In about two months time, Leven Deli Co. will blow the doors off Denver’s sandwich status quo. Armed with a philosophy rooted in good bread, fat, acid, and crunch, Potager alumni Anthony Lygizos (assistant manager and wine buyer) and Luke Hendricks (chef de cuisine) will blend traditional Jewish-American flavors with California-inspired ingredients. Consider it Bubbie meets Gjelina in the Golden Triangle.
This isn’t the first time a seasoned restaurant crew has taken on Denver’s deli landscape: In 2008, Justin Brunson and Stephen Allee, who were both cooking at Luca D’ Italia, left to start Masterpiece Delicatessen in LoHi. Masterpiece has since reshaped Denver’s lunch hour by focusing on tip-top ingredients and house-cured meats. Consider Leven the next incarnation for the local sandwich scene. Three things to look forward to:
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- The menu. With sandwiches like the Broccolini & Burrata (roasted broccolini, smoky tomato-caper goodness, Burrata, and fried garlic) and the Spicy Lamb (spicy barbecue lamb, preserved lemon yogurt, olives, pickled onions, walnut-pepper spread, and feta), Leven’s offerings aren’t typical fare. Even the grilled cheese gets an update: gooey French cheese, pickle, and pepper relish. Lygizos and Hendricks call Leven a “deli with new sensibility.” We say it sounds excitingly chef-y. Lygizos and Hendricks are paying close attention to ingredients, sourcing, and technique—and evolving the deli model to appeal to a more health-conscious, often gluten-free public. “People are eating less meat and more vegetables,” Hendricks says. “That’s what makes us unique—we use a lot more vegetables in our cooking. We see that that’s a way for the deli to come up to the times.”
- The bread. After hunting for the perfect carb vehicle for their sandwiches, Lygizos and Hendricks found a bakery in New Jersey called Tribeca Oven that bakes the artisanal loaves they were looking for. Leven will offer rye, sourdough, and “levens,” or sourdough flatbreads. Lygizos and Hendricks might be outsourcing their bread for now, but house made bread is on the horizon. “Our sights are set on having our own bakery before year two,” Lygizos says. As for appealing to the gluten-free crowd, the duo created a socca (a large chickpea-flour pancake) to stand in for the ever-present, ever-boring tortilla. Aside from tasting good, all of Leven’s bread options also have to be sturdy. “A sandwich has to be able to travel well,” Lygizos says. “We’re testing wrapping now and taking sandwiches up I-70 or in a bike bag to see if they retain their quality.”
- The samples. “We want you to take it for a test ride before you buy it,” Lygizos says. “Grab a number, then enjoy the food carnival.” Not only will platters of nibbles such as smoked salmon salad, house-made pickles, brisket, and chocolate-cinnamon babka make their way around the deli waiting area, you can also taste most anything from behind the counter. This idea of sampling and tasting comes as much from deli icons like Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as it does from Lygizos’ love of wine. “Wine is all about tasting and when you try something, you learn the stories,” he says. “We want Leven to be experiential.”
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