Amos Watts, chef-owner of the Fifth String, has a thing for vegetables. And at his week-old restaurant on Tejon Street in Highland, the current menu is proof that he’s a pro at making them sing. His summertime offerings are all about showing off Colorado produce at its best—ripe tomatoes, juicy peaches, sweet watermelon and beets—with Watts’ signature fine-dining flair.
You can thank the skills Watts has gained over his nearly 20-year career—which includes tenures at Old Major, Acorn, and, most recently, Boulder’s Corrida—for the exquisite touches you’ll find on the Fifth String’s rotating menu of small plates, entrées, and family-style meals. Case in point: Fried olives add briny crunch to a plate of charred zucchini, eggplant, and halloumi set on a pool of triple-cream brie. Sake-marinated peaches and fresh basil brighten kombu-cured yellowfin tuna crudo. A dish of delicate sausage and ricotta agnolotti is enhanced with local tomatoes, sweet corn, and nutty arugula.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, Watts is grateful for the opportunity to open his first solo restaurant during Colorado’s prime late-summer harvest season. Some of the produce he’s cooking with comes from his own home garden, including some of those aforementioned beets, basil, zucchini, and tomatoes.
Watts is also excited to be cooking alongside long-time colleague and Fifth String chef de cuisine Marcos Mendez (Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, Corrida) and running the dining room with general manager Gene Fereda (formerly the GM at Old Major). Fereda is taking the lead on the Fifth String’s wine program, which he hopes to build as the restaurant’s client base grows. “This is the best opening team I’ve ever had,” Watts says. “There are not a lot of rules. I want to use the creativity of everyone here—front of house and back of house.”
The Fifth String replaces chef Justin Brunson’s Old Major, where Watts served as executive chef for two years; he purchased the business from Brunson, along with all of its equipment, in June. Fans of the dearly departed restaurant will find comfort in the Fifth String’s ambiance, which maintains Old Major’s airy, inviting vibe. Watts did, however, replace the maroon walls with a blue color scheme; refurbish the wood floors in the dining room; and turn the glass-walled charcuterie room into a space dedicated to wine.
Yearning for Old Major’s meat-centric menu? Don’t fret, for there will always be plenty for carnivores to choose from at the Fifth String, including proteins sourced from Brunson’s River Bear American Meats and sausages crafted by Mendez. Takeout-friendly family dinners, which serve two to four people, include options like a whole roast chicken, 20-ounce strip loin, and bone-in short ribs, accompanied by three side dishes.
Even as the weather cools and the harvest wanes, Watts plans to continue sourcing local ingredients and use feedback from the neighborhood to shape the Fifth String’s future—no matter what happens with the pandemic. “I’m staying positive,” he says. “We’re only going to get better from here.”
The Fifth String is open Wednesday–Sunday, 5–10 p.m. Happy hour, from 3–6 p.m., is coming soon. 3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622