Any restaurateur worth his weight in prime rib knows that location can present both a challenge and an opportunity. So in early 2014, when longtime Summit foodies Bobby Kato, Ryan Worthen, and John Tuso had the chance to buy a freestanding building with plenty of parking on the west end of Frisco Main Street, they didn’t balk at the fact that multiple restaurants (most recently, Cowboy Pizza Station) had failed in the same location. And once they bought it, they didn’t hesitate to spend a small fortune gutting the place and completely redesigning its interior. The result, a carnivore’s delight called Tavern West, opened in September with enough culinary mojo that it may become the first eatery to stay the course long-term in Frisco’s west end.
“I’m not afraid of that part of town,” says Kato, 60, a Denver native and Summit resident of 39 years who launched the first of his four restaurants, El Rio, even farther west on Main Street in 1993. “The bottom line is, location is only so much; if you’ve got a good restaurant, people will come to you.”
Tavern West seems to be proving Kato’s point so far. The bar and dining areas—separated by partitions but still part of the same great room—were buzzing on a midweek evening in early November, before high season commenced. Some had come to watch football and enjoy happy-hour drinks and appetizers, including pork-belly lettuce wraps and “crispy kalettes”: baby kale and brussels sprout hybrids fried to a crisp, then drizzled with lemon juice and butter. Others came for Tavern West’s main attraction: the all-natural, non-GMO meat. Options range from rotisserie chicken to Norwegian salmon to a bone-in, dry-aged, fourteen-ounce New York strip.
Offering such a protein-heavy menu is the big idea here, which Kato, Worthen, and Tuso conceived over “one or two martinis,” Kato allows. “We thought, Let’s do something that no one else is doing around here,” explains Kato, who also owns the seasonal Island Grill at Frisco Bay Marina and, with Tuso, co-owns the Incline Bar & Grill at Copper Mountain. “Just center-cut, quality meats, and we produce them in four different ways: smokers over cherrywood, a French rotisserie, a wood-burning grill that we cook our steaks and seafood on, and a flat-top griddle that we’re doing our lamb and beef burgers on.”
Worthen, the 35-year-old executive chef and graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago who moved to Summit after cooking at fine-dining restaurants in the Windy City, designed the menu. The wood-burning grill, he points out, burns oak, cherry, apple, and peach woods, searing distinctive smoky flavor into cuts that vary by the week. “We want to keep a constantly evolving menu and keep people interested,” Worthen says.
Vegetable fans won’t go hungry: aside from starters like the “kalettes,” Tavern West offers an earthy wild mushroom and asparagus risotto that features four kinds of mushrooms—shiitake, maitake, oyster, and cremini—and five cheeses—aged white cheddar, aged Gruyère, asiago, parmesan, and pecorino romano. But the dish is frankly best paired with a double-cut pork chop, or a smoked barbecue platter, or maybe a rotisserie suckling pig.
Better bring a couple of hungry friends and share, because with all the tender options tempting meat lovers, picking only one is just too tough to contemplate.
311 W. Main St., Frisco