Morning Collective, a new brunch destination in Denver, hosted their grand opening on Monday, April 3. Prior to the big day they invited RMFR to partake in brinner and sample some of their A.M. elixirs. We sat down with partner and executive chef, Joseph Strelnik, to find out his inspiration behind the quaint, focused concept that surrounds the most important meal of the day.
“I like to twist things around classic concepts and this is like home” says Strelnik. “I grew up in Pennsylvania and used to cook a lot with my Mom. The only thing my Dad used to make was grilled cheese and pancakes, but it was real special when he did it. So there’s emotion attached to this. When you start cooking that way you start thinking about the way you grew up and how you got there. It makes you more sensitive to the guest and you want to do better for them. If you can make them close their eyes and go somewhere cool, that’s what it’s really all about. If you can get an emotional response, that’s what I think every chef should strive for.”
Strelnik takes his happy childhood memories all the way down to the aesthetics with retro farmhouse decor. “The 1952 wallpaper is really from 1952. There were 10 roles in existence and we bought them all. Even the wainscoting is the same color as the house I grew up in.”
“I wanted an insightful, neat place but still be kind of zen about it. Something that intrigues you but approachable. It’s comfort. Happy, cozy.”
The menu offers traditional breakfast options but also caters to a multitude of dietary needs. We had a taste of a few different items to pull from both sides of the spectrum.
Coffee-braised pork belly and eggs or a stacked benedict with bacon hollandaise sit across from “crave and behave” options like the super dooper bowl. Made with ancient grains, seasonal vegetables, roasted tomato broth with poached eggs and olive oil-pistachio pesto.
The “daily breads” consists of traditional, sweet and seasonal pancakes or French toast, which can all be prepared gluten sensitive. We tried the stuffed pistachio tres leche, the strawberry cheesecake and s’mores. Surprisingly, none of them were super sweet. With their location on the Green Mile, we found the pistachio to be our apros pos favorite.
“I have a sweet tooth and breakfast is the only meal period where you can make a dessert a meal,” says Strelnik. “So why not have molten pancakes.”
Morning Collective’s cocktails tout their functional ice cubes as a creative solution to prevent watered down drinks. The Electric Dreamsicle, their take on a screwdriver, has orange juice, vanilla ice cubes, vanilla cream and Elevate vodka. The hard horchata iced latte comes with homemade horchata, CODA cold brew coffee, horchata ice and coffee liquor.
“It’s a culinary approach to drink ideation,” says Strelnik. “I’m not a bartender but I am a chef.” Who shares that he just starting experimenting with tossing ingredients into iSi canisters after watching a diner crank out coffee ice cubes.
Strelnik maintains a level of transparency and humility in his culinary process and fully acknowledges that he’s, “not the first dude to make s’mores pancakes.”
He intends to leave pretentiousness behind along with his fine dining background. After attending Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, Strelnik immersed himself in the world of white table cloths. He cooked alongside famous chefs in Wales, France, on the Isle of Wight, and New York. He spent two years operating the fine dining division for Norwegian Cruise Lines out of Hawaii and went on to serve as a sushi chef in Vegas before moving to Colorado. Strelnik found Snooze eateries in 2010, and went forward to become their executive chef, overseeing their culinary program, and opening the Ft. Collins and South Glen locations.
Strelnik hopes to bring his skills and funky approach to his new venture at Morning Collective with a clear idea of why brunch is such an opportune mealtime.
“Everyone says that family dining is dead but where they went wrong was putting a club sandwich next to stir fry next to a taco,” says Strelnik. “And none of it’s good because you don’t specialize in anything. That’s what makes breakfast cool. You can have something for everybody but still push it.”
The space and the menu offer an East coast diner feel with polished edges. It promotes a simpler time with conservative price tags to match. It’s an affordable, easy-going option for your “Sunday Funday” when tripping up North.
“Food is getting expensive and it’s harder for people to go out to eat,” says Strelnik. “We grew up humbly so my Mom cooked a lot and we didn’t go out to eat very often. But when we did, it was special. Everyone deserves to be together and be taken care of. That’s what I want this place to be. A place for everybody.”