Already a backer of Root Down and the dynamic leadership team of founder Justin Cucci and Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson, I’ll admit I came to this Linger tasting with a predisposition of unreasonably high expectations. What I quickly found out was “Denver’s Finest Eatuary” was the real deal, and one of the most innovative dining concepts the city of Denver has to offer. The atmosphere, food, and presentation far exceeded all expectations.
It takes a true visionary to conceptualize the dining potential in a former mortuary. I mean, that’s about as somber a setting as it gets. But, Justin Cucci is fearless, and his innovative idea of turning this corpse factory into a “spirited” eatery has been executed flawlessly.
Loki couldn’t be more pleased to launch our 2015 restaurant review series with Linger Denver, a most impressive offering to Denver’s culinary scene. Enjoy.
Walking in to Linger, my first impression was of a very warm, inviting nature. Not at all what you would expect walking into a place that used to be full of dead people. An open environment and kitchen with comfortable booth seating made for a very inviting dining experience. The quirky upstairs bar made of Lite-Brite’s (a vintage peg light up board toy that reached the height in it’s popularity in the 90’s) gave me nostalgic flashbacks of my childhood, sitting on the corner of my bunk-bed wondering how to turn the walls of my room into a massive Lite-Brite display. A 20 ft + wide scene from the 1971 cult-classic film Harold and Maude peers over the open kitchen, fitting right in with the funeralesque themes of the underlying mortuary.
The rooftop patio is hands down one of the most spectacular outdoor dining settings Denver has to offer. Although closed off to the public at the time due to cold weather, the management granted us access to what will soon become one of the most lively rooftop patios in the Spring. Hipsters, foodies, young professionals, retired couples, ghosts, you name it, everyone can enjoy this place while peering over the Denver skyline. The massive “Olinger Mortuary” sign, a staple in the Denver community, still stands proud, but with a new twist; at nightfall, the sign lights up with the “O” missing and the word “Eatuary”, turning “Olinger Mortuary” into “Linger Eatuary”.
Oh yeah, did we mention your drinks are served from the inside of a pale green 1975 GMC RV parked snug on top of the patio? Be sure to ask the staff the story behind this spectacle. Oh Justin Cucci, you never cease to keep us entertained..
For a 360 view of Linger Denver, visit Linger VPIX Tour.
You might remember Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson from our Root Down feature. We are calling him Justin Cucci’s right hand man, the guy who manages and boosts efficiency in the kitchen of each new Edible Beats project.
Chef Kittelson says he is enjoying his move from Root Down to Linger:
“I like it. It’s a completely different restaurant as far as style of service and style of food. It’s really pushed me in various ways to open up from my usual Mediterranean inspired cooking. There’s no rules, no limitations, We can open the book on whatever we want to do with the cuisine and flavor profiles. It’s been fun.”
“I’m impressed every single day with what we are able to accomplish here quite frankly. With how many people we serve and the pace at which we serve them. On the roof the kitchen will feed three or four hundred people, and we will feed two hundred or more people plus the bar. The challenge is maintaining high quality and integrity while doing high volume. We do that here at Linger, and we don’t sacrifice.”
Kittelson’s work is paying dividends, and it’s not going unnoticed. His next venture is to head up the kitchen operations at Cucci’s latest project, Ophelia, scheduled to open in Denver this April. Ophelia makes it’s home in a 19th century Victorian brownstone that has played host to a brothel, peep show, and adult library. Very scandalous. Like with Linger, Cucci plans to preserve the identity of the building, with a sultry bar, gastropub inspired restaurant, and Moroccan speakeasy styled live music venue. We can’t wait.
Linger’s culinary offering is it’s star attraction, a fantastic selection of globally-inspired “street food” made from mostly regional, or locally sourced organic ingredients.
How to begin the night at Linger? With cocktails of course! Linger’s sultry list holds influences from South America to Asia.
The La Rosa (pictured middle) made for a perfect opener. Aperol, St. Germain, Brut, and lemon (shaken no stirred) topped with a sprig of rosemary is a dazzling drink for those who aren’t looking to fill their belly or alter their taste buds before eating.
