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When Justin Brunson announced the closure of Old Major last month, he left Denver carnivores reeling. The upside: Chef Amos Watts—formerly of Corrida, Acorn, and Old Major itself—was stepping in to take over the space. Watts has been tight-lipped about the new concept, the first restaurant he’s owned by himself, but now the chef is sharing the juicy details which, thankfully, involve plenty of meat.
“We liked Old Major so much,” Watts says. “They did such a good job that there’s not much to change. We just made it our own. It’s a pretty cool opportunity for us.”
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The new opportunity will be called the Fifth String, a nod to the banjo, which Watts plays. The restaurant will combine Watts’ Midwest upbringing and fine-dining background into a neighborhood spot with top-notch wine and service. “I want people to feel comfortable bringing in their kids,” he says.
The menu can be enjoyed a couple of ways: You can try a little bit of everything via Watts’ eclectic small plates, or go big with family-style dinners that serve two to five people. Think of it as a greatest hits menu from all the stellar restaurants Watts has helmed, along with new dishes he’s been dying to make. “There will be lots of dishes we really like that we’ve done in the past, but there will be new stuff, too. It’s a fun time to open a restaurant—as far as seasonality goes.”
While the menu isn’t yet finalized, the family-style meals will likely consist of large portions of bone-in short ribs, roasted chicken, whole snapper, and lamb sausage, with side dishes to match. Small plates will include pastas, more sausages, vegetables, and specifics like tempura-fried lobster with ponzu. Many of the vegetables will be sourced from Watts’ home garden, which is currently sprouting basil, beets, tomatoes, zucchini, and more.
The sausage will be made in-house by sous chef Marcos Mendez, a long-time colleague who has worked with Watts for nine years, starting at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar near Union Station and continuing on through Corrida. “His standards are very high,” Mendez says of working with Watts. “I’ve learned a lot. We just get along really well together.”
Perhaps the best indication of the difference between Old Major and the Fifth String is that Watts is converting the former charcuterie room into a wine room. “It’s not as meat-centric as Old Major was,” he says. “We’ll probably buy it (much of the meat) from River Bear American Meats, to be honest.” Watts is very excited about the wine program, which is being spearheaded by general manager Gene Fereda (also formerly of Old Major), who is having a blast selecting wines by the glass and setting up the charcuterie-turned-wine room.
Watts also wants the Fifth String to be known for a killer happy hour, and he plans on loading up that menu with inexpensive bites and drink specials. In addition to the large inside bar area, he hopes to serve most of the Fifth String’s guests outside (while the weather cooperates); he’s already applied for an expanded patio on the sidewalk on Tejon Street.
Watts hopes to debut the Fifth String on August 5, and, to start, it will be open for dinner Wednesday–Sunday, with happy hour running from 4–6 p.m.