Pop-up restaurants are (ahem) popping up all over the country, especially in big cities. Some chefs use them as a low cost way to try out a new menu concept and host the dinners for multiple days in a row to garner interest or attract investors. Others create companies that live entirely outside the brick-and-mortar, exclusively hosting weekend pop-up dinners or one-time events for special occasions. No matter the reason, a pop-up is a fun way to create a unique dining experience using an existing space to host a meal. You’ll find them in fancy homes, abandoned buildings, or located inside your favorite restaurants.
A few months ago, Zach Williams and Colin Brunson of 2nd Deli and Spirits caught the pop-up bug, and I, for one, am stoked. These lords of sammiches are thinking outside the bun and working with local chefs to give the people of Durango a one-time dining event. It’s really a win-win; we get a great meal complete with beverage pairings. The chef gets the opportunity to have some fun, cooking up new and exciting foods they may not be able to make on the regular at their restaurant. The first dinner featured John Fletcher from Dalton Ranch, who was serving up authentic Italian food with wine pairings. Next up was Ken Thers of Hot Tomatoes coursing out a Nordic-style meal.
Sadly, I didn’t make it to either of these dinners. By the time I heard about the event, they were already sold out. The deli isn’t exactly huge, so seating is limited to about 30 seats. That means these events get exclusive, fast. I was beginning to think I’d never sneak my way in. I watched Facebook like a hawk, hoping to be one of the first to know about dinner number three. There it was: a menu for a five-course Southern-style meal from Neal Drysdale, a talented chef well known for using local ingredients and making everything as from scratch as possible. This one I definitely could not miss. Plus, I’m not sure I’ve had good Southern meal since Drysdale’s Fifth Street Eatery closed down. I practically ran down to 2nd Deli to buy my tickets. Although they had just posted the dinner, the tickets were almost sold out, so the running was completely justified.
It was one best dinners I’ve had in a long time, and I can never have it again. Maybe that’s what made it so good – I didn’t spend time inspecting the menu or wondering what to order. When the food came, there was no question whether I should have gotten the steak instead of the fish or if the grilled broccolini would have been a better side dish. The menu was what it was, and every bite was better than the last. Gulf shrimp fritters over grits, homemade hickory-smoked bologna with pimento cheese, sweet corn and crab salad, fried chicken and waffles with bourbon-infused maple syrup, and a buttermilk pie topped with a molasses-sweetened cream fluff. I almost never order dessert, but it came coursed with the meal and I’m glad it was forced upon me. That pie was so captivating, I’m still dreaming about it. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed and had a nice buzz going from the cocktail presented with each plate.
The food was amazing, but the experience was better. The vibe inside 2nd Deli was absolutely buzzing. Although they didn’t change the layout or move the tables at all, the event completely transformed the space. The collective excitement of everyone who showed up made a regular deli feel like an intimate dining space. We were all in it together, sharing an experience, and I felt welcomed as soon as I entered the room. I ran into old friends and met a few new ones gathered together at the community tables. It was really something special.
Rumor has it that the next Guest Chef night is Cliff Bornheim of the Ore House, and they seem to hit around the third Tuesday each month. They’ll have no problem selling out, so my advice to you is to act fast: if you see the post hit their Facebook, run (not walk) to pick up your tickets.
— Lindsay Mattison