The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
When owner Vince Howard moved his family to Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood from Los Angeles (where he operated Del Rey Deli) a few years ago, he didn’t have any preconceived notions about the infamous street that’s now home to his new restaurant, Tessa Delicatessen. “I didn’t have an aversion to Colfax because I’m not from here,” Howard says. “I looked at a lot of spaces, but this one felt like a place that I could fit in. The neighborhood is like untouched snow. There’s no end to what we can do here.”
So he grabbed the former furniture store at East Colfax and Ivy and started building. And building, and building. Originally slated to open in April, transforming the space into a deli took longer than expected. But when Tessa opened in early November, the neighborhood was excited. So excited, in fact, that the deli sold out during its opening Saturday.
Howard says that Tessa’s most popular menu items are thus far different from what Angelenos went for. Apparently we’re not quite as health-conscious here, as Howard says Denverites have been gorging on his Reubens, muffulettas, and barbecue pastrami sandwiches more than any others.
While the barbecue pastrami—with its sweet sauce, salty meat, and tangy pickles—is fairly unique, most of the sandwiches at Tessa are straightforward combos you’ve eaten a hundred times; there’s a chicken salad, an Italian, and tried-and-true roast beef, ham, and turkey. And that’s the point: Howard chose the humble sandwich as his canvas because it’s familiar, and it’s the kind of food he likes to eat. His goal at Tessa is to take those standards and elevate them a notch, using the best quality ingredients he can find.
Tessa’s building blocks include City Bakery bread and Justin Brunson’s River Bear American Meats. Howard is enamored with both, calling them better than the stuff he was using at his L.A. deli.
In addition to sandwiches, Tessa does some deli sides (potato salad and the like) and fancy salads, like a kale Caesar with shaved Brussels sprouts and capers and a farro version with carrots and basil pesto. You may want to stop by in the a.m. hours, though, for the house-cured salmon toast, a breakfast burrito, or basted egg sandwich on a pretzel roll to pair with a rotating cast of local joe, including Copper Door Coffee Roasters and Queen City Collective Coffee.
Next up? Night-time charcuterie boards to show off those prime meats. It’s what the neighborhood wants.
If you go: Tessa is open Tuesday–Saturday, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.; 5724 E. Colfax Ave.