It’s been a busy summer for Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti and Jared Schwartz.
The partners who started The Way Back decided to close up shop at 4132 W. 38th Ave. and move to a yet-to-be-announced spot on the more heavily foot-trafficked Tennyson Street. But before that got underway, they’d decided start a whole new project, and it’s much larger.
This week, they opened Wayward inside the Little Raven Street space that housed Zengo for 14 years.
The 150-seat room is larger than George, Gianinetti and Schwartz ever thought they wanted to work with, but they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“The way we looked at it is we’ve got this 50-seat restaurant on the northwest edge of Denver that got nothing but great reviews and regulars. That made us feel really like, ‘OK, people get this. They want responsibly sourced food,'” George said. “But we’re screaming into this tiny, underpowered microphone. This is a megaphone for us to preach our gospel.”
They’re only a few days in, but early reception of the space, designed by Denver-based Raw Creative and Scout Interiors, and the food, dreamed up by chef Patrick Kelly, has been warm.
Kelly came to Denver last year to take on the executive chef role at Panzano, and while he sites that experience with Italian cuisine as well as some French as influences on his Wayward menu, the big thing reflected there is his dozen or so years in the Bay Area.
“We are, just like The Way Back, focused on hyperlocal, sustainable, proper rearing practices for our proteins. A lot of these dishes were evolutions of places I’ve worked in the past. … Californian cuisine is kind of like that market-driven situation and it really feeds well into what we’re trying to do here, which is great, I’m really excited about that philosophy.”
Wayward’s menu is vegetable-forward, though not strictly vegetarian, and broken down into bites, pasta and grains, shareable plates meant for two and large plates meant for two to four. Just like The Way Back, it’ll be seasonal and, as Kelly said, local, sustainable and market-driven.
“For example, the eggplant — we have a smoky eggplant puree and I found these fairytale eggplants and kind of partnered up with a couple local farmers,” he said. “Kilt Farm (in Longmont) is the one supplying in bulk, but it was Acres at Warren Tech (in Lakewood) that was the first one at the market that I saw doing it. I was super excited that somebody’s doing heirloom eggplants, so it was immediately, ‘OK, let’s retool. Let’s create something with this.’”
(A note on the eggplant: You should really have the eggplant. -AD)
And it takes more than a village for a restaurant to be sustainable, especially one of this size. Kelly is working with Micro Farms in Arvada to build a custom urban farm for Wayward next season. For all their basics — onions, garlic, carrots, celery, kale, squash, etc. — Wayward is working with Tap Root, a co-op of farms in southern Colorado. The chicken on the menu is coming from Eastern Plains Natural Food Co-op in Bennett (Kelly: “It’s a truly, truly free range chicken that’s second to none. It tastes like what a chicken tasted like 100 years ago.”) Western Daughters in Denver is the partner for lamb and beef, with the lamb coming from Boulder Lamb.
It’s all coming from within 200 miles of Denver, and when a restaurant of this size wants what you’ve got, it can be a big boost for farmers who put in a huge amount of work for thin profit margins.
“And I think, you know, to be able to support the farmers and encourage them and help them make a profit … That’s the goal,” Kelly said. “In the meantime, we just like to cook.”
Wayward is open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch service will start in a few weeks and, eventually, breakfast and lunch will be served in the café space next door.
Take a look below for more of the food and design.
The farro risotto with Anson Mills farro, Fruition Farms cacio pecora, vinegar reduction and togarashi popcorn ($16).
The fagottini with kale and ricotta pyramid pasta, crispy kale and brown butter ($18).
The Bitter-Sweet Symphony: strawberries and lime with Avua Prata Brazilian rum ($11).
The Take Your Time: Old Fashioned-style cocktail with Toki Japanese whisky, Grand Marnier and Becherovka ($13).