Since opening four months ago, the Ivywild School collaboration has been busy. Like stupid-insane, killin'-it busy.
To quantify just how busy, key players in the $5-million-plus venture reach for different signifiers.
Bristol Brewing Co. founder Mike Bristol notes that beer sales in his sharp new taphouse are at 2½ times what they were for these same months in recent years, while the expanded brewhouse facility has grown his wholesale distribution business by 30 percent.
Old School Bakery executive pastry chef Alicia Prescott has gone from buying 10, 50-pound bags of flour every two weeks to 40 bags. Mixologist/barista Eric Harry Nicol of the Principal's Office now concocts eight gallons a week of house ginger beer for his popular Moscow Mule interpretation, up from a gallon or two at opening. He's also quickly become nearby Distillery 291's largest account, pouring through a case of the not-inexpensive whiskey weekly.
The Meat Locker's Mark Henry is slicing through such meaty volumes of sustainably raised local livestock that his employers, on the fly, have been forced to convert an old walk-in cooler across the street into a mini processing plant that'll soon enable a dry-age-steak program and charcuterie goodies like paté, terrines and salumi. Henry had anticipated going through a pig a week and maybe a quarter of a cow; instead he's breaking down between two to four hogs and two full cows.
Project co-founder and Blue Star owner Joe Coleman says he and Mike Bristol have entirely redone their financial projections because they've been "blown out of the water." One example: Neither the deli nor bar was expected to do more than $2,000 in daily sales for the first year. They've turned in multiple performances each in the $5,000 range and above, a coup for such small service counters.
With Ivywild, all parties involved worked hard and bet big (see our "New School" cover package, June 12), and their boldness is clearly paying off so far, even as the hub remains "a work in progress," in Bristol's words. What follows is a taste of today.
It's a little after noon on an overcast Thursday. In a few short hours, Bristol's outdoor patio will fill out with beer-fueled conversation and likely a cornhole match, with bean bags arcing skyward toward the Principal's Office's opposing patio and back toward the growler-refill entrance. Inside, it's surprisingly quiet on both sides of the angular bar island, so we enjoy lunch at a normal speaking volume.
We start with the highly addictive, salty, squeaky and graciously not-fried cheese curds via Pueblo's Springside Cheese (a fair $1.95) and a like-priced pickled vegetables teacup full of sweet, clove-forward house-pickled onions, peppers and zucchini. We also pick up a small plate of the Meat Locker's phenomenal cider-and-bacon-vinaigrette-laced German potato salad ($2.95).
Next comes an epic bowl of Beehive and Cheddar Soup ($2.95) that may as well be liquefied mac-n-cheese with a hint of booze-bite. After that, Laughing Lab Chili (also $2.95), with commendably generous ground turkey chunks in a thick tomato stew but an unimpressive, chili-powder-dominant flavor that lacks dynamism, doing the doggy a little disservice.
The Turkey Spiedie ($5.95), basically a TLT on thin-sliced, toasted Old School Bakery "ploughman's bread" (read: utterly stark white bread), shows off incomparable lightness and near-universal beer-pairing potential. The smallish Bristol Beer Brat ($5.95; $8.49 with a pint of pleasing Octoberfest currently) surprises with "a looser grind," approaching breakfast-sausage texture under potent house spicy mustard. Along with a seasonal beer input and a dose of Distillery 291 whiskey, Henry augments the pork's fat content with heavy cream and whole eggs.
When I reach Henry and the Meat Locker's ordering counter down the central hallway the following night, the dining and drinking din has returned in full force. I grab the two specials off the Meat Locker's menu and my own silverware and water vessel, as per the self-service style, then find a window-counter seat in the common area connecting it to the Principal's Office.
The Duck Ham & Cheese ($8.95) places duck breast that's cured for seven days, then hickory smoked skin-on, with Swiss cheese and house Dijon on more of that let-the-fillings-do-the-talkin' toasty white bread. Damn good, but the accompanying spring mix salad is under- and un-evenly dressed in its light vinaigrette.
Despite a saturated-to-sog bottom bun, a Carolina mustard barbecue pulled pork sandwich ($6.95) — which Henry notes "completes the circle on nose-to-tail" principles of using slaughter scraps — is a hearty, tangy mound of awesomeness whose savory side gets a finessing nudge from underlying sweet pickle wedges. Pair with a clever Mezcollins ($7), which fuses grapefruit juice's acidity with mezcal's smoky essence, Dubonnet's herbal notes and lavender syrup that rounds out the edges brilliantly.
At Sunday brunch, sun pours through windows, creative cocktails and craft coffee flow, and phenomenal, thick-cut house bacon dry-rubbed in a "laundry list" of spices and cured for days comes mounded on a B&B plate ($2.95 as a side), with chewy, fatty pieces intermixed with standard crispy ones.
The bar top in front of us quickly fills with liquids. A build-your-own Bloody Mary with house-infused chile tequila and nine optional additives, including ginger, cayenne and horseradish, is holy-hell-hot good. A rum-based Newkirk Flip (also $7) with egg, cream, chocolate and Fernet Branca (an herbal, medicinal-tasting dry digestif) delivers a minty, anise-tinged front end and sweet, rich swallow.
Next, Denver's Novo-roasted coffees: An Ethiopian Anyetsu cold brew ($3.50), Panamanian De Agua pourover ($2.75) and Colombian San Sebastian cappuccino ($3). All excite with beans-out boldness and characteristics unique to those appreciatively noted growing regions. There's grassiness, leather and, across the pourover's surface, a mesmerizing, sheenful oil slick that fans out into swirly fingers. Ah, coffee nerd-dom.
Then we're into the weekly changing menu of three items (all $6.95 this week) designed by Meat Locker sous chef Danny Cugliat. A proficient Eggs Benedict on homemade English muffins finds poached eggs and Hollandaise capping house Canadian bacon that's partly maple-syrup-brined and lightly smoked. Cinnamon-imbued pancakes with apple butter and chutney get a spastic drizzle of cream cheese icing. (Real maple syrup, citrus-infused, comes in an espresso cup on the side.) Another syrup shot buttresses chili chocolate ganache "French toast," actually buttery brioche layered with cake in a hotel pan and cut into hefty rectangles, garnished with a whipped cream dollop.
Yeah, basically dessert for breakfast, the chili scantly detectable in the spongy cocoa, but who cares? Sugar rush on top of caffeine and booze buzz ... is my hand shaking?
Not yet, but it is after sampling uniformly excellent Old School Bakery pastries later, taken to-go: a ham and cheese croissant ($4.75) followed by an oatmeal raisin cookie ($1.25), blueberry crème fraiche coffee cake muffin ($2.25), chocolate croissant ($3.25) and strawberry chocolate brioche ($2.55).
Ultimately, for Ivywild patrons, this exciting hum of unanticipated activity seems best measured by the attractive busyness seen on the plates and in cups and glasses. Top-quality fermentations, extractions and concoctions. Artisanal baked goods and back-to-basics proteins with modern flair. Not just the volume of elbows on countertops, but the community-minded abundance of diverse bounty and flavor on display.