What began as a special-occasion science experiment in celebration of 4/20 has turned into a sleeper hit of sorts for Denver’s Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen.
The smoked salmon aficionados didn’t quite break the Internet when they smoked their fish with a different kind of herb, but their experiment got its fair share of local and national mentions in the last two weeks — and the folks at the Smokers Club captured it all on camera for their “4/20 Salmon Smoke Out: Infusing Smoked Salmon with THC” video.
Shop: Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen, 725 E. 26th Ave., Denver
Interview with: Owner Joshua Pollack and general manager Nicholas “Nicky the Fish” Bruno
Sesh: Jack Flash from Native Roots Aspen (Katie), N/A (Josh/Nicky)
What is quite possibly the first marijuana-laced lox ever created is a dream come true for this deli diehard Jewess, so when I got wind of it I wanted to know more. Sure, “put weed in it” is the new “put a bird on it” — which is starting to irk some critics. But according to Bruno, 31, this cannabis infusion worked so well that Rosenberg’s is already looking into a way to legitimately (and legally) produce it to sell in Denver-area dispensaries and beyond.
More Cannabist Style
About Shop Sesh: Every month (or so), I’ll visit the curators, artists, builders and makers who enjoy a little kush to help them push boundaries. It just so happens they’re all also doing pretty impressive things to cultivate the creative community in Colorado and beyond. We’ll have a smoke and a chat in the spaces that often inspire them most — their own. If you’d like to request a sesh or have one to recommend, email me here.
Until Pollack, also 31, opened Rosenberg’s doors almost a year ago in the transitioning Five Points neighborhood, Denver didn’t have a real bagel. Seriously. If the line out the door on many a morning since day one is any indicator, the authentic New York-style deli knows its dough — and its house-cured, house-smoked fish.
Since I’m out of Denver for awhile and these guys are always slammed, this Shop Sesh was via phone with Nicky and Josh in the Rosenberg’s kitchen (where they obviously don’t smoke) and me, per usual, smoking at my desk.
How did the video come about?
NB: It just kind of came up in casual conversation here in the shop. Some of the guys who eat here a lot also happened to have ties to the site, so we all just decided to make it happen.
JP: The idea was about bringing the two worlds I’m passionate about together and wanted to celebrate the stoner holiday somehow — the best day to give this little science experiment a shot. What made it so cool was that we could actually do something like this. Food and cannabis are two scenes leading the way in Denver right now, so we wanted to give a nod to another industry that’s doing groundbreaking things.
Did you have any idea what you were getting into?
NB: We figured it out together. Josh made the tincture using Everclear, and then gave it to me to break down and use on the fish. Our fish curing is a science — everything is done in house, and everyone in the industry is making sweet treats, so we didn’t know what was possible. It was just a test, and we had no idea how it was going to work. I couldn’t be more happy with how it turned out.
JP: We definitely did our research to make sure everything we were doing was legal. That was the number one priority, since we run a restaurant and never would jeopardize that.
Were you surprised at the attention it’s received?
JP: You know, the Channel 7 (KMGH/ABC) thing was kind of upsetting. I was confident we did nothing wrong but still did the interview. They were just creating news. Aside from that, it’s all been overwhelmingly positive. I certainly don’t regret it.
NB: Yeah, they called the food inspector and threw us under the bus. The only thing he said to me was, “Did it work?” The business was closed that day — and the day after — to clean and sterilize before AND after. Everyone was over 21, and nothing was for sale … It was all for personal consumption. Like my entire fish program here, the entire process was documented … every single step.
Is it something you would ever do again and make it available to your loyal customers?
NB: Personally as “Nicky the Fish” and general manager of Rosenberg’s, next year I want to enter this into the Cannabis Cup and win. Every year it’s some chocolate-y candy, and there are zero food entries. With sugar — it covers up the marijuana taste — it’s all you can taste. With real food, marijuana enhances it. Infusing the fish … it added a flavor of smokiness that we weren’t trying to hide. The lemon and dill brought out even more flavor. And it turned out really strong. The (marijuana) culture that’s happening here — fine infused food is the next step.
