Review by: Denver Post
Sugarmill opened on a burgeoning stretch of the Ballpark neighborhood in late 2013, with deserved buzz about its dessert-centric menu that seemed set on satisfying Denver’s collective sweet tooth.
But there is more going on in the kitchen than just creative takes on tiramisu and pineapple upside-down cake.
Part of restaurateur Troy Guard’s holdings ( TAG, Guard and Grace, Los Chingones, among others) this spot at 2462 Larimer St. serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a rotating array of protein-driven dishes and seasonal sides.
Noah French is the chef. You can find him there most days, working behind the exposed line in a spacious kitchen, turning out dishes such as pan-roasted asparagus, salmon crudo, black kale salad and a clever take on beef Wellington that the victorious duke himself would have approved. Napoleon, too, for that matter.
Sugarmill is a cheery room with lots of sunshine, thanks to a roll-up garage door that opens onto the restaurant’s sidewalk patio. A marble bar fronts a spacious kitchen, and a community table flanks two- and four-tops on the dining room’s oak floor. On the east wall is a mural of the interior of a 19th-century sugar factory.
Business seems brisk, a mix of day workers and folks making an evening trek for noshing and nightcaps off a smart wine and cocktail list.
No surprise there. Along with a knowledgeable staff, French has assembled a thoughtful menu that reflects what is going on in local fresh markets. Prices are reasonable. Small plates are in the $4-$7 range. Entrées run $14-$22.
“A lot of people think we’re just about desserts,” French said on a recent afternoon. “We’re trying to get word out that we’re a lot more than that.”
A starter of gnocchi ($9) won us over with thimble-sized dumplings dressed with shelled English peas, ham and a snowy pile of microplaned Parmesan cheese. The dumplings were dense but tender, and pan-crisped. Excellent.
A chilled salad of grilled shrimp with farro, mixed greens, tomato and herb dressing was generally a winner, though the raw fennel seemed to vie with tarragon in the creamy dressing. In any event, a lot of licorice notes were going on, and I thought the plump shrimp could have used some citrus oomph. But the dish was well-composed and a heaping helping at $12.
We liked a summery, garden-green fettucine tossed with pesto. It arrived in an appealing tangle, with bits of house-roasted chicken and that grated Parmesan.
But the star was the beef Wellington.
When prepared for a party, a whole tenderloin is sheathed in puff pastry, and everyone is served at once. But how to do it in a restaurant, where a whole shift might pass without an order?
French’s solution: Coat individual beef filets with minced mushrooms, wrap each in a puff pastry, then fire in the oven as necessary. The result was a juicy, mushroom-covered steak with a golden, flaky crust. A radish salad on the side injected bright notes.
A lunch visit was hit and miss. The house salad — a mix of kale, red cabbage, pistachios and sliced Medjool dates — needed more of the white balsamic vinaigrette.
A pulled-chicken sandwich had promising elements: tender roasted bird, Muenster cheese, tomatoes, caramelized onions and pesto on toasted wheat. But a bit more salt on the chicken — or somewhere — would have pushed the oddly under-seasoned dish to the level to which it aspired.
A pineapple upside-down cake used fresh, caramelized pineapple and was redolent of brown sugar. The cake, finished with toasted coconut, boasted a beautiful crumb. Arrive at the right time and you can watch French break down the pineapple himself, a great way to pick up some knife tips. Oh, THAT’S how it’s done.
Finally, a chocolate peanut brûleé was a model of color, flavor and all-around architecture. The beige-and-brown slab was piled with meticulously arranged raspberries and paired with a scoop of coffee ice cream.
While Sugarmill isn’t perfect, French and his crew delight enough of the time to make this a restaurant worth visiting.
Find out more at Top Brunch Spots.
William Porter: 303-954-1877, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/williamporterdp
2461 Larimer St., 303-297-3540 sugarmilldesserts.com
** Very Good
Atmosphere: Casual contemporary
Service: Friendly, and able to navigate diners through the menu
Beverages: Beer, wine, cocktails
Plates: Small plates, $4-$7; entrees, $14-$22; desserts, $9-$12
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.