Comfort food takes a different form at the award-winning Aurora restaurant Annette

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14min 21sec
Ryan Warner/CPR News
Chef Caroline Glover, of Annette in Aurora, prepares Chicken Marengo Wednesday July 13, 2022.

Caroline Glover’s great-aunt Netsie didn’t live to see her great-niece win the James Beard Foundation’s Best Mountain Chef of 2022 V the equivalent of an Oscar in the culinary world. But Netsie had quite a bit to do with that award. Her spirit infuses Glover’s Aurora restaurant, Annette.

Netsie — an affectionate nickname for Annette — couldn’t cook a lick. But she enjoyed good food and martinis, and that made a big impression on a young Glover. When Netsie came to visit Glover’s family in College Station, Texas, she would bring along delicious foods — tamales and kolaches made by immigrants around her home in Ganado. It was always a party when Netsie showed up.

Glover remembers her aunt being the liberal fireplug in a family that mostly fell on the conservative end of the spectrum. Netsie would watch Seinfeld while having her nightly martini. She would give a young Caroline the gin-soaked olives.

“I came to associate her with good food and with celebration. She was feisty,” Glover said.

That led Glover to love olives. It also prompted her to name her Aurora restaurant Annette in honor of Netsie.

Annette is a gastropub located in the Stanley Marketplace, a building that used to house an old airplane ejection seat manufacturing plant. Annette is now an airy, plant-filled space flooded with natural light. The open kitchen gives Glover the chance to interact with her customers as she prepares dishes she calls “scratch to table” — like pork tenderloin, grilled beef tongue, succotash, and pecan pie. Glover grows some of her ingredients because, she admits, she is as passionate about farming as she is about cooking.

Ryan Warner/CPR News
Chef Caroline Glover's Chicken Marengo, which is not on Annette’s menu, but can be on yours.

When Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner came to Annette to talk to Glover about her prestigious new award, she prepared a special dish that is not on Annette’s menu. She whipped up Chicken Marengo, one of her mother’s signature dishes, and one of the first dishes she ever learned to make.

Chicken Marengo is a dish with deep history outside Glover’s family.

The mix of chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives and white wine dates to the time — and the dinner table — of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was prepared for Bonaparte by a French chef while the French army was fighting in the small northern Italian village of Marengo. It was the dinner fare on a day when Bonaparte’s army had a significant success in battle, and it became one of Bonaparte’s favorite foods.

As Glover chopped and braised and baked, she spoke about her background.

When Glover was growing up in Texas, her mother either put delicious home-cooked meals on the table every breakfast and dinner, or the family would go out to nice restaurants where young Caroline’s appreciation of fine dining was also honed.

Glover went on to graduate from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and wound her way through restaurants from New York City to Paonia. She interspersed restaurant cooking with working on farms in Pennsylvania, Carbondale and Paonia. Her first chef’s stint in Denver was at Acorn, which was named the Best Restaurant in Denver in 2015, the year after Glover went to work there.

She branched out to start Annette and it was quickly named Eater Denver’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year.

Ryan Warner/CPR News
Chef Caroline Glover, of Annette in Aurora, prepares Chicken Marengo Wednesday July 13, 2022.

Annette was flying high when the pandemic forced Glover to first; have a meltdown, and second; to find ways to adapt. She swiveled to take-out, gift cards, and outdoor seating. She banded together with other restaurateurs and hired a lobbyist so that restaurants could be eligible for government funding as essential businesses.

Glover believes that her actions during the pandemic had something to do with winning the James Beard award. She streamlined her menu and stopped doing brunch so workers at Annette wouldn’t suffer so much burnout. She built a model where all hourly employees at Annette – from dishwashers to hosts -- make the same hourly wage and split all tips evenly.

After preparing a lunchtime meal for Ryan before the restaurant opened on a recent day, Glover agreed to share her mother’s Chicken Marengo recipe and Annette’s signature martini a la Netsie.

Bon appetit, buon appetito and buen provecho! They all apply while enjoying the James Beard Best Mountain Chef’s recipes.

Annette Martini

1 oz. Leopold Bros Navy Strength Gin
1 oz. Miro or Doulins dry vermouth

0.5 oz. Salers aperitif
1 tsp. Leopold Bros. Pear Brandy

Chill a Nick ‘N Nora glass. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and give it a long stir. Strain ingredients into glass, and express a lemon peel over the top. Discard the peel. Garnish with an olive.

Chicken Marengo

4 bone-in chicken thighs
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf (fresh if you can find them!)

3 sprigs parsley
2 cups crushed can tomatoes
1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter
Juice of one lemon
1 cup black olives, pitted and whole

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large dutch oven, warm olive oil and add seasoned chicken thighs, skin side down. Let the chicken skin brown and flip over. Add onions and stir to combine. Cook until onions are nice and soft.

Once the onions are nice and soft deglaze with the white wine. Make sure to get the food all scraped off the bottom of the pan. That’s the flavor! Add garlic, bay leaf, parsley and crushed tomatoes. Place lid on the dutch oven and throw in the oven for an hour.

While the chicken is cooking, saute mushrooms in 1/4 cup of butter and cook until nice and tender. Set aside. After an hour, check the chicken. It should be nice and tender and pull away from the bone. Add olives, mushrooms, the squeeze of half a lemon, and salt to taste. I like to enjoy over brown rice!

(This recipe is adapted from "Joy of Cooking" with just a few slight tweaks.)