Ghost kitchens and pop-ups have still been a big part of the conversation since the Pandemic brought dining in to a screeching halt in 2020. Touted by some as a passing fad and others as a revolutionary way to operate a restaurant, ghost kitchens–delivery-only kitchens–were the newest craze to hit the restaurant industry, a creative innovation in response to a devastating hit. Two years later, ghost kitchens are still haunting the restaurant industry here in Denver, with creative, exclusive pop-ups following closely behind as some of the city’s funnest food events.
Ghost kitchens are delivery-only spaces with no front facing presence, but can be found on delivery apps. Often, multiple restaurants occupy the space, each cooking and making food for off-premises consumption that will be whisked away by a local delivery driver.
Some are run by national chain restaurants, and if you didn’t already know that, it might come across as a bit of a surprise to know some of those random food brands you’re seeing on the apps are by popular chains. Former Uber CEO, Travis Kalanic, is operating CloudKitchens, a space that runs multiple ghost kitchens from within its base. California-based Hot Dog spot, Dog Haus, has opened a few concepts like Plant B, Mutha Clucka, and ones set to arrive soon–Huevos Dias and Freiburger.
Others are run by some of Denver’s most popular chefs and restauranteurs, who have adapted the trend into FOMO-inducing concept pop-ups that actually happen in the restaurant. Chef Troy Guard, owner of TAG Restaurant Group which owns the concepts–Guard & Grace, BUBU, FNG, HashTAG, Grange Hall, and Los Chingones. Guard’s latest event is a one-night pop up dedicated to the iconic menu of his old concept, TAG Restaurant, to his current Guard & Grace Steakhouse.
Guard says that while TAG will remain closed, he is “excited to execute many of the most missed dishes from TAG and thrilled for guests to experience this one night only occasion.” The menu will include Guard’s famous Taco Sushi, Kobe Beef Sliders with gorgonzola aioli, caramelized shallots, alongside duck-fat fries, and a Banana Cream Pie. Each course comes with paired cocktails from Beverage Director Nikki Guard, like her Kumquat Jalapeño Mojito and Midnight Espresso Martini. The event takes place next Wednesday, March 23rd (6:30-8:30pm), tickets cost $200 for drinks and $136 without for four, expertly crafted courses. Make your reservation at the Guard & Grace website. Guard anticipates more pop-up concepts in the future, ranging from pizza to Hawaiian, sushi, burgers, and more.
Ghost kitchens also give chefs and restauranteurs the freedom to experiment with concepts or themes. Take chef Bo Porytko, owner of Misfit Snackbar, who created Dill and Dough in 2020 as an ode to the pierogi and other meat-filled doughs. The concept now acts as an annual special, cropping up during Valentine’s Day as Baolentine’s Day, a special one-night event in which there’s a pre-fix menu of innovative dumplings, live music, and cocktails.
Guard shouted out one of his favorites, Split Lip Chicken, a concept with that punky, DIY, weird element we’ve grown to love from the Denver scene, really says it best themselves on their website. “Born from the pandemic, Split Lip, an Eat Place became a platform for classically trained chefs to conceptualize and cook casual food through their professional lens’. Inspired by a city full of transplants, we highlight hyper-regional food alongside the stories, secrets and legends these dishes hold. Our goal is and has always been to tell an American story through food.”
The kitchen comes out of Number 38 where they’re slinging hot chicken, big burgers, and whatever else they decide to throw at you.