Food Matters: Collective Soul
May 18, 2017
So many restaurants, so little time: that's Denver. A surefire way to eat well during a short trip? Hit the market/food halls, where all the cool kids hang out. In this fast-growing, food-obsessed city, they might as well be called the new malls: various vendors under one roof in a shared space, typically repurposed from some former use.
"The trend really embodies the collaborative spirit of Denver," says Ashley Taufen, communications manager of Visit Denver. "All of these businesses…are examples of how chefs, brewers, restaurateurs, distillers and other artisans work together."
While each of the following six venues boasts a different concept and atmosphere, all have a culinary focus. If you're like me and enjoy embarking on tasting crawls while soaking up urban art and entrepreneurial energy, these arenas are a must for community dining experiences in the Mile High City.
THE SOURCE (2013)
Having refashioned an historic 1880s iron foundry into a chic collection of restaurants and shops in the buzzy RiNo neighborhood, The Source is widely credited as one of the first market halls in Denver to spark the movement. Currently housing restaurants including Acorn (sister to Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder), the RiNo Yacht Club cocktail bar, a butcher shop, baker, florist, art gallery, food-photography studio, coffee roaster, and Crooked Stave taproom, The Source has gained fast acclaim as a hip hangout. (Slow Food Denver is headquartered here, too.) As the building sat vacant for much of its recent life, pre-existing graffiti decorates the original masonry, preserved along with the foundry crane that hangs beneath 60-foot ceilings and original clerestory windows installed pre-electricity.
"You walk in and it's almost like a cathedral," says The Source's Justin Croft. "Market halls are as old as human history—there's a lot of specialization in one location. The Source was inspired by the idea that there is this rediscovery of craft production, especially around food and drink. Processes that have been put up on the shelf for the past few generations."
So popular is The Source that construction on a second market complex adjacent is well underway. On top of 20,000 additional square feet of retail space will be the 100-room Source Hotel, featuring an eighth-floor rooftop terrace bar and restaurant by New Belgium Brewing Company. (The Aspen Art Museum hosts an invite-only soft-launch party for the hotel during the Food & Wine Classic in June.)
"When we first opened we'd do events and popups occasionally," Croft says. "Now we're doing multiple popups a week; New York, Chicago, and Austin (businesses) soon. It's a great way for those folks to get to know Denver." thesourcedenver.com
DENVER UNION STATION (2014)
"I'm glad you included Union Station," Taufen tells me after I send her a list of food halls on my radar. "Sometimes people don't think of it as a marketplace, but it really was one of the first in Denver, (a city) leading the charge on this national trend."
Though the National Historic Landmark functions as a multi-modal transit hub (light rail, commuter rail, Greyhound Bus, Amtrack service) and is anchored by the stunning, 112-room Crawford Hotel (some rooms are modeled after Pullman train cars), dining is a big draw. There's creative seafood by James Beard award-winning chef Jennifer Jasinski at Stoic & Genuine; farm fare at Alex Seidel's Mercantile Dining & Provisions and Next Door American Eatery; and bespoke cocktails at The Cooper Lounge; plus Snooze: An AM Eatery, a deli, coffee shop, ice cream parlor, and retail stores. This summer, Jasinski will open another restaurant, Ultreia, serving Spanish and Portugese pintxos and tapas.
As with other repurposed spaces, Union Station has been carefully restored to show off original architectural details, such as the ticket windows in the Terminal Bar and ornate chandeliers recreated according to historic photographs. unionstationindenver.com
AVANTI FOOD & BEVERAGE (2015)
When I visited this two-story, artisanal food court in the Highlands recently, it didn't take long to stake a spot. Upstairs is a spacious bar that extends to an outdoor patio with views to downtown. After watching the sunset with a Colorado craft beer in hand (20 on tap), I moved inside, where I bumped into a former Aspen bartender. Sushi, burgers, fried chicken, shawarma, pizza, arepas—how to choose a snack from this "collective eatery" housed in modified shipping containers on the site of a former variety store, print shop, and mechanic garage? My pal directed me to Chow Morso downstairs, and the spicy shrimp fra diavolo over toothsome fresh ziti, sautéed to order, did not disappoint. Former Aspen Times editor Lauren Glendenning raved about the same Italian pasta after she attended the venue's jam-packed Kentucky Derby fête. Avanti is the kind of place you'll want to return to repeatedly—sampling world cuisine from all seven counters isn't a one-night affair. avantifandb.com
DENVER CENTRAL MARKET (2016)
At a media event at the Denver Central Market just two months after its September launch, I was struck immediately by how closely it resembles a compact version of Eataly in New York and Chicago. All 11 original vendors are still operating in the restored H.H. Tammen Curio Company building, including a seafood market, cheese shop, produce stand, pizzeria and Italian grocer, bakery, coffee bar, and artisan chocolatier. Even after 9:30 p.m. on recent night, a line snaked around High Point Creamery's scoop shop and soda fountain.
"We have equally balanced the market with the food hall aspect so that as trends come and go, we will have a consistent clientele," says operations manager Kate Kaufman. "It is important to us that we offer what the neighborhood needs from a gourmet market, as well as a gathering place." denvercentralmarket.com
STANLEY MARKETPLACE (2016-17)
When two girlfriends and I ventured out to Aurora, Colo., a few weeks ago to scope the Stanley Marketplace, we did what most food freaks do: Googled the restaurants en route and strategized a plan of attack. Unfortunately, Stanley is so new (opened in Decembe and tenants are launching in stages) that our two targets—Rosenbergs Bagels and Maria's Empanadas—were still under construction.
So we strolled the massive former airplane hangar—100,000-plus square feet plus multiple outdoor patios on 22 acres of land—wandering into a farm-to-table restaurant, the Denver Biscuit Company, a chocolate shop, and a glass-walled wine shop before settling on Mexican brunch at Comida cantina (another outpost is at The Source). Thirty-three businesses are open currently, including a gym and an event venue; at least 10 more— such as a pizzeria, yoga studio, and barbecue joint—will launch in the next month, bringing occupancy to 90 percent in June.
"We want to be a community gathering place, a celebration of independently owned Colorado businesses, a beacon of food and art and culture," says Stanley's chief storyteller Bryant Palmer. "We've got a mix of Colorado businesses here—you can visit a salon or an art gallery or even a dentist between meals."
Collaboration is in high supply, too. "Cheluna Brewing made a beer with Logan House Coffee Company coffee," Palmer notes. "Poppy & Pine provides flowers to a dozen other Stanley businesses. We're aiming to be a cultural center, too, collaborating with Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Cherry Creek Arts Festival, and (other) groups." stanleymarketplace.com
EASTBRIDGE TOWN CENTER (2016)
Another Denver food trend: top chefs are moving outside of the city proper to cook top-notch cuisine in the 'burbs. Eastbridge Town Center, a sprawling project in Denver's Stapleton area is blossoming at warp speed. Elise Wiggins, executive chef at Panzano in the Hotel Monaco for 12 years, recently opened Cattivella, a 3,200-square-foot Italian restaurant with a wood-burning oven, wood-fired grill, pasta table, and butcher counter. Joining her: Kitchen Next Door; chef Lon Symensma's new restaurant, Concourse, scheduled to open this month; and Troy Guard's third Los Chingones and breakfast joint Hashtag, plus Constellation Ice Cream, set to open this summer. Burn it off by walking the outdoor mall with state-of-the-art movie theater, department stores, and independently owned boutiques. eastbridgetowncenter.com