Chef Bo Porytko wasn’t always allowed in the kitchen.
“Growing up, I would make varenyky, which is basically a Ukrainian pierogi, with my grandmother, but my other grandmother wouldn’t let me cook,” Porytko said. “I’d be in the kitchen with her all day, eating her food and getting hit with a wooden spoon.”
But when he was 16 years old, and his parents divorced, the New Jersey native became his dad’s own personal chef.
“I was pretty much forced to cook for my dad because he didn’t cook much,” Porytko said. “And then my mom got remarried, and her husband is probably one of the best hobby cooks I’ve ever met. He taught me a bunch, and I realized I really enjoyed it.”
Now, at 39, Porytko is the co-owner of Middleman and Misfit Snack Bar and is getting ready to open an Eastern European restaurant called Molotov Kitschen and Cocktail at 3333 E. Colfax Ave., previously home to To the Wind Bistro, at the end of this year or early next year.
Porytko previously owned Rebel Restaurant, an eclectic RiNo spot with a rotating menu at 3763 Wynkoop St., with his longtime friend Dan Lasiy. But they closed up shop in 2018 when ongoing construction decimated the restaurant’s business, Porytko said.
He then worked at The Bindery in LoHi before Jareb Parker, the owner of Middleman, recruited him to take over the cocktail bar’s kitchen. In 2019, he started Misfit Snack Bar within Middleman at 3401 E. Colfax Ave. The menu, which rotates as often as Porytko gets bored (“which is a lot,” he said), flips bar food on its head. There’s a blooming onion okonomiyaki, a shrimp scampi croquette with roasted garlic compound butter in the center, and a green chili lasagna.
“I don’t know how to run a kitchen,” Parker said. “I was a bartender for 20 years and went to architecture school. Bo and I ended up working so well together, so it was a natural progression to keep working together for Molotov. I couldn’t imagine partnering with anyone else.”
Before starting Misfit Snack Bar, Porytko wanted to open a Eastern European concept called Baba Yaga, a market during the day and restaurant at night with a Byzantine gothic theme, in a larger space, but his funding fell through during the pandemic.
When To the Wind, just down the block from Middleman, closed in May, owner Royce Oliveira gave Porytko the first chance to snag the space.
Molotov Kitschen and Cocktail, which Portyko along with Middleman co-owner Parker and his cousin Charlie Thomas plan to open in January, is an ode to Porytko’s Ukrainian heritage. Both sets of his grandparents emigrated from Ukraine to the United States after World War II.
“I think they would be overjoyed,” Porytko said of his grandparents, who have since passed away. “This would kill them all over again.”
Molotov’s menu will be based in traditional cuisine from Ukraine, Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and Georgia. He plans to serve an elk Sauerbraten, braised duck and sour cherry borscht, patychky (Ukrainian meat on a stick often eaten after church) and rabbit in a clay pot.
“Dan, the previous co-owner of Rebel, and I are both Ukrainian, and we would use whole animals at our restaurant, which came from our upbringing with our Ukrainian grandparents,” Porytko said. “They’d feed us liver, blood sausages, kidneys and hearts when we were little, before we knew to be afraid of those things. Admittedly at some age, you get grossed out by it, but then it becomes nostalgic. So, I want a chance to get a taste of that nostalgia again.”
Porytko plans to eventually open a six-to-eight-person tasting counter, where he will host a Ukrainian-inspired chef’s tasting dinner with a seasonally rotating menu.
Molotov Kitschen and Cocktail is named after the Molotov cocktail, a fire bomb that the people of Finland used to defend themselves against Soviet forces during The Winter War in 1939. And yes, there will be a flaming Molotov cocktail to sip on of course, plus a small wine list with bottles from underrepresented regions, like Lebanon and Croatia.
Porytko also wants to put the “kitsch” in Kitschen. The restaurant’s 800-square-foot space is decorated with quirky cuckoo clocks to make it feel like you’re in your grandmother’s living room. There’s also a wall decorated to look like a vinok, a traditional Ukrainian flower crown that has since become a symbol of peace amidst the war against Ukraine.
“I don’t want to make it seem like I’m doing this to take advantage of a particular time or situation,” Porytko said. “It’s just happenstance, but it’s great to shine a really positive light on Ukraine and do something to show more about our culture other than the strong will that we have.”
Parker is doing all the general contracting, and his cousin Thomas is helping fund the business.
“Bo has really pushed me to have a more creative design in this space than I normally would have, especially using brighter colors and textures than I would generally choose,” Parker said.
“We build places we want to hang out in.”
When Porytko moves over to Molotov Kitschen and Cocktail, chef Dylan Rigolini, who previously worked at The Way Back, will take over Misfit Snack Bar’s kitchen, although Porytko will still be involved in the menu.
“Bo is a Rolodex of ideas, and I’ve learned a lot of patience while working underneath him,” Rigolini said. “But he’s also given me the freedom to incorporate some of my own ideas. The last two menus at Misfit have been 75 percent mine.”
Porytko won’t be done yet when Molotov Kitschen and Cocktail opens up next year.
“I currently have 12 ideas for concepts mulling in my brain,” he said.
Porytko still plans to open up his Baba Yaga market and restaurant concept. He also has an idea for a vegetarian restaurant with a cyberpunk theme called The Future is Dirt, a chef’s table restaurant with a ‘70s swinger-feel called Voyeur, and a “food as theater” concept where guests gather in theater-style seating and watch local chefs compete to make the better meal.
“My ADD might be the thing that makes me stand out as a chef,” Porytko joked. “I get bored quickly so my menus are always changing. I’m always putting a twist on the known for that sense of nostalgia, so I’m always working in my past and bringing it to the present.”
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