DENVER – On a Monday evening, the urbane and cosmopolitan Chillfire Bar & Grill is hopping.
The parking valet stands at attention ready to take keys. Two customers arrive at the door – she in a trendy mini dress and strappy sandals, and he in khakis and a collared shirt. They are immediately seated in a cozy corner by the faux flames embedded in a wall, letting them chill by the fire.
The waitstaff glides through the sophisticated setting like actors from central casting dressed in blue jeans, crisp white collared shirts and black aprons.
It’s hard to believe this is Denver and not Uptown Charlotte or Birkdale Village. The lucky locals are taking full advantage and packing the place.
Partial owner and partner Jim Morasso is originally from New Jersey. He has been working in the restaurant business for quite some time. He has spent time with Houstons, TGIFridays and Harper’s Group.
He owns Epic Chophouse with partner Larry “Mooch” Sponaugle, who also worked together at Lavecchia's Seafood Grille, Frank Manzetti's and The Boathouse in Charleston, S.C.
The other two names behind Chillfire are Larry and Sheree Griffin of Griffin Tire, who were willing to pound a nail or push a broom to get the restaurant open, according to Morasso.
In fact, Sheree Griffin designed the entire interior of Chillfire which used to be a Blockbuster Video. There are handmade vintage-style double doors to welcome customers. On the outdoor patio, two fans poke through an actual Davidson College racing scull secured to the roof. There is a walk-in, phone booth-style glass wine case that reaches the ceiling. Not to mention the towering bar with a library-style wooden ladder bartenders must climb to reach the top shelf.
Speaking of top shelf, Chillfire offers the customer an excellent value when it comes to adult beverages.
“The industry standard for a pour of wine is 5 ounces,” Morasso explained. “We do an 8-ounce pour. That is one-third of the bottle.”
Plus the call liquor is top shelf. For example, if a customer orders a gin and tonic, they will receive Beefeater Gin and a 2-ounce pour instead of the industry standard of 1 1/4-ounce pour. There is also an excellent selection of beers with 12 craft selections on tap. And the price points are the same as other local restaurants.
The menu is carefully crafted with the talents of Head Chef Jon Spencer and the partners. The restaurant is only open for dinner so there are many entrée options: pasta, seafood, salads, poultry and steaks. The duck is a large portion of succulent meat and the steaks are aged at least 30 days for ultimate tenderness and taste.
“I’d put us up against any Uptown steakhouse,” Morasso said. “But we’re closer and not as expensive!”
Other must-try items are the croissant with honey butter and cheesy bread, which are as close to carbohydrate heaven as you are going to get.
Although the restaurant opened in May 2013, there are already regulars. Skip and Linda Beeler have already eaten at the restaurant several times.
“The food is just so excellent,” Linda Beeler said. “We are taking my dad here as a treat.”
Her father is taking a break from a huge plate of Chicken and Drop Dumplings.
“I think he’s going to end up taking some home,” said Linda Beeler, laughing. “The portions are just so huge!”
Morasso is proud of Chillfire but will continue to make improvements to the menu and customer service.
“We interviewed 550 people for various jobs when we first opened,” he said. “We only hired 52 out of that bunch.” Morasso is still working with the front of the house to create the best possible experience for the customer.
“We really believe that dining can be excellent in Denver,” Morasso said.
Chillfire proves his point.