Sunday, January 4, 2015

Work & Class: Believe the Hype

This blog is not the place you visit in order to stay up on the latest happenings of the Denver food scene. That might be appropriate, given that in the time leading up to the start of this blog it is hard to say there was even much of a "scene" to stay up on. In the past four or five years, though, this town has blossomed into a legitimate food city, and I think our local media overall does a pretty good job of keeping us up to date. As for me, I'll continue to tell my stories (though much less frequently these days as life would have it), mostly of places that have fallen off your radar, or maybe were never on your radar to begin with. There will always be exceptions of course, like this month's post about Work & Class.

Work & Class is on everyone's radar. The other day I was busy trying to increase my knowledge of the internet by clicking on every link that came up on my Twitter feed. One click took me to a page that showed me what a bunch of Denver "foodies" thought the best new restaurants were last year. I think 10 of the 12 people had Work and Class on their list. It would have been 11 of 13 if they would have asked me (though they knew better than to do that), yet all year long I had been avoiding it. For me it had all the external makings of a place I was doomed to hate: mildly pretentious name, too-hip location, one of the hottest seats in town, full of skinny jeans and beards. However, all year long, it just kept coming up. I finally went a few months ago. Twice in fact (that's a lot for me). And I loved every single thing about it.

For example: I love -- LOVE-- a restaurant where you order a beer like Utica Club in a can for $2 and the server says "good choice" and really seems to mean it.

I suppose a restaurant should be judged on more than its flattering servers, and my first meal at Work & Class was nothing short of brilliant. On that night I sat at the kitchen bar with a couple of friends, and we were at once entertained and awed by the skill, efficiency and effortless synchronization of the professional crew. It was peak dining on a Friday night and all three cooks were clearly working at full steam: focused, intense, and on exactly the same wavelength. There were no wasted movements. No words. As one moved into the other's space, the other would just at that moment turn-- or reach for something else-- so that there were no bumps, no shouts, and no wasted movements. It was like three people moving as one. I've watched a lot of kitchens in my days and have yet to see as smooth an operation as this in such a tight space.

I only took few pictures that night and then brought my wife back about a month later. We sat down to eat at the same kitchen bar to watch the same three professionals manning the grills, ovens and fryer. The only difference was that it was 4:30 in the afternoon and though by no means empty, the buzz of Work & Class that can work itself into a rather chaotic din, was just starting to build.

That afternoon with my wife, we were served a couple of garbanzo fritters upon being seated. While nothing extraordinary, these perfect little bites seem to sum up the food at Work & Class particularly well: simple, unpretentious, well-conceived, and well-executed. Maybe not entirely original, nor hyper-local, nor the result of any fancy techniques, but tasty. And you want more.

The next plate made me reflect on the fact that my life has far to few chicharron tacos in it. I like them both ways: soft, smothered and stewing in hot salsa, and freshly fried and crisp like this version, which included a bright pico de gallo and a smear of guacamole.  The house made tortilla was a bonus. If it wash't that I already knew what else the menu held, I could have easily made a night out of five or six crispy pork skin tacos and a few more Utica Clubs.

However I was here to show my wife a good time, and no matter how many times I have tried to convince her otherwise, that usually needs to involve more than fried pork and a few cans of beer. A simple-- but again perfectly executed-- plate of shrimps and grits was a good start. Nothing fancy here. Fresh shrimp, simple seasoning, lots of butter. You want to eat this every day.

A plate of fried plantains served alongside a 1/4 pound of conchinita pibil came next. The sweet plantains were seasoned in big grains of sea salt and the pibil was an excellent version of this sweet marinated Yucateco pork dish. Simple and classic.

I had the coriander coated lamb tenderloin the first time around and it blew me away for being the epitome of simplicity and spot on execution. This time around our loin was a little limp and had started to cool off too much. The taste was there-- bold coriander, tender lamb seared crisp --but medium-rare loin that is luke-warm all around doesn't get it done. It was still quite good, however, and my memory of the perfectly cooked --and timed-- loin the first time around was enough for me to keep the faith that a little delay in service can be forgiven.

One thing about the small, hole-in-the wall places I like to cover is that they so often are an extension of the people that own them; and more frequently than not they are woven into the fabric of the community they serve. On the flip side, the one thing I so often dislike about the new hot spots is that they are all front and flash. Once gone they are barely missed, or easily replaced by the next big thing. However, all great restaurants had to be new at some time, and if Work & Class keeps its vision clear and its food this good, it is only a matter of time before it goes from the hottest newcomer to one of Denver's beloved institutions.

  Work & Class on Urbanspoon


  1. I've never eaten at the Work % Class before, but now I absolutely have to. The food looks so darn good and the way you describe the atmosphere and the staff, well, I don't think I can stay away, Thanks

  2. Dear Denver on a Spit,

    I LOVE your food blog! I love to eat (lol) and my fiancé and I are moving to Denver later this year, right around the time of our anniversary, so naturally I have been looking for some good places to eat to take him to. I really appreciate this particular post about Work & Class, because I can relate to your comment about ordering a beer, or for me any food item really, and having the waiter say “good choice”. That is important when you go out to eat. I want to eat somewhere the employees even love.

    Also, new restaurants are great, but from what I have learned in my many years of eating…is that mom and pop, hole in the wall kind of places that people forget about, but true locals know exist…are THE BEST restaurants in town. So again, thanks for this post. Although if I have any criticisms of Work & Class: are the portions small because they seem sort of small in the photos. If so, are they ridiculously priced or rather moderate?

    I tried finding your name in your about section and could not find it; however, I see the blogs that you follow that I am going to check out as well.

    Have a great week, your blog is officially bookmarked as one for “Best Food in Denver”.




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