When Old Major turned five on February 21, chef-owner Justin Brunson marked the occasion by both looking back and looking forward. He created a special menu for the occasion, composed of what he calls “Justin Brunson Originals.” It should come as no surprise that the Nose to Tail Plate made an appearance. This iconic dish—a study in heritage-breed pork with a rotating cache of cuts like confit rib, crispy ear, chops, and unctuous belly, is the very definition of Old Major. And yet, a couple of months ago, Brunson took the dish off the menu. “My servers looked at me like ‘You’re doing what?,’ ” Brunson laughs. But he says, since opening the LoHi restaurant he’s dreamt up 40-some variations of that plate and he was ready to move on. “I was bored and I wanted to be inspired.”
And so, with special exception, the Nose to Tail Plate is a thing of the past. What hasn’t changed is Brunson’s love for pork or whole-animal butchery. And he’s digging in deep: Red Bear American Charcuterie, a 7,000-square-foot facility at York and 40th is set to open this year, and with it Brunson intends to take his charcuterie, as well as deli meats and fresh sausages, to the national level.
When the facility opens, Old Major’s curing space—the front-and-center, glassed-in jewel box that anchors the restaurant’s dining room—will be emptied. But Brunson is thinking about turning it into a ham room. “We’ll hang country ham,” he says, “one a week for a year and have an Old Major ham plate.”
Brunson is also just about to open the Foxwood Room, a 50-seat private-dining space at Old Major that will expand the restaurant’s scope. “I’ve never had a TV at the bar because I wanted to have a space that didn’t have all the hooting and hollering,” Brunson says. “But now, I’ll have a football room on Sundays, and a place for private events and parties.” The bonus he says, is moving a good amount of his cookbook collection (he reportedly owns some 4,000 volumes) from his home into the Foxwood. Aside from making his wife happy, Brunson is excited to have more room to buy more books.
Meat, of course, will forever remain at the center of Brunson’s universe. And this summer, after spending time with North Carolina pit masters and chefs Sam Jones and Elliot Moss, he bought a whole-hog cooker. The rewards of that low-and-slow cooking method will almost certainly show up on Old Major’s menu (and likely inform decisions at Brunson’s other entities, Masterpiece Delicatessen, Culture Meat & Cheese at Denver Central Market, and Royal Rooster) and continue to push Brunson in new directions. “I’m returning to my roots. I’m a country boy from Iowa who is interested in honest food,” he says. “I just want to cook good food that I want to eat.”