Linger’s One Night in Bangkok (pictured right) was inspired by bartender Mike Henderson’s recent travels through Southeast Asia. It stays true to Thai form with a delicious Thai whiskey mixed with lemon, bitters and egg white. Delicious.
Lastly, the refreshing New Saigon (pictured left), a house favorite, features gin, jalapeño, lime, and black pepper poured over ice, with some Thai Basil and cucumber. I will certainly be returning to Linger’s rooftop patio to toast a few of these under May’s setting sun.
Time to get our grub on.
The first dish Chef Kittelson brought us was the Brussels Sprout Salad.
Called an “in-between salad”, Kittelson wanted to offer a dish that was not full-size, yet not as small as a side dish. It’s a great compromise and something that compliments the dishes very well. The salad is dressed in a traditional French style with red wine vinaigrette, mustard seeds, local tender belly bacon, and giant, crunchy corn nuts called “Quicos”, which are a big hit in Spanish-style cuisine. Kittelson says his favorite parts of the salad are the pickled mustard seeds, which provide “a firm caviar texture”, and the dried fruit which “ties in the seasonality of the brussels sprouts”. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to try this salad as I think it might be one of the most underrated, passed over items on the menu.
Next up is the Octopus Español, hailing from continental Europe it’s a completely Spanish style dish. The baby octopus is sourced off the coast of Spain, and the boat crew tumbles and tenderizes the meat on board as soon as it is pulled from the salt water. Kittelson and his kitchen staff confit the octopus in garlic oil for 4-5 hours at 200 degrees to give it added tenderness. Nobody likes rubbery, chewy calamari, and I can attest that this octopus is delectably tender and easy to chew. Hard Spanish chorizo, romesco aioli, orange, fresh watercress, toasted pine nuts, and mouthwatering red-skinned Albert Rooster potatoes all compliment this dish very well.
In fact, Kittelson was one of the first chef’s to source Albert Rooster potatoes, helping bring them into the US market. The potatoes are blanched in salted water and then lightly fried, giving a nice contrast to the monotone, soft textures present in this plate.
Now the global adventure heads south of the border with the Sesame BBQ tacos.
This is a local, home-produced dish of Latin influence featuring free range 100% grass-fed Wagyu-Red Angus cross beef from Callicate Farms. The heirloom blue corn tortillas are sourced from Boulder’s Abbondanza Farm and made in old-world fashion (hand-ground). These tortillas are textually very different, and they pack good flavor, a nice addition to the mouth-watering beef affair wrapped inside. The napa slaw, avocado, and in-house pickles tie together one of Linger’s most popular dishes.
Let’s head west to India (or east, depending on which airline gets us there faster) for Linger’s crispy Masala Dosa.
A visually stunning (it’s big) crispy rice and lentil crepe surrounds a warm mix of curry potatoes, mustard seeds, brussels sprouts, tamarind date sauce, and coconut mint chutney. Truly unique, this dish has been one of Linger’s staples since day one.
I’m a firm believer of “saving the best for last”, and the last dish on the tasting held true to this credence. On to the buns..
These mouthwatering buns have a sesame base with rice flour and a little bit of tahini. Fresh sesame oil and seeds give the buns more depth of flavor than your traditional offering. These buns sell like hotcakes according to Kittelson, with 150-200 buns going out on busier nights.
The Mongolian BBQ duck confit bun features miso pickled cucumbers and scallions, a simple recipe that packs a lot of flavor. The pork belly (also sourced from Callicrate Farms) bun comes with a plum glaze, charred pineapple jam, and scallions that make for a sweet, rich bun. The mu shu chicken bun is a play on traditional mu shu pork, but with Boulder Natural chicken. It boasts the same mu shu sauce, dehydrated mushrooms, and is topped with a yogurt-slaw. Lastly, the lamb gyro bun features a gyro-spiced sausage from Denver’s Continental Sausage Company, located right down the street from Linger. Local goat feta, tzatziki and dill, and tomato salsa complete the Mediterranean influenced bun.
Linger is a fun, vivacious eatery that has something to offer for everyone. Whether you’re meeting up with co-workers for happy hour on the rooftop patio, or showcasing Denver’s best eats to out-of-towners and in-laws, Linger is the spot, and it’s sure to be a Denver staple for years to come.
A young, hungry Haley Joel Osment would feel right at home here.