The first thing you notice when you walk in the door is the size of the place. Primus, Durango’s newest fine-dining establishment, sits in a building just nine feet wide. The space is unusual, but feels appropriate. Everything else about the restaurant, the creation of Owner/Executive Chef John L Daly III and his wife Kerry, is too.
The Dalys came to Durango from Denver in December, 2018 after John spent the last 26 years honing his skills in some of America’s finest restaurants under such renowned chefs as Wolfgang Puck. Primus, which is Latin for “first,” was the product of some soul-searching. John and Kerry worked long hours in Denver and came to Durango after giving a lot of thought to how they wanted to raise their son. John already had family in the area, and the mountains of Durango felt like an excellent place both to raise children and open a new restaurant.
It is clear they have come here to be a part of the community. The staff at the restaurant raves about how well the Dalys treat them, and they express how much they appreciate working somewhere that makes them feel like part of a family. John and Kerry are invested in being part of the community and have gotten involved with the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado’s 20/20/20 campaign to help raise money for La Plata County nonprofits. John beams with pride as he talks about how one of his employees, who had been living at a local shelter for many years, has recently been able to get into his own apartment. Having a positive impact on the community is what is most important to John and Kerry, and the reason they came to Durango.
Primus is located at 1017 Main Avenue in Downtown Durango. The building was in dire straits when the Dalys bought it, but on this night it’s awash in warm light, and the smell of good food abounds. The rustic beams above seem to welcome you in, and it’s hard not to gawk at the delicious dishes on other patrons’ plates as your host walks you to your table. Everything at Primus is made in-house, from the ketchup and butter to the tables of reclaimed beetle-kill wood at which we’re seated this night.
The width of the building turns out to be a feature, and a local couple adjacent to us quickly strikes up a conversation. This continues on and off throughout the meal, and the environment feels family-friendly and relaxed. We chat about personal histories, and the gentleman turns out to be a native of the Northeastern coast. When he bites into a lobster roll and excitedly announces his pleasure as the butter drips down his chin, it makes his endorsement all the more valuable. You might be shocked to find a good lobster roll in the middle of the Rockies, but John Daly is from Maine, and like all of Primus’s proteins, the lobster is flown in fresh every day. The crustacean had been out of the water for only 16 hours when it hit the patron’s taste buds. Knowing this, his insistence that it was as good as any lobster roll from his childhood made perfect sense.
That’s the magic of Primus. When you look at the menu you might think you’re in Manhattan. Depending on what you order, you could be in any number of places. The appetizer of Spanish Carpaccio Octopus comes seasoned just right, and is served with dabs of an incredible avocado crema. It’s surprisingly tender and lacks the chewiness that octopus often has when it’s been frozen and in transit for days or weeks. Octopus of this quality is a delicacy usually reserved for those on the shores of Alaska or the Northwestern Coast of Spain, but tonight I am savoring it on Main Avenue in Durango. It was a delightfully unique experience, and the restaurant’s Grilled Artichoke made the perfect complement.
The octopus is not the only rarity offered on the menu at Primus. This is by design, and Daly prides himself in creating a menu that is unlike any other in town. If he is no longer passionate about serving a dish, or feels it is growing old, he will change it. Primus vows to keep things fresh for the local community by offering a seasonal menu that changes every few months, giving patrons a new dining experience each time they visit.
Primus also wants to challenge its patrons, and features a menu that encourages its customers to try proteins that are outside their comfort zones. There are no chicken, salmon or traditional beef dishes on the menu, but you may choose from lamb, bison, elk, venison, duck, quail or wild boar.
I usually go for a steak at fine restaurants, but I went for Primus’s crown jewel, the 24-ounce Bison Tomahawk, instead. Cooked medium-rare and packed full of flavor, I managed to devour it despite the fact that the 24-ounce measurement didn’t include the bone. I found different flavors in each bite, and as I worked my way through the beautifully prepared cut of bison, I wondered what other rare meats I might be missing out on. I look forward to answering that question on my next trip to Primus.