For choice — and choice cuts of meat — there’s Work & Class
Author: Maggie Tharp - March 9, 2014 - Updated: March 9, 2014
Science tells us that having too many choices can be almost debilitating and can, contrary to what you might think, cause us to be less happy with our ultimate decision because of the nagging feeling that we could have done better. But what if every choice is equally tantalizing, delicious and satisfying as is the case at one of Denver’s newest restaurants, Work & Class?
The first choice you make is forgoing some of Denver’s more bustling streets for the quiet corner of 25th and Larimer in Denver’s RiNo district where W&C sits. On a Wednesday evening not a month from its late January opening, the surrounding streets were empty in a ghost town kind of way, odd considering the temperate, low-50s weather. In sharp contrast to the empty streets, the interior of the building, which comprises 1,400 square feet and some change, was full to bursting with furniture, servers and diners.
Owners, and partners, Delores Tronco and Tony Maciag, who both worked in management at Euclid Hall and other Denver restaurants, chose the name Work & Class to characterize the type of clientele they wanted to attract: the Working Class, which was the original name they chose, morphed into the shortened version simply because that’s what Working Class sounds like if you say it fast enough. Their slogan — “A square meal, a stiff drink, and a fair price” — perfectly captures the market they’re trying to tap; the people who, even if they can afford it, don’t want to hit up a flashy, trendy restaurant every night. They want the choice of something more low-key but they don’t want to sacrifice flavor or atmosphere.
The minute you walk in the door, you can tell that Work & Class is different. It isn’t the least bit pretentious, and the comfort level of the crowd leads you to believe this place has been open a lot longer than a month. There’s a bar to the left of the door, and when wait times for a table are high, I’ve heard they offer $4 drinks. They don’t take reservations, so come early and on off-days if you don’t like to wait. We arrived around 5:30 p.m. and were seated immediately at their high, curved countertop, which fences in the open kitchen. Other diners sat at tables skirting the windowed outer wall or the inner, mural-adorned one, or at a central, communal table.
Crowded, yes, but the cramped atmosphere felt more like a house party than a restaurant, and sitting at the high-top counter with charming glass jars of staple foods (nuts, spices) spaced along the bar was like being at one of those gatherings where everyone ends up in the kitchen because that’s where you’ll find the best smells, the most warmth, and the loudest laughter.
I always, always prefer to see into the kitchen of a restaurant if I can. Just like growing your own food or brewing our own beer can make you better appreciate the end product, watching the effort that goes into preparing a meal makes me savor the result that much more. (Not to mention it’s a way to gain some kitchen savvy; Bones restaurants’ open kitchen was where I learned the proper way to season fried Brussels sprouts.) W&C’s open kitchen is chock-full of prepped food: juicy, dripping rotisserie chickens; trays stuffed with golden bricks of cornbread. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to start eating.
To start, my dining companion and I ordered the Massive Attack Salad ($5/half portion, $10/full). The star here is undoubtedly the tempura broccoli, fried so lightly that the vegetable (more delicate than its workhorse cousin cauliflower) retains its shape under a thin, crisp tempura coating. The asparagus, avocado, pecorino cheese, spinach and cucumbers are just supporting players, but the whole dish, dressed in preserved lemon vinaigrette, is addictive. Sitting by the bar, we were also lucky
enough to have one of the chefs pass us an amuse-bouche: a tiny, impossibly airy cube of fried polenta topped with a house-made relish.
The menu set-up is reminiscent of the barbecue restaurants I grew up with in North Carolina. Pick your meat; pick your two sides. Done. Diners can choose from Coriander-Roasted Colorado Lamb, Red Chile-Braised Pork, Stout-Braised Short Ribs, Roasted Goat, Cornmeal Fried Catfish, or two kinds of rotisserie chicken (Buffalo-style or Rosemary); and you can pick from ¼ pound, ½ pound or a full pound, for prices ranging from $6-$7 for the ¼ pound and up to $21 for a full pound.
Our dinners, buffalo-style and rosemary chicken, came out in quaint metal pans. Both types of chicken were fantastic, the buffalo being my favorite for its amped-up taste and side cup of spicy sauce. I should have thought to request a particular cut of the chicken, which I’m sure you can do, but I was satisfied nonetheless with the meaty thigh I got. The portions are large, but not excessive. And while it likely wouldn’t satisfy a coal miner after a long day’s work, it’s sustenance enough for the average office worker in Denver.
Sides were just as good and even more numerous. In addition to the roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato hash we chose, they also have fried plantains, sweet potato fries, chickpea croquettes, and a various other dishes, ranging from safe to adventurous. Their slogan promises “a square meal,” which wouldn’t be complete without bread; $2.50 will get you your choice of biscuit, cornbread, plain-old bread, tortillas or more.
Choices, indeed. Hypothetically, one could eat at W&C every night of the week and not repeat the same combination for months, perhaps longer if you factor in appetizers and drinks. The amount of do-it-yourself might be daunting to some, but for others (self included) picking exactly what you’re craving, sitting in a room that’s as cozy as your own kitchen, and having said cravings served to you hot and fresh is exactly what you need after a long day’s work.
Work & Class
2500 Larimer St., Denver, Colorado 80205
Hours: Tues.-Thu., 4-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 4-11 p.m., Sun., 4-10 p.m.
Maggie Tharp is and always will be passionate about eating and writing about good food. She lives with her husband and kittens in Westminster and has dined in Denver, Boulder, Longmont, Vail and beyond. Maggie can be reached at email@example.com.