Editor’s note: This story first ran in the summer 2013 edition of EAT magazine.
When two of Atwater’s chefs came to executive chef Todd Bemis and wanted to put a grilled cheese sandwich on the restaurant’s summer menu, he acquiesced, but with one caveat.
“It has to be disgustingly wonderful,” Bemis said. “It better be the bomb grilled cheese.”
And it is. First off, there are three types of cheese — traditional American cheese combined with Boursin cheese and fontina. Hunks of braised short ribs are layered in the middle, along with a slice of tomato and some spicy arugula lettuce.
“The tomatoes help cut the fat from the cheese,” Bemis said.
Served in between pan-toasted Texas toast, it’s a hipper, updated version of what Grandma might have made you for dinner a decade (or two or three) ago.
If that sounds a bit too decadent (and oh, believe us, it is) then opt for the chopped kale BLT salad. This generous salad isn’t one that will leave you feeling an internal void. The chewier kale greens are combined with crisp romaine lettuce for a variety of texture. With layers of avocado, red onion, tomato and bleu cheese, the hearty salad is brought together with a savory lemon and bacon vinaigrette. Abide by the menu and pair it with a farmhouse ale, such as the Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Kansas City, Miss. The citrusy hops mimic the salad’s bright summer flavors.
For beer connoisseurs, Atwater is a must-visit. There’s 50-some beers (20 or so from Colorado), including extremely limited-edition offerings. While other restaurants have rolled out similarly extensive beer lists, Atwater both started the trend and continues the tradition. Each menu item has a recommended beer pairing. To start, try a wit beer alongside the honey goat cheese, which is flanked by sweet candied walnuts, spicy arugula, thinly sliced crostini and finished with a blueberry-earl gray reduction.
For those who love food served on a stick, the Skuna Bay salmon skewers come with hearts of palm, citrus salad and a grapefruit tarragon emulsion. And while it looks like there’s black caviar adorning the dish, it’s really just evidence that chef de cuisine Jay Spickelmier and company are having fun with molecular gastronomy back in the kitchen.
“It’s faux caviar made using seaweed and gelatin,” Bemis said.
On the entree side of the menu, try the crispy-skinned and uber-tender Jidori (which is to say free-range, vegetarian poultry) chicken breast, served with a few fried green tomatoes and a sweet potato hash with chorizo on the side.
For another summer barbecue-inspired dish, order the half rack of dry aged prime beef ribs, which are dry rubbed with a blend of 15 spices, dry roasted and finished with a spicy-and-sweet habanero whiskey barbecue sauce. Served with a side of rich mashed potatoes and a modernized version of succotash, made with fava beans and some roasted-til-sweet tomatoes, it’d be next to impossible to eat the whole dish and still be hungry.
The menu at Atwater is broad, with inspiration coming from cuisine from around the state as well as the world. But there’s one common thread that binds it all together: Memories.
“Good food either makes a memory or strikes a memory,” Bemis said.