When Bob Reiter moved to Denver with his family about two years ago, the former New Yorker knew it was where he wanted to stay. To put down roots, you might say. So it’s fitting that American Elm, his two-week-old restaurant in his newly adopted West Highland neighborhood, is a love letter to both the bistros he frequented back east and his new stomping grounds. 

A first-time restaurant owner who spent 10 years in the music and hospitality industries in Brooklyn, Reiter hopes that American Elm will be a welcoming gathering place for those who live nearby, and beyond. “We built this place for them, and their feedback is critical for what we make here,” Reiter says.

Named after the beautiful tree that shades the restaurant’s sprawling side patio, American Elm lives in the space that formerly housed the Way Back, which has been vacant since 2017 when that restaurant moved to Tennyson Street. Reiter took over the building soon after, adding a kitchen (the Way Back staff cooked out of a food truck) and renovating with the help of Denver-based Scout Interiors. The simple space is dotted with personal touches, from the framed photos of Iowa (where Reiter grew up) to vintage-looking wallpaper from Brooklyn.

Reiter partnered with aptly named Brent Turnipseede, previously the executive chef at modern steak house Guard and Grace, to create a menu that has as much heart and soul as the restaurant’s design. Living within walking distance of the restaurant, Turnipseede is eager to serve classic dishes that his neighbors will enjoy, but with a few new takes based on flavors from his childhood. “I’m excited to have the leeway to do things I haven’t done before,” he says. “I want to be intimate and personal with the neighborhood.”

American Elm’s seven-strong kitchen team delivers mainstays—think: lollipop chicken wings, a burger, a French dip—alongside a bevvy of gorgeously plated, seasonal dishes inspired by Turnipseede’s visits to the Union Station and Parker farmers’ markets. One tasty example: delicately fried maitake mushrooms atop a pool of fontina fondue with toasted hazelnuts, pickled mustard seeds, and crisp radishes.

The seared scallops at American Elm. Photo by Patricia Kaowthumrong

Turnipseede’s Texas roots also shine at American Elm, ranging from scallops with butter bean succotash, cornbread gremolata, and grilled okra with smoked tomato beurre blanc to an almost-too-pretty-to-eat roasted peach napoleon with locally made bourbon-butterscotch ice cream from Ice Cream Alchemy.

If it’s well-executed drinks you’re after, American Elm has those, too. Bar manager Jesse Torres, formerly with Poka Lola Social Club and Tavernetta, is pouring a solid menu of classic cocktails organized into sections with playful names like “Boozy and Alluring” or “Tropical and Tiki” so you don’t have to hunt for whatever suits your fancy. Even better: During happy hour (4–6 p.m.), old fashioneds and Pimm’s cups cost $5, plus there are $2 to $5 food specials. And you can get $2 oysters or $3 shrimp cocktail any time American Elm is open.

Reiter says the feedback the restaurant receives during the first six months of opening is critical, so don’t hesitate to share your rant and raves when you’re there. While we doubt you’ll have many complaints, Reiter and Turnipseede are listening.

4132 W. 38th Ave.; Monday–Thursday, 4–10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4–11 p.m.; Sunday 11am–3pm (brunch). 

Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.