But you can’t legally do it in your kitchen moving forward though, right?
NB: Right. We will be doing it in a separate kitchen — they’re called MIPs (marijuana-infused products) that are designated. It’s already in the works, but our first priority is our business. This has become a bonus project. It’s also illegal for us to sell anything, obviously, so we’re working on all of the permitting for that side of it.
JP: We’ve already gotten a lot of interest from MIP kitchens and dispensaries that will allow us to do it again, which is really exciting — to bring our expertise in fish and have experts bring their knowledge to help us perfect it. We’re working on the curing process a bit more, too, since it’s a perishable item that will only have a shelf life of two or three weeks.
Why do you think there’s such a strong connection between Jews and marijuana?
JP: It’s like taking sacrament in a way … the sacrificial herb. This year, at our Passover seder, we smoked marijuana as our “bitter herb,” and I think we’ll see people incorporating it more and more into celebrations like that. I remember reading that the world’s oldest marijuana ever was found in Egypt, and that’s where our people have a major history! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “the chosen people” are running a huge part of the (marijuana) industry!
NB: I’m not Jewish, I’m Italian! I’m also Native American and Irish. Italians are also known for having kick-ass delis — smoking all kinds of meats and fish for centuries. The way of the old-school original delis — it was the Jews in the front of the house and the Italians in the back of the house making the food. It’s beautiful that we’ve fallen into that tradition without even trying.
“Nicky the Fish,” who gave you your nickname?
NB: The first time I was called “fish” was in grade school by a teacher that was talking while holding down the button on the drinking fountain — and I asked her if she “hated the fish,” and she said, “Why are you concerned, are you some kind of fish?” I happy replied, “Yes, stop killing all my friends.” Then I started at Rosenberg’s, and Josh started calling me “Nicky The Fish.” I though it was because I worked in a fish tank (referring to the oversized window open to the kitchen in the shop), but Josh said it was because I made the best fish in the world!
When did you discover your passion for cooking?
NB: I remember the first and last time I made ketchup and pepperoni. I was 7 years old, and my mom told me it wouldn’t work but let me mess up. I learned the hard way, and I’ve never made a bad bite of food since. Thanks, mom! Now I get to still do that here — the absolute best bagel shop outside of NYC. Josh is like one of those people in the 1 percent you meet in your life. This guy gets it and wants everything good for everyone. You don’t see that every day.
How does marijuana play a role in your lives?
JP: My mom fought cancer for a while, and cannabis is the only thing that helped her, so it holds a special place in my heart. It’s something that should never have been in prohibition. It’s absolutely preposterous — the money we waste prosecuting against it. What we’re doing here in Colorado is nothing short of spectacular.
NB: It’s there. I like how there are so many different tastes now.
NB: Golden Goat. Animas Herbal in Durango — they have a strain named after my fallen brother, “The Diamond Bruno.” In Denver, Natural Remedies is the best!
What did you use for this infamous fish?
NB: We used two ounces of OG Ghost that came from a dispensary that will remain nameless.
Rosenberg’s is a Kosher-style deli, but would you consider doing certified Kosher edibles?
JP: The fish we infused was not Kosher, but that’s certainly part of the conversation we’re going to be having with with MIPs.
NB: Not to plug my own personal shit, but I’m currently working on a podcast with our employees called “Fish Talks.” It will include some infusion ideas, as well!
Catch Josh at the Cochon Heritage Fire on June 19 — an annual wood-fired, meat-laden feast featuring close to 50 chefs celebrating responsibly raised whole animals using traditional outdoor cooking techniques.
Catch a piece of Nicky’s fish 6 a.m-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday at Rosenberg’s, 725 E. 26th Ave.