Take it from someone who’s seen it all – the delis of New York, the cafes of Paris, the food stalls in Bangkok: When you stumble upon a gem like American Elm, you don’t just savor the meal; you linger, maybe pen a long, pensive postcard to your ex just to make them a tad bit jealous. And then order another drink.
In the heart of Denver’s West Highland neighborhood, a titan of a tree reigns supreme. Much like a fashion-forward Brooklyn hipster at a country club, the American Elm tree demands attention at the center of the restaurant’s sprawling patio. It’s the kind of ambiance that screams, “Take an Instagram pic or it didn’t happen.”
But let’s roll back a bit, shall we? The soul of American Elm can be traced back to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Owner Bob Reiter’s adventures among the urban pioneers of Williamsburg brewed the idea of a bistro where high-end collides with laid-back. I suppose one could call it the culinary equivalent of pairing a designer bag with vintage Levi’s.
Enter stage right: Chef Daniel Mangin, the gastronomic wizard behind the current late-summer menu. Chef Mangin, who once walked the line in Jacksonville before sharpening his knives amid Chicago’s culinary elite, told me, “Here, it’s like everyone’s goal is ‘make more delicious food.’” Simple and to the point.
A standout dish that left me contemplating my existence was the scallop plate. The pickled ginger adds a twangy, spicy punch, the sort of surprise a food critic lives for. “Eating it cohesively with everything makes all the flavors meet,” says the chef, underscoring the meld of flavors. It’s the kind of dish that makes you want to stand up and applaud.
If carbs are more your jam, then the Lemon Maiale Rigatoni might just be the sonnet to your soul. As Chef Mangin aptly puts it, it’s a “super high—like, high-high—quality ingredient, very low technique dish.” And the buttermilk pie? Let’s just say it’s the kind of dessert that inspires sonnets and, maybe, mild stalking of the pastry chef.
But perhaps the belle of the ball was the half chicken. Prepared with spaetzle, heirloom carrots, and Argentinian-style salsa verde, it tasted like a long-lost love letter to all poultry.
When asked to describe the cuisine, Mangin encapsulated it as “New American.” But to me, American Elm feels like a culinary globe-trotter that’s settled in Denver, bringing tales and tastes from across the world, yet always paying homage to its roots.
The curtain falls, and as summer says its goodbye, American Elm’s late-summer menu shines, highlighting underappreciated veggies and redefining American cuisine. So, if you’re looking for a place that’s as quirky and innovative as a hipster’s beard but offers the comfort of a hometown diner, American Elm might just be your next gastronomic crush.
Whatever you do, get the Buttermilk Pie. If you don’t? Well, that’s on you.