The return of the Way Back is just one of the exciting culinary happenings on and around Tennyson Street in recent days. Since closing the original 38th Avenue location last summer and opening the doors to its new digs last week, the team behind the Way Back 2.0 has made plenty of smart changes to the former Patrick Carroll’s space and to their team. The goal: create a modern neighborhood joint where Denverites feel comfortable dining and drinking three (or more!) times a week.

To achieve this vision, Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti, and Jared Schwartz (Wayward, American Grind) brought in general manager Rachael Wilson, formerly of Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen and a longtime Mile High City hospitality pro. They also lured executive chef Jon Lavelle away from Danny Meyer’s Maialino restaurant in New York City. The Way Back 2.0 menu shows that Lavelle can cook far more than Roman fare.

“Jon came to us through a connection of Rachael’s,” Gianinetti says, “and his vision of what Colorado cuisine can be got us really excited.” The timeline of Lavelle’s hiring says it all: He came to cook for the Way Back team in early January 2018; Wilson offered him the job after tasting just two of Lavelle’s dishes; Lavelle moved to Denver on January 22; the restaurant re-opened on February 27.

Lavelle clearly blew the team away with that tasting, so much so that four dishes from it appear on the Way Back’s current menu: a cavatelli with braised greens and tomato; whole roasted winter squash; beets with house-made yogurt and trout roe; and a stunning steelhead trout dish.

“We thought Jon had a lot of nerve serving us such a simple plate,” Gianinetti says of the trout preparation. “It was just a piece of fish, some cauliflower, and a sauce.” But then they tried it…and ate their words.

To make the deceptively simple dish, Lavelle marinates Scottish steelhead trout in sake, fermented citrus, and shio-koji. That last ingredient, a secret weapon of sorts, is a fermented mixture of koji (the mold used to make soy sauce and miso, among other flavorful things) salt, and water, which adds umami and salinity to anything it touches. It also helps Lavelle achieve an incredibly crispy skin on the trout; he keeps the interior tender, moist, and just shy of rare. The fish rests on a smooth, rich guajillo chile sauce seasoned with dashi and white soy sauce, and cauliflower, marinated in more shio-koji, comes poached and then charred. The three elements mesh beautifully.

When asked about his inspiration for the dish, Lavelle says, “I wanted to combine Southwestern flavors with flavors from Japan. I started thinking about chiles and smoke, and it all came from there.” We can’t wait to see—and taste—what else will strike Lavelle’s fancy as the Way Back settles into its new home in Berkeley.

3963 Tennyson St., 970-682-6888

Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen is 5280’s former food editor. She oversaw all of 5280’s food-related coverage from October 2016 to March 2021.