Marcy Street Shuffle

Horno Restaurant and Agapao Coffee make visiting downtown worth it again

Is Marcy Street in the midst of some kind of super-rad renaissance?

Already we’ve seen tattoo shops Shrine and Ikigai flare into existence a stone’s throw from City Hall, adding a younger bent and a hipper atmosphere to a slew of popular restaurants, coffee shops and retail offerings—but somehow eateries always seem to be the things that get people places more than anything else (we like to eat, don’t we?). Promising, then, that chef David Sellars’ fine dining and food truck background seem to be coming together in a perfect storm of culinary awesomeness at Horno (95 W Marcy St., 310-1065), which is slated for a June 20 or 21 opening.

Sellars and crew took over the former Il Piatto space in December and have spent the ensuing months renovating, developing a menu, hiring staff (which Sellars is still doing, btw) and installing an eight-tap pony kegerator that’ll soon be flowing with beers from near and far. Full disclosure: I worked with Sellars a million years ago at Santacafé, but we weren’t best friends or anything. Besides, the years leading up til now found him outside the brick-and-mortar milieu and in the food truck game with beloved nonprofit culinary/business education outfit Street Food Institute.

What’s up at Horno?

“We’re calling it an Italian-leaning gastropub,” he tells SFR. “It’s hard to put it in a box, but we want it to be casual and fun and not a fine dining atmosphere—my wife has coined the term ‘fine food, but not fine dining.’ The gastropub thing lets you do anything.”

Sellars says he’s taking a page from the playbook he wrote as executive chef at now-defunct Amavi restaurant. This means things like house-made pasta and a Mediterranean flavor, but Horno will also lean into sandwiches and simpler items for lunch. Also, Sellars says, “a quarter of the menu has some Asian aspects to it.”

Sellars also says he’s self-curating the wine list. Amavi, where he did the same, had roughly 400 bottles on its list; Horno will be more focused and about by-the-glass consumption, but the point’s the same: Sellars knows wine. Pair that with desserts from Sarah Greene (whom Sellars met when she undertook the program at the Street Food Institute) and a planned semifreddo situation (it’s like un-churned ice cream, is creamy and I can’t think of any place around here that has it), and you’ve got a sit-down spot in the heart of downtown catering to quick lunchers, non-rush dinner guests and anyone else in the midst of a “what do we eat?” standoff.

Meanwhile, roughly a block north, Agapao Coffee’s Dave Black is a couple weeks into his new venture, The Mud Hut (105 E Marcy St., 670-5446), which inhabits the former Madame Matisse outpost across from the old SFR offices. You might know Agapao from its drive-thru stand (run by Black’s son Jared) in the St. Michael’s Village West shopping center, but the new space comes with even broader opportunities.

Black comes with the experience of years working with Aroma Coffee, and Agapao already provides coffee to local spots like the Cowgirl, Dulce, Boxcar, Joseph’s, Tia Sophia’s and many others, but Black is always looking to upgrade his service game. At both Agapao locations, you’ll find organic, fair trade and shade-grown coffees, all roasted to Black’s precise specifications at a facility in Denver. He’s also got vegetarian burritos from Posa’s, Taos-based Zia brand root beers and, soon, salads from Kaune’s and snow cones (Ecco does amazing gelato, Black says, and La Lecheria does delicious ice cream—he’s not trying to horn in on anyone’s game). Plus—no joke—when I visited last week, Black made me one of the best shots in the dark I’ve ever had in my life, and I was glad to hear him say that “I think third-wave coffee is slowly going away.”

Don’t get me wrong; techniques and newness and flavor variety are great, but I miss a good medium roast now and again. The Mud Hut delivers. Black says he’s even looking at a possible third space in the Railyard. For now, though, if you’re downtown, give The Mud Hut a whirl.

“Anybody can open a coffee shop,” Black says, “but you’ve gotta give people a place to come back to.”

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