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3701 N. Williams St.
The Draw: Creative renditions of French classics
The Drawback: A minimalist space that may leave you yawning
Noice Level: High
Don’t Miss: The duck, Brixton burger, pâté, and seasonal variations of tartare and veggies
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Brasserie Brixton doesn’t care what a French restaurant should be. It doesn’t mind that people have been conditioned to expect white tablecloths and a pretentious menu. Yes, Brixton often serves escargot and pâté—albeit with Ritz crackers sprinkled over those snails—but there’s also blood-sausage-filled wontons, Star Wars stormtroopers painted behind the bar, and hip-hop on the speakers.
To be honest, I think calling Brasserie Brixton a French restaurant is a stretch. I highly doubt, however, that a place folding blood sausage into wonton skins worries about what I think. So, if chef-partner Nicholas Dalton wants to bill it as such, then oui, French it is.
Classifications out of the way, what diners need to know about Brasserie Brixton is that it’s a very good restaurant where Denverites can enjoy smart dishes they won’t find anywhere else in town. That includes anchovy-sauce-laced asparagus, a rotating beef tartare that riffs on everything from Arby’s Beef ’n Cheddar to a Thai-spicy crying tiger sauce, and inventive versions of the more typical French-ish suspects.
Dalton was inspired to break the mold with Brixton by his experiences at bistros in Montreal, where fine dining chefs have swapped the pompous for the comfortable and are moving their operations from the city center to suburbs. “We wanted to create something more casual, inviting, and fun,” says Dalton, a California native. In short: No sky-high prices, no dress code, no fuss.
The menu here avoids norms, too. Instead of being divided up in the usual restaurant way between small plates and mains, everything is instead listed in one giant stack—but you can tell where the entrées begin as the prices rise. Among the more petite offerings, the asparagus is taut but yielding, like an angler’s pole when it has something on the line, and the stems are drizzled with miso bagna cauda, a garlic-and- olive-oil sauce heavy with diced anchovies. The fishy flavor hits the palate hard, but combined with the freshness of the asparagus and the crispiness of toasted pine nuts, it’s a truly special bite. The baguette (sourced from RiNo’s Reunion Bread) with butter and the pâté—sweet, smooth, and white-port-forward—are similarly enjoyable.
Where the dollar signs head north of $30, you’ll find the duck, which is served two ways: There’s the confit leg whose skin crackles when you bite into it and then the fried egg whose yolk oozes onto the turnip cake it sits atop. All of the components should be used to sop up the splatters of sweet ginger soy sauce and chile crunch. Clearly, this plate borrows flavors from the East, but I’ll concede that its indulgence and precision feel decidedly à la française. The chicken is a rare miss; the smashed half bird was bland despite its ’nduja butter sauce and veggie accoutrements. The version I tried, however, may be off the menu when you get there: Brixton’s lineup changes often, and not just seasonally, but on a whim. “We’ll change dishes periodically,” Dalton says, “when ingredients and ideas come to us.”
Still, there are a few staples, and the cheeseburger is one. Most French eateries probably wouldn’t boast that their hamburgers are bestsellers, but Dalton wanted something approachable. The Brixton burger is a fancy take on In-N-Out Burger’s Double-Double, except it arrives with Gruyère cheese fused onto two thin, smashed patties that have the perfect griddle char. The melty-messy goodness is served with matchstick fries that are far superior to what you’d get at the drive-thru.
The short cocktail menu is reminiscent of the roster of food in that it mixes cuisines and ingredients in surprising ways—and downplays the whole, you know, French thing. My tasty X Marks the Spot was an almost tropical blend of apricot, pineapple, and cachaça garnished with mint. In the Pinky Promise, tequila, aquavit, and Aperol coexist with salted watermelon in a sweetly delicious way. Sake (yes, the Japanese rice wine) is listed at the top of the menu, while the more French-centric grapes by the glass appear far below. “I love sake, and it pairs well with rich, fatty foods, which we lean toward with French cuisine,” Dalton says.
What Dalton doesn’t lean into is the conventional French eating house ambience. The basic space, in the largely residential Cole neighborhood northeast of downtown, is devoid of white tablecloths, yes, but it also lacks a cohesive vibe. Dalton and his team set out to ditch the pretense surrounding French fare—so keeping the atmosphere simple and decidedly un-French was intentional, a part of their master plan to redefine what we think about restaurants that serve pâté and escargot. The Brixton team is cooking the food they want to cook in an unintimidating space. It’s up to us to change our expectations.
From a nautical-themed bar to a beloved taqueria, here are four other bars and restaurants to try in and around Denver’s Cole district.
Chef-restaurateur Henry Batiste serves Creole specialties his mom and grandma cooked during his childhood in New Orleans. That includes hearty gumbo, crispy catfish po’boys, and creamy red beans and rice—best washed down with a bottle of Abita, a Louisiana-brewed beer.
This establishment began as a food truck in the 1980s and is one of the original brick-and-mortar restaurants in the area. Inside, neighborhood dwellers have gathered for giant barbacoa gorditas, chicharrón tacos, and smothered burritos since 2002.
This petite watering hole, which opened in Cole last December, melds all the upsides of a divey hangout and a polished cocktail bar with a thoughtful natural wine list, cheap beer-and-shot specials, and a lineup of loaded hot dogs.
The seven bowls of noodle soup on deck—including the indulgent, spicy lobster iteration—might be most tempting on a chilly winter night. But Cole residents know that the pork belly buns, poke, soba, and udon are just as tasty no matter what the thermometer says.