The avocado chicken sandwich, with pulled rotisserie chicken, avocado, cucumbers, cilantro and skyr-lime aioli on grilled ciabatta at Chook Charcoal Chicken in Denver, Sept. 18, 2019. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
There’s a lot of talk these days about sustainable eating, slow food and social responsibility when it comes to what we put on our plates. A. Lot. Of. Talk. But then there are chefs like James Beard Award-winning Alex Seidel (Mercantile Dining & Provision, Fruition Restaurant) who actually cook that talk.
With the opening of Chook Charcoal Chicken in Platt Park last December — with Adam Schlegel (co-founder of Snooze) and Randy Layman (one of the city’s top barmen) — Seidel committed to making more accessible and affordable food while maintaining the same level of purveyors and quality of ingredients as diners would find at his more high-end outlets. That means even though Chook is a fast-casual restaurant where almost everything on the menu is under $11, you’re still getting fresh-baked bread (from Grateful Bread Company and Füdmill Bakery), sustainably sourced meat, local cheeses (from Seidel’s Fruition Farms) and, whenever possible, local vegetables.
Of course, it’s not just that ethos that draws diners in the door. As you might have guessed, Chook (Australian slang for chicken, pronounced like “look”) is all about birds cooked on a rotisserie (a mix of lump hardwood and mesquite charcoal is used on the grills). The concept was inspired by Schlegel’s time living in Melbourne, where chicken shops were part of the fabric of the neighborhoods.
The menu is modest but packed with global flavors from places as varied as Portugal, Argentina and Egypt, and it’s delicious almost across the board. The space is inviting and among the most family-friendly, nonchain restaurants we’ve come across. Servers feel like neighbors: friendly, relatable, but not in your way.
Fast-casual is nothing new in Denver, but Chook brings a dedication to responsible dining, a commitment to sustainable food, and a focus on environmental stewardship (more than 90 percent of the restaurant’s waste is composted or recycled) that sets it apart.
Food: Let’s start with the chicken, because that’s why you’ve come. In short: It’s delicious. The birds are from family-owned Miller Poultry in Indiana. They’re slow-brined overnight, rubbed with a paprika-forward chermoula spice blend, and then loaded onto the rotisserie where they pull smoke from the charcoal and the skin gets wonderfully crispy before being diced into quarters ($6 to $8) or halves ($13) or pulled for sandwiches, salads and stew. Our recommendation: Order a whole chicken ($20) and the Booyah Kit ($10). The provision includes everything you need — a quart of house-made chicken stock, charred veggies, cooked farro and quinoa and, of course, directions — to turn your leftovers into a classic Midwestern soup for lunch or dinner the next day. (It’s part of Chook’s effort to be as close to zero-waste as possible.)
A quarter-, half-, or whole chicken order comes with a sauce pairing. Of the four available, the tangy piri-piri (a brighter, Portuguese take on the typically spicy African version) and not-too-thick gravy will disappear the fastest. The chimichurri was done in by the addition of capers (though if you’re a caper fan, you’ll likely love Seidel’s adaptation), and the macha, a roasted chili sauce, didn’t bring the promised heat.
Of course, chicken alone doesn’t make a meal. Introduce your palate to Chook’s array of flavors by starting with the grilled carrot salad ($6 side, $11 whole). The deceptively simple combination of charred and raw carrots, arugula, quinoa (from Alamosa), dates, feta (from Fruition Farms) and cashew dukkah is well-balanced, allowing you to taste every ingredient while also celebrating the robustness of Middle Eastern flavors.
Pair your main course with a variety of sides. One of the best is the charred mixed vegetables ($5) — a messy tangle of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, all kissed by the grill and then tossed with a bright lemon tahini sauce and more cashew dukkah. We’re also fans of the chook wedges ($5); the potatoes are extra crispy on the outside, covered in chicken salt (a signature blend made by Savory Spice), and paired with a sauce of your choosing. The piri-piri makes a solid match.
A bowl of the Booyah Stew ($5), filled with a heaping portion of chicken, is also available as a side.
Avoid the roasted street corn ($5). Though the ears are perfectly cooked, they are doused in what tastes like so much butter (but perhaps was the lime aïoli?) that they tasted like biting into a handful of movie theater popcorn.
At lunch, the avocado chicken sandwich ($10) was fine but didn’t measure up to the endless other, sandwich options across town. There was a generous serving of chicken, but the ciabatta was over-crisped, and the exciting-sounding skyr-lime aïoli flavor got lost. The cucumbers, however, added a welcome, fresh crunch.
Save some room for a small sweet by Füdmill Bakery, a collaboration between Seidel and chef Keegan Gerhard (the sugar guru behind D Bar Denver). Yes, there’s a rotating selection of cookies (two for $3), and the oatmeal raisin is appealingly chewy and packed with flavor. But to stick with the Australian theme, choose a slice of Lamingtons ($4), a traditional Down Under dessert in which fresh raspberry jam is sandwiched between two halves of moist yellow cake and covered in chocolate and coconut shavings. The small square (you won’t want to share) is light and airy and just the right dose of sweetness you need to close a meal.
Drinks: Seidel and team kept things short and sweet — and focused on sustainability. There are five classic cocktails (all $7), nicknamed “happy pots” because they’re made as batched cocktails that are then portioned out, poured over ice, and served in ultra-quick fashion. (Unfortunately, the Spot-On Negroni wasn’t so spot-on, tasting saccharine and a little off-balance.)
There are four Colorado beers on tap: Great Divide Brewing Company Lager, Odd13 Brewing Codename: Superfan (IPA), Ratio Beerworks Repeater (extra pale ale), and a rotating pour that changes monthly (all start at $4 for 10 ounces).
Vino fans have their choice of three on-tap glasses — red, white or rosé — all of which are available as 4- or 6-ounce pours or a 16-ounce carafe ($4 to $19). The Italian wines come from Attimo, a Denver-based urban winery founded by Jon Schlegel, brother of Adam. The rosé was refreshing a light — a lovely pairing for a mild meal.
Vibe: Chook has contemporary café written all over it, with lots of blond wood, metal, piping and natural light. But there’s also the charcoal-behind-glass art structure by the front door, a vibrant poster wall, and an adorable kids’ play area replete with a magnet wall and books. It’s clearly a space that’s designed to be comfortable for families but also serve as convivial escape on nights when you just can’t bother with cooking.
Service: Surprisingly refined, considering this is a fast-casual spot. From the genial greeting at the counter to the check-ins as food is delivered to your table, the staff at Chook has clearly been well-trained but also encouraged to embody the easygoing, energetic mood of the space. Ask for recommendations (they’ll have many), and then sit back and enjoy.
Bottom Line: Chook is a restaurant to visit often, whether you eat in or swing by for take-out. The food is good — and you can feel good knowing where it came from — the environment is fun, and the prices are reasonable.
Price: Salads and sandwiches ($6 to $11); sides ($4 to $6); chicken ($6 to $20); desserts ($3 to $4); cocktails, beer and wine ($4 to $19)
Fun fact: More chicken is coming: A second location of Chook is expected to open in the Hale neighborhood this fall.
Chook Charcoal Chicken, 1300 S. Pearl St., 303-282-8399, chookchicken.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Reservations: Not accepted. Parking: Street.
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