First Bite: Hey Kiddo
Chef and restaurateur Kelly Whitaker’s latest three-in-one concept in Denver’s Berkley neighborhood lives up to its hype.
In the Berkley neighborhood at the boutique Asher Hotel on Tennyson, chef and restaurateur Kelly Whitaker has created a three-for-one epicurean destination that’s on everybody’s hot list right now. I stopped by for dinner last weekend to see what the fuss is about.
What I found are three spots that are funky, fun, delicious—and totally unpredictable.
That’s because Whitaker doesn’t do predictable. A predictable restaurant would be on the ground floor, but to get to Hey Kiddo—arguably one of Denver’s hippest yet, according to Axios—you’ll need to take an elevator to the third. Then to get to Ok Yeah, a hidden little cocktail bar serving “conversation-based” drinks and a selection of hand rolls, head to the back of the dining room. To get to The Rooftop, well, that’s obvious: head to the rooftop, where you’ll find bubbly libations, rotating dim sum snacks, and views you can feast your eyes on for days.
Three concepts, all under one roof (except for the one that’s over it)? Yep. It’s unexpected, but that’s to be expected from Whitaker’s Id Est Hospitality Group (Brutø, Basta, and the Wolf’s Tailor, which Bon Appétit named one of the ten best new restaurants in the country in 2019. Anyone who’s dined there will tell you the editors were right.)
Each of the three new concepts—Hey Kiddo, Ok Yeah, and The Rooftop—has a different purpose, vibe, and menu. (Except for Ok Yeah, which has no menu.) You should go check them out. Like, now. But I don’t have a reservation, you’re thinking, I’ll never get in. That was my fear, too. But Hey Kiddo only takes reservations for large parties; most of the tables in the 45-seat space are held for walk-ins, which are encouraged. At Ok Yeah, only six of the intimate spot’s 16 seats are available for reservation each night. And up on The Rooftop, it’s first-come, everyone served. There’s plenty of seats—and during the summer, there’s gonna be a rolling spritz cart serving them. As for now, they can enjoy innovative cocktails and a rotating menu of dim sum dishes.
You have more questions, like what’s with the names? Whitaker took a trip to Hokkaido, Japan, and when he was telling someone about it, they said it sounded like he was saying “Hey Kiddo.) So it’s a Japanese restaurant? Nope. And before you ask, Ok Yeah came from the phrase you’ll hear from the bartenders after you tell them what you’re in the mood to quaff.
So what is Hey Kiddo, if it’s not a Japanese restaurant? It’s not an easy concept to define. Hey Kiddo incorporates all of the practices that Id Est has developed over the years, from an emphasis on regenerative agriculture to embracing unique ingredients, but with a concentration on something a little simpler: fun. The whole thing is wrapped in the idea of good and fun. Whitaker told the Westword when he announced the concept that “some fun places just aren’t good, and some good places just aren’t fun.”
Hey Kiddo and Ok Yeah are good and fun, start to finish. And they don’t finish until midnight, making these spots the go-to gathering place for people who spent their evening cooking or serving or pouring at other restaurants around town.
At Ok Yeah, led by bar manager Davey Anderson (formerly of Death & Co.), bartenders inquire what kind of cocktail you fancy and then carve cubes of ice from a large block that serves as the space’s centerpiece to make your custom beverage.
At Hey Kiddo, complexity meets creativity with a menu of dishes that draw inspiration from all corners of the globe. This isn’t your average New American spot, nor is it a fusion joint. It’s a True American concept that celebrates the diverse traditions and techniques of our country. The menu is a story without labels, showcasing the best of in-house fermentation, locally sourced ingredients, and a commitment to zero-waste in the kitchen.
At Hey Kiddo, they’re serving up true American cuisine created in a funky, playful space with an open-concept kitchen designed by Kevin Nguyen of Regular Architecture. There’s an inordinate level of attention to detail and care that went into every aspect of the experience, from the menus to the layout to the lighting to the mirror-free bathrooms. (Unless you count the tile-sized mirrors askew amid the colorful tiles.)
Whitaker collaborated with Chef Deuki Hong from The Sunday Group out of San Francisco on the menu. Author of Koreatown: A Cookbook, Hong has done popups in Denver with Whitaker in the past, and his influence is apparent in several standout dishes
The focused menu is small but mighty, featuring flavors and techniques from across the globe. You can get oysters and caviar (of which there are three kinds to choose from: house, domestic, and bling, bling), or you can get K-town fried chicken breaded with heirloom grains. Or you can choose from five small shareables, four centerpieces, and five accompaniments, which is what we did, opting to start with the dry age carpaccio and caesar salad, with duck with char siu and yolk and half lobster with house kosho butter as our mains. Bucatini noodle with fermented black beans and shaken chef rice—a nod to Korean school lunches that get shaken in children’s backpacks on their way to class—rounded out our order.
The selections are protein-heavy now, but that’ll change come spring when farms begin harvesting local produce. Jonas Zukosky, who previously ran the pasta program at Wolf’s Tailor, is Ok Yeah’s chef de cuisine, so more carb-loaded options are also to be expected in the near future.
Whitaker describes the place as a “cocktail-forward” concept, and the drink menu is appropriately impressive. I suggest you try the fantômas, a neon blue concoction topped with an impressive amount of egg white foam. (I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to make an egg white cocktail but I have and I’m not good at it…yet. Practice makes perfect practicing is delicious.)
As for the wine list, there’s a lot to love, including two GSMs—grenache, syrah, mourvedre—a red blend that’s always delicious, peppery yet refreshing. Ok Yeah has one by the glass (Land of Saints out of California, $14) and another the bottle (Clos St. Antonin from Cotes du Rhone, $78). To help you navigate the varietal offerings, the color-coded drink menu offers quippy descriptions to guide you. If you want a “wild one” with “growling tannins,” the Pinot Noir from Chateau de la Terrière is for you. The Hundred Suns “tualatin estate” gamay is “like potting new irises, earthy and floral…” There’s one described as a “Cali zin after studying abroad in France;” another that’s “rustic and driving, like a horse-drawn tractor.”
It’s all very fun. Equally delicious. And totally worth the hype.
Hey Kiddo | 4337 tennyson st. # 300, Denver | 720.778.2877. | hk-oy.com