As we walk into Rye Society, Denver’s newest Jewish deli in the RiNo Art District, it transports us back to Manhattan, but with an ease and openness that we often did not find standing in line in the “big city.” Light pours into the building and cascades onto a small dining area with a few sleek bistro tables and booths where vibrant portraits of well-known Jewish celebrities hang overhead. Old school, octagonal, white porcelain tile traces back with walls of untouched brick towards a large wraparound counter that stands in the middle of the quaint space where we eagerly sample a plate of homemade black & white cookies, babka and rugelach. Glass paneling allows us to witness the main event as we watch consulting chef Ryan Leinonen (previously of Colt & Gray, Trillium and Root Down) smile as he slices up a gleaming hunk of pastrami, flown in from the famous Carnegie Deli, that stacks up to create a truly memorable and hearty sandwich made clearly, with love.
RMFR catches up with Jerrod Rosen, owner of Rye Society, to recount his impressive journey in the hospitality industry, break down the versatile menu and to find out why the idea for a Jewish deli is so necessary, as it thoughtfully integrates a wildly underrepresented style of cultural cuisine in Colorado’s capital.
“We’re going to recreate as best we can the New York-style deli and my family has been doing this for many years,” says Rosen. “My grandparents had a little grocery store with a deli in it years ago and my other grandfather opened a diner in the early ’50s which was very special to me.”
In addition to Rosen’s ancestral ties, he is a true veteran in the culinary world with credentials that harness invaluable knowledge from his time working with respected restaurateurs such as Thomas Keller and Danny Meyer.
“I was cooking everyday with famous chefs,” says Rosen. “Some pretty insane people to be around, in the back of the house, learning everything.”
Rosen says the pure “genius and hospitality focus that was engrained” in him from such mentors is something he was able to harvest and apply towards his future projects, opening Colt & Gray in Denver, working at David Burke’s Primehouse and launching his own hotel restaurant consulting company in Chicago, as well as managing Anchor & Hope and Salt House in San Francisco.
Yet those enviable professional strides did not entirely quench Rosen’s appetite for his own, much-needed concept for a casual delicatessen in Colorado. Today, Rye Society, three years in the making, is a close-to-home progression of generations past in a thoughtful display that celebrates his familiar comfort foods the way his large, close-knit family taught him how.
“I want to bring that overall love of cooking that my family has,” says Rosen. “My grandmother was making her own matzah ball recipe until she was 104 and our pickle recipe has been in the family for over 100 years.”
Rye Society features numerous family recipes that vary in approach with ample salads based on health benefits, “Dr. Rosen’s Feel Good Bowl” courtesy of Rosen’s sister who is a naturopathic doctor; what he refers to as some “pretty good damn chicken noodle soup,” and numerous breakfast and lunch options curated with traditional ingredients.
Slight modern twists and weekend brunch options invite savory egg bowls with lox or take advantage of what Rosen calls a “natural partnership” with Rosenberg’s Bagels, available with numerous sweet or savory shmear options. We recommend the road to brunch euphoria (the combination of breakfast and lunch, not just late breakfast…) via the “Rye Egg Sandwich” that holds slices of melt-in-your-mouth pastrami, sharp Swiss, your choice of a fried or scrambled egg topped off with a generous amount of tangy Russian dressing.
Beyond the expectations of corned beef and smoked salmon are also a plethora of homemade pastries and granola, specialty caviar and bowls of chilled beet borscht or warming Dee Dee’s Matzah ball soup that work with whatever weather patterns Colorado throws at us. An unforeseen, yet amusing signature sandwich that makes us believe in bologna again “The Gentile” is surprisingly pleasing with yes, bologna, white American cheese, a half sour Rosen pickle and creme fraiche served on pillowy brioche.
Rosen even calls his choice location “a return to the neighborhood” since his great grandfather also opened an establishment known as “The Golden Rule” in 1922 on the nearby corner of 38th Street and Walnut Street, so it seems fitting that Rye Society continues to grow his family’s roots within the hip, thriving thoroughfare.
When you visit Rye Society, Rosen almost guarantees that “you will see me” and it’s obvious through our experience that his entire family has a genuine presence. The media event we attend feels more like an intimate gathering and makes the space truly full, warm and embraces the natural and recurring theme of eating around the kitchen table with our own loved ones.
“I wanted to come back to Denver, where my family was with their support,” says Rosen. “The deli’s path is a community thing and we want it to be very welcoming.”
*Header image courtesy of Rye Society