Eat & Drink

'Round The Corner

With Corner House, Matt Selby takes on the neighborhood restaurant.

October 2013

Corner House
2240 Clay St.
720-287-1895
cornerhousedenver.com
2 1/2 Stars

THE DRAW
A snug dining room of reclaimed Centennial State lumber and a commitment to local beer, spirits, and pantry items make Corner House a true Colorado restaurant.
THE DRAWBACK
Inconsistency, both in the food and service.
DON’T MISS
Bloody Mary, chilaquiles, French-toast bread pudding, house-cured duck bresaola, mussels in tomato cream
DETAILS
Sandwiches at lunch, $8 to $12; appetizers at dinner,
$3 to $15; entrées at dinner, $10 to $24. Street parking. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, with brunch beginning at 9 a.m. on the weekends. Reservations accepted.

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Last fall, when chef Matt Selby announced he was leaving Josh Wolkon’s restaurant triad of Vesta Dipping Grill (Selby’s home base of 15 years), Steuben’s, and Ace Eat Serve, the Denver restaurant community raised a collective eyebrow. Together, this chef-restaurateur team helped rehabilitate LoDo, cemented the Uptown corridor as Denver’s restaurant row, propelled the city’s food truck scene, and published a cookbook. During his tenure at Vesta, Selby cooked at the legendary James Beard House and was credited by some with helping to put Denver on the culinary map. Needless to say, when the news broke of Selby’s departure, many quickly assumed that the longtime partners had a falling out. And yet, both repeatedly made the case that there was no discord—only that Selby simply “wanted to focus on one restaurant.”

Selby’s decision to simplify and serve a single dining room of 55 seats wasn’t curious to me. Nor was the 39-year-old chef’s choice to commit to a kitchen without a hood system. (Working with only three induction burners, a panini press, and a TurboChef oven is a cinch for someone who has cooked for as many as 75 off-site charity events in a single year.) It wasn’t even his choice to commit to the little-known Jefferson Park community that gave me pause. What caused me to raise my eyebrows was the fact that a chef of this caliber would dub his new place a “neighborhood eatery,” a descriptor that’s welded above the restaurant’s door.

While a universal definition of “neighborhood restaurant” is elusive, industry friends who obsess over the intersection of food and word choice as much as I do agree on a few things. A neighborhood restaurant is one that is cherished by locals within walking distance; is absent destination diners who are probably eating at a similar place in their own part of town; and is a “go-to” spot that’s consistent and dependable, even current, but never too ambitious. Over the course of six visits, I learned that consistent is precisely what Corner House is not.

My best meal was brunch. It included an addictive Bloody Mary—with pitted Castelvetrano olives, a good dose of horseradish, and a dusting of black lava salt—and a bowl of warm almonds tossed with rosemary and chiles de árbol. My friend and I moved on to a colorful salad of crisp arugula, warm, griddle-marked avocado, juicy pieces of navel orange, and pickled slivers of Fresno chile. I devoured the chilaquiles, a bowl of breakfast nachos with tender chunks of beef short rib, a perfectly poached egg, and lime crema. We made dessert of a French-toast bread pudding, which arrived with a slab of maple butter and fresh berries. But on that same visit, a notably restrained prosciutto eggs Benedict came with breakfast potatoes that were overcooked and sticky. And our server, pleasantly cheerful and able to pace our many dishes comfortably, was more endearing than exemplary. She told us the ciabatta was from Denver Bread Company (Selby uses City Bakery), and she splashed the tomato cocktail on my shoe.

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