- Griffin Swartzell
I'd never expect bread to shake my composure. And then there it is, smelling fresh and buttery with just a little pepper, crisp crust, spongy and unbleached in the center, with grill marks extending to glutinous Valhalla. My dining companion and I are forced to stop and regard what is before us with an earnest "holy shit."
That bread is one of many such moments we have while reviewing TILL, the "farm-inspired" restaurant and mercantile at Briargate and Powers. The sustainable mission means that most of what we eat (and some of what we drink) comes from Colorado, including locals like Corner Post Meats, Black Forest Aquaponics, SwitchBack Coffee Roasters, and Lee Spirits. TILL's owned by the same folks who run Garden of the Gods Gourmet and The Pinery at the Hill, and it's enormous.
If 17,000 square feet is hard to visualize, imagine an 80-foot-long open kitchen — the biggest I've ever seen — and realize that's only around half the length of the $13 million building. Their private events space alone can seat up to 120, and the restaurant seats a further 180. Beyond the sheer size, the space boasts a high, peaked roof and open supports, like a barn painted pristine white. Floors, tables and chairs use clean, dark woods and Edison bulbs in hip faux-rustic hanging fixtures. The effect only adds to the impression that the cavernous space makes on first visit, leading to yet another muttered "holy shit."
Back to the table, our bread arrives as part of the chicken liver mousse appetizer: ruddy pink mousse served in a jar under a layer of pepper jelly, alongside onion and dill-heavy, house pickled cauliflower. The smooth mousse holds only a mild organ-meat tang, mellowed further by the sweet, vegetal jelly for a bite that should appeal to both the organ-shy and faithful fans of French provincial bites.
More conservative carnivores will enjoy the lamb meatballs, served in a tiny cast-iron tray atop a slice of Black Forest fire log. Quaint presentation aside, the meatballs chew a little tough, as one-meat balls often do, but their taste under a savory mole amarillo and Haystack Mountain goat feta wins us over nonetheless.
It's no great surprise that the food is this good, considering TILL chefs Sheamus Feeley and Gerry Castro's respective pedigrees. Feeley has done craft and corporate dining both, having worked for Wolfgang Puck in 1999, spent some time in Napa's notorious restaurant scene, then done a stint as Senior VP of Culinary and Kitchen Innovation at BJ's Restaurants in 2014. Castro grew up on a Guanajuato, Mexico, farm, eventually teaching at the Napa, California Culinary Institute of America and spending time as chef de cuisine at then-Michelin Star-holder Murray Circle, in Sausalito, California.
They handle their veggies as well as their meat, too. A simple but lovely kale side salad bears garlic, raisiny aleppo chile flakes, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Or try the roasted peanut coleslaw, which balances sweet, savory and roasted components with a faint honey finish.
Pizzas are baked with a wild-fermented dough that gains a faint sourness on the nose. Of four on the current menu, one with pancetta, pecorino cheese, crema, black pepper and microgreens gets crowned with a perfect jiggly egg, which oozes yolk, making each bite quite the sexy experience.
Equally Italian-rustic, the risotto delivers its own moment of awe. Bright pistou (think pesto sans pine nuts) freshens the mix up along with rich grana padano cheese, plus sweet corn and pole beans. Cherry tomatoes burst with lightly caramelized sugars and rich, delicious juice — it's a pity there aren't more on my plate, but all-consuming pleasure is nothing to complain about.
Let's not pretend that the braised Heritage pork dish is anything but a bitchin' bowl of posole with hominy. The already-citrus-forward red guajillo broth hosts chunks of creamy avocado and a few lime wedges, all second fiddle to that soft pork, especially when there's a big piece of creamy fat still hanging on. As a daily special, we try a chicken thigh sandwich, intelligently seasoned and cinnamon-forward under fresh avocado and crispy bacon, alongside crispy potato chunks.
At dessert, don't miss the house gelato, especially the gorgeous rosemary olive oil flavor, with savory notes making the rich sweetness all the more indulgent. We try a scoop atop a peach-almond crisp, which bears a pleasing sweet-savory crunch.
While it's odd that an ultra-clean hip faux-barn has TVs at one end, the sip-ready cocktails deserve their own space, time and attention beyond just a drink with dinner. The Mint Chili Marg bears jalapeño in the nose, mild spice under a sweet-tart sip, and a little mint on the finish. For something more delicate, the Lavender Lilly blends Lee Spirits lavender gin with lime, pineapple, mint and juniper berries for a bone-dry floral refresher that goes down all too easily. Non-drinkers can enjoy a range of house sodas, including a punchy ginger beer with a honey finish or a tart mint limeade.
Of course, a menu this good is rarely cheap. Cocktails run $10 to $12, and most appetizers cost about the same, with some cheaper options. Entrées land between $15 and $25. While the prices are largely well worth it, the short beer menu needs financial advice. Avery's White Rascal runs as the cheap option, at a competitive $5 for a pint, but it's outrageous to see Left Hand Milk Stout on nitro at $7.
Cheaper options do exist on the mercantile side. That stupid-good bread goes for a fair $6 a loaf, alongside pre-made wraps and assorted pastries. Frozen entrées range from chicken pot pies to Kansas City-style burnt ends, and prices land from $12 to $18.
A few years back, the only eating options between Briargate and Monument were chains, endless and forgettable in carbon-copy strip malls. But places like Flying Horse's newly open-to-the-public steakhouse and the swath of new eateries recently cropped up on Bass Pro Drive are addressing a substantial need. TILL joins that group, providing some way good bites for a neighborhood that needs more of them.
It would be hard to justify the massive amount of space TILL takes up were the food not that tasty. But as long as Feeley and Castro keep it up, that space is well-earned, holding together a business and experience best summed up with the ever-handy phrase "holy shit."