2550 E. Colfax Avenue, Denver CO 80206 (map); 303-355-1112; encoreoncolfax.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Restaurant that specializes in local food and pretty people puts out an outstanding burger.
Want Fries With That? Yes, please. The hand cut fries are served with a nice tangy mustard sauce.
I've become sufficiently confident in my ability to research restaurants and gauge the value of various online reviews that I tend to insist on picking restaurants when traveling, even if I'm staying with locals. I am more than happy to make exceptions when I have faith in the people I'm visiting, but neither my older sister nor her husband fall into that category. So I was a bit reluctant to check out Encore Restaurant for brunch upon their recommendation during a recent trip to Denver.
Encore opened in 2007 in the rehabbed and reconfigured Lowenstein Theater, a beautiful example of modern architecture that sadly stood unused for 20 years until 2005. When we got to Encore, I had every intention of getting something on the breakfast side of lunch under the assumption that pretty much every restaurant can make decent eggs and pancakes. But when I walked into the place and saw a little sign indicating that 5280 Magazine had declared Encore to have the best burger in Denver in 2009, my AHT instincts kicked in and my order was decided.
Now, having eaten the burger and tried some of most of the other entrées at the table, I am happy to report that I've been knocked off my high horse regarding my sister and brother-in-law's culinary tastes. Actually, that's a lie—I will file this under, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut," but this was one delicious burger.
Every single element of the burger was excellent. The well toasted bun is a sesame seed brioche that was much less sweet than any brioche I'd had before, which I appreciated. The rich brioche with the little bit of sweetness was particularly nice to balance out the excellent but salty Gruyère-bacon-bleu cheese compote that sits atop the burger. The compote is made from caramelized onions, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, and chopped bacon. The ingredients are simmered together with some cream until it reduces to the proper consistency, and the result is an outstanding tangy, creamy, salty, rich, gooey cheese-esque topping.
The compote and bun are good, but no burger is going to make me swoon unless the patty is great. The burgers at Encore are made for them by a local butcher who sources grass-fed, hormone-free beef from all over Colorado, with particular emphasis on the northeast part of the state. The 10-ounce patties are grilled in a pull-out broiler that sits inside the wood-burning pizza oven. Thanks to the high heat, the patty has a nice bit of char on it. The drawback of the high heat is that it makes it that much harder to pull the burger out when it's rare—mine was cooked to medium-rare. Despite the extra time on the grill, this was one juicy burger with enough pink to make me happy.
The fresh fries are cut in house and cooked perfectly with a crisp exterior and a soft interior. They are well salted and flavorful enough that, on their own, Westword, Denver's weekly alternative newspaper, may well have named them best fries in Denver in 2008 and 2009. But what really makes Encore's fries stand out is the housemade mustard that is basically a combination of spicy Chinese mustard and mayonnaise. The mustard drizzle has enough heat to make you sit up and take notice, but not so much that it overwhelms the fresh potato flavor.
I should mention that, in addition to the burgers, thanks to my generous tablemates I was also able to to try one of the pizzas, the blueberry-lemon ricotta pancakes, and the breakfast burrito smothered in green chili. Everything was worth going back to try again. Denver doesn't have a great reputation as a food town, but Encore could hold its own anywhere.