt and pepper.

ASSEMBLY INGREDIENTS:
1 can country biscuits (cooked)
8 oz. Pimento cheese
Fried Chicken
Country Gravy

ASSEMBLY:
Cut the biscuit in half and lather the Pimento cheese on one side. Next add the Skillet Fried Chicken and smother the biscuit with Country Gravy. Add the other half of the biscuit on top and serve hot. Tip: Save time by air frying the chicken instead of cooking it in a skillet.

Photo by Joni Schrantz

Bananas Foster Pancakes

The Bananas Foster Pancakes was added to the menu because both Chef Colin and Owner Julia LOVE pancakes. It’s a dish they order when they go out to eat.

BUTTERMILK PANCAKE INGREDIENTS:
2 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1¼ tsp. baking powder
1¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
2½ c. buttermilk
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1½ Tbsp. olive oil

DIRECTIONS:
In a bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk and eggs. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture while whisking the mixes together. Add the melted butter and whisk. Next heat a large skillet with 1Tbsp. of olive oil. On medium-low heat scoop one ladle of pancake mix into skillet. When the pancake starts to bubble on top, flip it over with a spatula. Each pancake should be slightly brown on both sides. Add the remaining ½ Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan as needed.

BANANAS FOSTER INGREDIENTS:
½ c. rum
1 Tbsp. orange liqueur
1 c. brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 c. water
1 ripe banana

DIRECTIONS:
In a hot pan or skillet, add rum and orange liqueur. Reduce the heat and cook out the alcohol. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and water. Bring mixture to a boil. You can make ahead of time and keep in the fridge for a week. When ready to serve, slice up a ripe banana and add it to the mixture.

ASSEMBLY:
Stack buttermilk pancakes on a plate. Drizzle the Bananas Foster over the top. The pancakes will soak the sauce in so add more as needed. Optional: Add a scoop of ice cream.

Photo by Joni Schrantz

Shrimp & Grits

“Shrimp and grits is a Southern staple,” adds Grother. “This is one of the most popular vegetarian and gluten-free dishes on our menu.”

(serves 4-6)
GRITS INGREDIENTS:
4 c. water
1 ⅓ c. Anson Mills stone-ground corn grits
2 dried bay leaves
½ tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 oz. goat cheese
1 c. heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:
Add water, grits, bay leaves, and salt to a pot. Heat the mixture until it boils. Remove from stove and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Prepare the butter by cutting ¼-inch slices. Set aside. Uncover the grits and put back on the stove on medium to high heat. Whisk the grits on and off for 20-30 minutes to avoid clumping. When grits are al dente and the water is absorbed, remove the bay leaves. Stir in butter, goat cheese, and heavy cream immediately before serving.

BACON WRAPPED SHRIMP INGREDIENTS:
16 jumbo shrimp
16 slices of bacon

DIRECTIONS:
Wrap each jumbo shrimp with a slice of bacon starting from the head of the shrimp and wrap toward the tail. Don’t wrap the tail. In a pan add the bacon wrapped shrimp and cook over medium heat until shrimp curl and bacon are cooked. Set aside.

SWEET CORN PICO DE GALLO INGREDIENTS:
4½ oz. red onion, diced
1 lbs. red tomato, diced
2½ oz jalapeño, minced
14 oz. corn, blanched
2 limes
2 tsp. salt
1 oz. cilantro, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS:
Add all the prepped ingredients to the blanched corn. Squeeze the limes into the mix and add salt. Mix all ingredients and add in finely chopped cilantro.

ASSEMBLY:
Pour the grits into a shallow bowl. Add the 3-4 bacon wrapped shrimp per plate and pour the sweet corn pico de gallo over the top. Add extra pico de gallo to taste.

Many Mini Marys Flights

Photo by Joni Schrantz

1. Sassafras Mary Vodka infused with garlic & dill, roasted peppers, Cajun seasoning, and housemade habanero hot sauce. Garnished with quail egg, lime, and Sassafras bacon.

2. Bloody Baron Tommy Knocker Green Chili Lager, roasted tomatoes, fresh cilantro, lime, and housemade ghost pepper hot sauce. Garnished with lime and celery.

3. Queen Mary Vodka infused with pickled peppers, green tomato, pineapple, green bell pepper, and fresh jalapeño. Garnished with orange, pineapple, and lime.

4. Marie Laveau Vodka infused with habanero peppers, fire-roasted chiles, red tomato, and housemade ghost pepper hot sauce. Garnished with watermelon radish, carrot, and celery.

All in a day’s work

Photo by Joni Schrantz

Chef Colin Mallet’s obsession with food started in Louisiana where he grew up. “Food is such a huge part of our Cajun culture,” explains Mallet. “In fact, I don’t know one Cajun that isn’t completely obsessed with food and doesn’t consider themselves to be an expert chef in some way. Everyone in Southern Louisiana has the best recipe for everything,” he chuckles. Chef reflects on his childhood as always being in the kitchen with his mom, grandma, and aunts all cooking. “The fondest memories of my life are from the counter in my grandma’s kitchen. That is probably where my love for cooking, entertaining, and being hospitable comes from.”

The story of how Mallet became the head chef at Sassafras seven years ago shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him. “What can I say? He crushed the presentation and got the job,” says Julia Grother, proprietress and owner/operator of Sassafras. “Once I had the concept for the restaurant nailed down, and secured a location, I needed someone to help it all come together. So, I put an ad on Craigslist for a kitchen manager, and he replied. He brought food to his interview! All Southern inspired, food from scratch, seasonal, and locally sourced: pulled pork, corn bread, and additional items. I was blown away with the creativity of it all. I knew he was the one.”

Grother has been in the hospitality business since she was 16. Even back then she knew she wanted to create a different kind of restaurant concept. “After working in the industry for so long in traditional restaurants, as well as on cruise ships, I wanted to concentrate on breakfast and lunch. But, I wanted to bring method and temperature, and true balance together. I wanted to give people something different. I’ve always felt that breakfast and lunch deserved as much attention as ‘dinner’ restaurants.”

No matter what, Sassafras is a family. “When we first opened the restaurant it was a very small operation and in such close quarters,” says Mallet. “We had to learn each other’s quirks and it was definitely like a family. When we decided to expand, I thought we might lose part of that over time, but we haven’t. It still feels the same. What’s really unique about the experience for me is that I created all these recipes that people actually love. It still feels surreal.”

According to Grother, hiring chefs is no easy task. They have to be food focused (of course), and they have to be willing to experiment with new ingredients. “Cleanliness is also a must. Everything is about the integrity. It’s so incredibly important to who I hire. How do they clean their knives? How do they label their ingredients? How do they store things? Food culture is huge.”

Mallet fit into this equation perfectly. “Brunch and breakfast reunite people in a unique way, especially on weekends. I knew he would bring that charisma and attention to detail to the table so the food would complement the goal of my restaurant,” adds Grother. “Not only are Chef ’s dishes fun and unique, but they open up people’s minds to so many options.” The goal behind Sassafras is for people to come together and enjoy time without their phones, so they can start their day off on the right foot. Happy and relaxed.

Mallet offers some advice about being a leader in the kitchen: “You have to pay attention when people do the wrong thing and learn from their mistakes. Also, stay humble. You have to understand that the sacrifice comes before the reward.” With that being said, he can’t picture doing anything else.

Sassafras American Eatery
320 E. Colfax Ave.
303-831-6233
3927 W. 32nd Ave.
303-433-0080
1027 Washington Ave., Golden