Walking into the funky, eclectic atmosphere at Denver’s Root Down was an experience all in it’s own. The bar top is crafted from a 1950’s bowling alley, the dining room floor is a sliver of salvaged basketball court, and there’s even a colorful wall made of antique telephones. In fact, approximately 70% of Root Down was built and finished with reclaimed, reuse, and recycled materials. Aside from the interior scenery, spending your evening on the deck peering over a beautifully lit downtown Denver makes the dining experience at Root Down truly special.
The Beastie Boys & the late Jimmy Smith
The name “Root Down” is an homage to both the Beastie Boys and the late Jimmy Smith, an NEA Jazz Master Award-winning jazz musician whose critically acclaimed 1972 album Root Down was later sampled by New York’s hip hop group Beastie Boys in 1995.
“Root Down” is layered in it’s meaning, emphasizing a back to the basics mentality and return to the root of a song. The name also aims to balance jazz sophistication with an edginess present in the restaurant’s atmosphere. In addition, “Root Down” pays respect to food being rooted down into the earth, focusing in on a true “Field to Fork” mentality.
A Green Disposition
Root Down is known for it’s “Field to Fork” mentality, sourcing locally grown organic ingredients into their seasonal menu selection. You will have a hard time assigning the food here to a specific genre, because Root Down’s global transfusion of delectable dishes is constantly evolving, and transcendent of categorization. This is what makes Root Down a favorite with locals, you’ll always have new, exciting options. Or, as Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson puts it: “I want to stress that we are consistently offering new menu items at Root Down, so there’s always something fresh for our customers to try.” While there are some staples on the menu, such as the popular Colorado Ranch Meatballs, the ingredients in the dish often vary based on the season and a revolving door of mouthwatering ingredients.
In addition, the business is operated completely on a wind power grid and features a reverse-osmosis water system, eliminating the need for bottled water. Even the bathroom contributes to the restaurants sustainability, with a “Smart Sink” that recycles toilet water to wash your hands with. I know, I too was hesitant to wash my hands with the water I just flushed, but you only get this kind of chance to live on the edge every so often so went for it.
Meet the Chef
At the helm of Root Down is Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson, a seasoned cook with a down to earth, likeable personality. In his culinary career, Kittelson has trained under James Beard award winning chefs, working in Phoenix, Chicago, and in a four star restaurant located in a quaint town in Northern Michigan. Done with the small town life, Chef Kittelson decided to try his hand in Colorado, first settling in Vail to help launch Restaurant Avondale at the Western Riverfront Resort in Avon. After three and a half years Kittelson decided to move to Denver in pursuit of his own project, which he describes as a “disaster at first”. A failed partnership and lesson learned led Kittelson to Root Down, where he already had a solid working relationship with owner Justin Cucci. Two years later and Kittelson is now helping oversee all of Root Down’s operations while maintaining his role as Executive Chef. According to Kittelson, two new locations are in development; a quick service restaurant called Vital Root and a live music eatery on 20th and Lawrence. Exciting news for Denver foodies.
It’s five o’clock now and hungry customers are starting to filter in. “What’s the best night of the week to avoid the seas of hungry people Root Down?” I ask the bartender mixing a bright pink cocktail behind the bar. (She laughs) “there isn’t one!”. Well, that’s not so bad for business I suppose.
For starters, Chef Kittelson sends out the first two plates; the Heirloom Rainbow Carrots Salad and the Colorado Ranch Meatballs. The meatballs are a staple on the Root Down menu, but often times the ingredients vary based on what’s fresh and in season. The meat in the current dish is a blend of bison, lamb, beef, pork, and antelope; truly a ranch style meat ball. Quicos (corn nuts), cream of corn, and blueberries are also featured in the mix during the summer season.
On to the main plates as we try a delicious seared tofu crusted with a delicious blend of sunflower seeds, quinoa, and pepita seeds. Nearly all of the ingredients are locally sourced; “If they are not sourced locally, at least the companies we use are local” says Kittelson. Our second main course is a bistro tender with smoked ratatouille and padron pepper poppers stuffed with Broken Shovel goat cheese. “No hormones, no antibiotics, ever” says the chef.
The Dining Experience
As a whole, the dining experience at Root Down is second to none. There is so much character in this restaurant you’ll be hard pressed not to have an enjoyable evening just exploring the environment. Whether it’s learning about the next innovative way Root Down is promoting their sustainability or spotting another salvaged antique decoration in the bar, there’s always a surprise in store when you visit Root Down.
This establishment expertly blends a unique dining experience with delicious, organic cuisine, transcending “food genre” with an always evolving and constantly changing carte du jour. You will always have a sense of newness and experimentation here, and that is what makes Root Down one of Denver’s most adored eateries, and LOKI’s latest Editor’s Pick.
All Photos Courtesy of: TC Bruns/LOKI Media