Cozy Up This Winter at Denver's Hottest New Steakhouse
A5 is breathing new life into an age-old genre.
Time was when LoDo was home to seemingly nothing but beef barns—but times have changed, and only a few stalwart chains remain. Enter A5: At long last, a chophouse for the cool kids.
Apparently that includes the Nuggets, a few of whom showed up to party on its first official night in business. Which makes the Culinary Creative Group director of hospitality Kevin Burke’s analogy for the concept all the more fitting. “If you hand somebody a basketball, maybe they bounce it, and they know how to throw it,” he points out. “What we found attractive about a steakhouse is that people know how to interact with it. You know that sides and sauces are à la carte and that you’ll have this shared experience of dining.” Executive chef/partner Max Mackissock agrees: “Coming out of the pandemic, I wanted something that would cast a wide net—something that was maybe a little more seasonal and fun and playful and interesting than a lot of other steakhouses, but still in that same format, where people could just come in and have a good time.”
Mission accomplished. At once retro and progressive, A5 just looks like a place where you might hear, say, Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” Fela Kuti’s “Shakara,” and De La Soul’s “A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays” back to back. The kind of place where you could rock your favorite suede Pumas or vintage alligator wingtips. As Burke describes the vibe, it hearkens back to “the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s, that fern bar, that tiki bar, that hotel bar—that sort of escapist restaurant where it was a little bit Casa Bonita and a little bit Trader Vic’s.” The walls are splashed with emerald green and cheeky framed portraits of cows; potted plants line every nook and shelf; brass pendant lamps hang from the blond-wood latticework above the island bar; and all in all the space feels at once homey and edgy, familiar and fresh.
And so, of course, do the food and drinks. As expected, the menu is built on all the standard foundations: steaks and other entrées, appetizers and salads, sides and sauces. But the unexpected is also to be expected here. Take the cuts of beef on offer: Not just the ribeye and tenderloin but spinalis, bavette, Delmonico, and, yes, the Denver, which Mackissock calls “a really marbled, amazingly flavorful cut of meat”—and at $28 for eight ounces, “it’s not super-expensive.” Or take the namesake wagyu from Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture: So buttery in texture it’s almost creamy, it’s served with a drizzle of ponzu and onions to both highlight and cut the fattiness of the market-priced one-ounce slices. “It’s probably one of my favorite things in the world—and when I researched it I found out nobody else had named a restaurant A5!” Mackissock exclaims. “I was super-surprised: ‘Nobody’s done this yet! Cool!’”
The rest of the menu represents one twist on a steakhouse staple after another. Instead of a crab cake, there’s the fabulous crabby toast, comprised of Jonah crab mixed with cucumbers and yuzu kosho aioli; set atop French toast battered tamago-style with egg, saké, soy sauce, and sugar; and topped with togarashi-dusted potato chips. Hamachi crudo replaces the usual raw shellfish (with the exception of oysters courtesy of champion shucker Ben Wolven). Steak tartare is reimagined as a katsu sando; mac-and-cheese takes the form of croquettes; yuzu custard tart stands in for Key lime pie. And then there’s the eye-popping “wedge” salad, which is shaped more like an edible bowl than a triangle. Explains Mackissock, “My problem with the wedge salad is you never have enough of everything by the end; you’re just left with some lettuce. Cutting it into a disk form allows you to get a little of everything you want with each bite.” That means tomatoes confited in olive oil, crispy guanciale instead of bacon, pickled red onions, fat chunks of avocado, puffed quinoa and farro for crunch, and Roquefort dressing. It’s a truly special thing.
As for the bar program, it doesn’t shy from its share of classics: You want a martini or a Manhattan, a bottle of Champagne or Napa Cab, you got it. But if you’re ready to “drift and evolve,” in Burke’s words, toward something different, try a Groilleau/Cab Franc blend from France’s Loire Valley or a skin-contact Malvasia from Italy’s Lazio region; sip a Bee’s Knees featuring vodka infused with steel-cut oats; or better still, go for a rum-based tropical drink like the Jungle Bird or Jet Pilot. As Burke puts it, “It’s hard to have a bad time when you’ve got a Mojito in your hand. Bad things can happen, but there’s mint in your drink, you’re relaxing.” Which is the whole point. It may not “pair particularly well with food, [but] if you like a fruity drink, drink a fruity drink,” he adds. “There’s so much tension, so much being asked of people to have their guard up. On a real basic level, what we want to do at A5 is create that space for people to relax just a little bit.”