Eateries step up game in Castle Rock

John Johnson believes Castle Rock is becoming a place where people travel for good food and he’s excited to be a growing part of this phenomenon. The restaurateur has owned Castle Rock for five years and this summer opened two restaurants side by side on Wilcox Street.

“People are starting to travel from far to get downtown to see what’s going on with all the new restaurants,” Johnson told Colorado Community Media.

Most recently, Johnson established B’s Craft Deli & Market on the ground floor of the Encore Building, a seven-story residential and commercial development near City Hall. The store, which seats about 30 people inside and another 30 people on its patio, began serving its signature sandwiches — like a Korean Philly with shaved beef and kimchi or a hot dog with bacon, refried beans and jalapenos — in its fourth week of August . For the following week, it lured shoppers out of its colorful deli boxes with prepared side dishes, as well as fresh steaks, chicken and fish to try at home.

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With marble tile walls, wood accents, and a stained cement floor, B’s is designed to look like an older Chicago-style deli, Johnson said.

Block & Bottle, Johnson’s “polished casual restaurant,” opened in July. The 3,500-square-foot space seats 135 when the terrace is open, and has a sophisticated industrial feel with lots of warm wood, glass walls, and dark metal fixtures. In addition to burgers and salads, Block & Bottle offers unforgettable appetizers and classic comfort food appetizers with an upscale twist.

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Johnson’s current favorites are the breaded and fried smoked shiitake mushrooms, the pastrami-style smoked salmon crostini and the beef stroganoff, which is prepared with tender pot roast.

“We have quality ingredients from better suppliers, kind of high-end stuff,” Johnson said. “The ingredients cost a little more, but we felt like we had to go that route to offer something different.”

Although the deli closes earlier than its sister restaurant, both spots are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Block & Bottle also plans to offer brunch on the weekends starting late next month.

Johnson’s career in hospitality, which has spanned more than four decades, began at age 13 with a summer job washing dishes. He became a chef at the age of 22 and worked in corporate restaurant circles for some time before becoming a business owner himself. His first Castle Rock restaurant, Z’Abbracci, opened in 2017. It serves pizza, pasta, and beer in a nearly 100-year-old building three blocks north of its new ventures.

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The hospitality veteran has business plans for more than half a dozen concepts, he said. But he chose to focus on fine dining and a high-end deli to expand on, rather than duplicate, what is already available in the area.

“The more quality restaurants we have downtown that complement each other, the better we can all play in the same sandbox,” Johnson said. “We complement each other, and it’s more of a culinary destination.”

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