To invoke Homer's great work and to speak of epic journeying on your menu cover throws down quite a gauntlet of expectation. It's reinforced by tabletops featuring world maps encased in clear lacquer whose scent remains detectable in the air, almost two months after opening.
Odyssey Gastropub wants you not to just travel gastronomically, but to celebrate adventure befitting a well-deserved homecoming. It desires to be that banquet hall of respite, where blood need not spill because a) you are not Athena-emboldened Odysseus and b) ample booze and comestibles are present to satisfy all.
And all that's well and good because a strong theme seldom hurts an eatery, and Odyssey does manage to drop into Britain, central Europe, a bit of Asia, the deep South and everyday America. But the spirit of international voyage doesn't translate to overly bold menu moves beyond elemental twists on classic and modern plates — for example, subbing Mahi Mahi into the fish and chips ($10). Or adding Mae Ploy sweet chili, among other ingredients, to the tartar dip and a bit too much coriander to the slaw.
Yes, the sparkling water and Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter inputs make for a lofty battering, and Chick-fil-A-style waffle fries fulfill a carb component with pub-style humility. We do dine contentedly. But nothing's reinvented to a degree that it totally transports — not that I'd call for the other trendy "gastro" word, molecular gastronomy, to rear its head simply for contrarian shock value. Plus, Tony's old kitchen is too small for that.
Sans big boundary-pushing, Odyssey strikes more of a warm neighborhood vibe, with beige ceiling stamps and plenty of blue-collar brick visible down the long walls that are newly end-capped in plaster accents. Reclaimed wood on the bar's underside reinforces modesty amid the modernity of leggy, black high-top chairs, shiny surfaces everywhere and a clever, wayward array of bedside lamps hung upside down in the entryway as if a ship did capsize on uncertain seas.
The only disconnects: a long wooden sign with a purple mountain mural more fit for chef Matthew Wilcoxson's former post at Colorado Mountain Brewery; a chalkboard of restaurant investors' names that no one will care about, save them; and a Tony's sign that still hangs high out front.
Co-proprietor Jenny Schnakenberg previously talked about wanting to fill a niche for people who desire relatively affordable, but higher-end, food in a casual setting. And Odyssey basically does if you don't go overboard. My night's bill hit $100 for two, though nothing felt overpriced but our chicken and waffles ($14) and a deconstructed shepherd's pie ($22).
Feeling a bit stodgy and French, the latter placed a trio of roasted carrots and sad dimpled peas over a cold dollop of cheddar mashed potatoes, with a single beef short rib jutting its bone from a rosemary au jus puddle. The flesh at least fared fantastic, with a heavy Full Sail Amber-braising char giving way to a thin bark and soft interior with gooey fat pockets. Please, sir, may I have another (especially at that price)?
The soul food staple, meanwhile, nicely spiked a Belgian-style waffle with (not enough) delicious Guajillo chili butter, and hickory-smoked real maple syrup atop a nicely crispy fried breast. And since when do scallions get to join blue-, black-, straw- and raspberries as garnish? Fun, guilty goodness.
For appetizers, oven-roasted asparagus is portioned quite generously for $7, with roasted cherry tomatoes waiting to squirt hot juice at you and a small goat-cheese crumble joining a thick lemon-balsamic reduction. The salmon and avocado dip ($9) is less a dip than a citric, caper-flecked tartare spooned over slightly under-ripe, halved avos, next to "American Flatbreads" (best defined as pita in need of warming, and perhaps oil and spice).
Bleu cheese macaroni fritters ($7) would be capital-B badass were they not served disconcertingly cold in the middle. The flavors are spot-on, with microgreens and a syrupy peach gastrique garnishing the Parmesan- and Panko-fried, golf-ball-sized balls. And cheers to the kitchen for taking on the challenge of fried chicken livers ($7). What totally makes the plate magic is a "red eye aioli" complete with hot sauce and instant espresso flecks "for punch, not grit," says Wilcoxson, who credits Eric Hill, his pal and former co-worker at the Country Club at Flying Horse, for the idea. Hill based it off Southern Red Eye Gravy, where black coffee joined pan drippings; here, the espresso bite totally neutralizes that potentially off-putting, pungent, rich organ essence. Capital-B Brilliant.
Clever-points, too, for a Hefeweizen standing in for sweet wine and bringing discernible beer backbone to a zabaglione (loose Italian custard) that drowns a dessert berry mix ($7) and big pieces of shattered, stained-glass-looking almond brittle. Wilcoxson was still tweaking the batter for his waffle-iron chocolate chip cookie à la mode ($8) during our visit, meaning he couldn't execute it to his satisfaction. So he comped us a baked version instead, which gets the job done just fine with molten cacao innards.
Because the term "gastropub" implies fine drink, it's time to mention the six taps and 20-plus bottles and cans of properly diverse craft beers, more than half from outside Colorado and many high-ABV, and the list of smart wines that includes some $100-plus bottles.
We chose to sample half of the eight house cocktails. The Viking Mule ($9) adds newly launched and Denver-based Diströya spiced liqueur to classic Moscow Mule ingredients (also subbing lemon for lime), tasting less gingery and finishing somewhere between a SweetTart and Flintstones vitamin. The Kentucky Redhead ($8) keeps the Mule's lime and ginger elements, subbing Four Roses bourbon in for the vodka to pleasing result.
The Sweet Talker ($8) hits raspberry and orange notes, with Chambord and Grand Marnier joining vodka and a strawberry muddle. And Odyssey's spin on a Sazerac ($10) subs Colorado Gold Rye Whiskey for classic cognac; with the latter sold out, I went with a local Axe and the Oak (which our bartender says sells out regularly, too), which met bitters in an absinthe-rinsed glass. Lovely.
So even if Odyssey overreaches a touch by conjuring a grand voyage, it's nonetheless a satisfying departure from staid waters. There are also burger, salad and sandwich sections that I've yet to try, reason enough to return based on lingering highlights from my taste travelogue.
Until then, it feels right to give Wilcoxson the last word on the eatery's course: "We're all on an odyssey in life, just in different places. I'm from Arkansas, but have traveled through Asia. So I look at it as, 'This is where I went, and what I did.' My heart is on there. ... I wanted adventurous twists versus strictly fine dining or bar food — a place where you can come in and pick up something you know all the way through or try something a little different."