It's no surprise that Chef Clint Wangsnes, formerly with Asian-Latin fusion restaurant Zengo, and his business partner and beverage expert Christian Anderson chose East Colfax Avenue in Denver for Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery. This cutting-edge restaurant has a singular focus: making chef-driven food quick, accessible even for families and affordable. They serve up tasty meals in an atmosphere that's both casual and inviting.
At Chop Shop, the short ribs arrive fast but are first cooked for 48 hours — Photo courtesy of Christopher Bobek / Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
The concept of “fast” at Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery is misleading. It refers only to how quickly your food is delivered once you make your choices at the order counter. It has nothing to do with how the food is prepared or cooked. In fact, that part is all about “slow” for some dishes. There are 48-hour slow-cooked short ribs, 72-hour slow-cooked Walla Walla onions and a slow-roasted shaved sirloin French Dip.
Patio seating for 20 expands the restaurant's pleasant space — Photo courtesy of Christopher Bobek / Chop Shop Casual Urban Eatery
Chef Wangsnes had personal impetus for starting the restaurant and embracing a fast-casual approach. As the father of a young child, he wanted to spend more time with his own family and also offer other parents a place where they could get food quickly but also sit and relax with an adult beverage if they wanted to.
To that end, the restaurant offers a children’s menu that skips fried food and instead features dishes similar to what families eat at home: grilled cheese, grilled chicken, grilled steak and pasta, all served with fresh fruit. The steak and chicken also come with mashed potatoes.
The creatively presented crispy fried organic tofu could make a tofu-lover out of almost anyone — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
Then there’s the unusual tap program. Colorado beer, several wines and even a Moscow Mule come from taps, no extensive bar space needed, which keeps the restaurant feeling family-friendly and airy.
As for desserts, truffles, toffee and cupcakes come from The Chocolate Lab, a Denver company making premier desserts for select outlets. So go ahead: get food fast if you need to, but stay to savor and relax if you want to.
Chop Shop's salads are interesting, filling and delicious on their own or along with meat dishes — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
“Chop Shop has been a true labor of love and the result of an idea to provide skillfully crafted, quickly served menu items in a relaxed and price-appropriate manner,” Wangsnes says. “We offer customers the freshest ingredients, highest standards and inventive techniques in Colorado’s newest presentation of quick service meets casual market.”
Located on the corner of East Colfax and tree-shaded Elm, Chop Shop offers wood-topped tables and a neutral palette brightened by eye-catching pops of orange inside in the form of chairs and outside on the patio, where poppy-colored umbrellas rise beside the brick-and-glass building.
More color pops in the window garden below a garage door that opens during nice weather, providing pleasant counter seating that’s breezy on a warm day and romantic on a clear Colorado evening. This is also the spot for excellent people watching, looking out on the sidewalk or back into the open kitchen where cooks prepare a compact but diverse menu.
A large garage door opens to bring the neighborhood in and take the restaurant into the community — Photo courtesy of Christine Loomis
The urban eatery fits right in with its surroundings. Drive down East Colfax, and you can almost see the neighborhood’s gritty past dissolving in your rearview mirror. Some old structures and businesses happily remain – especially the music venues like The Bluebird Theater, the Ogden and the Fillmore Auditorium – but even they are experiencing new life today on the street locals have dubbed “Coolfax.”
This is where the venerable Tattered Cover Bookstore opened an expansive location, in the historic Bonfils-Lowenstein Theater and next to Twist & Shout, one of Denver’s best record shops. It’s also where authentic ethnic eateries have been popping up for several years, along with yoga studios and other vestiges of today’s active, engaged population.
And, now, it's where Chop Shop serves up fast, casual and delicious food. The restaurant is open for lunch starting at 11 a.m. Dinner ends at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.