Denver is eagerly anticipating the reopening of the city’s historic Union Station this summer. The monumental renovation will bring a unified bicycle, taxi, bus, and rail experience to LoDo (not to mention a new hotel, the Crawford, and mixed-use retail, office, and residential space). Area diners are perhaps most excited about the new restaurants this development will bring. Among them, Stoic & Genuine, a fish restaurant from Jennifer Jasinski, the James Beard-winning chef behind Euclid Hall, Bistro Vendôme, and Rioja; and a new project from Alex Seidel, a beloved Food & Wine Best New Chef and the force behind Fruition.
5280 recently spoke with Seidel, who, for the first time, revealed many details about his new spot. The opening (his first since nabbing the coveted Food & Wine award) will be called Mercantile Dining & Provision. “It is two concepts in one,” the chef says of the restaurant and market, “so the name had to represent both.” In one half of the 5,000 square foot space Seidel and his partners—wine director Stephanie Caraway and chef de cuisine Matt Vawter—will sell things from Fruition’s dairy farm and items that are made in the restaurant. In the other half, the team will offer a full, dinner-only restaurant.
From an open floor plan without any dividing walls between the two concepts, the market side will feature pickled beets, fruit spreads, croissants and other laminated dough work, Shepherd's Halo and other Fruition Farms cheeses, and sheep’s milk yogurts and caramels. In keeping with the era when rail travel was established, many items will be preserved or otherwise offered in jars; including mini-meals such as oatmeal, sturgeon rillette, duck confit, and bread pudding. “What dictated this concept was the Union Station building,” Seidel says. Everything will be branded with Seidel’s Mercantile logo, pictured. (He will not, for example, sell other people’s pickles.) Good news for commuters who want to bring a taste of their dinner meeting home with them: The market will remain open at night. “When you are having dinner and you enjoyed the barramundi or agnolotti, we want to be able to sell you those,” Seidel says.
The 75-seat restaurant side of the space—which includes a chef’s table and private dining in the wine library—will allow Seidel to offer whole fish entrées, large steak portions, family-style plating, and other things that his teeny, 300-square-foot Fruition kitchen doesn’t allow. A Combi oven will enable the team to do preservation canning in high volumes and produce goods for the market.
The retail and restaurant sections of Mercantile Dining & Provision will be anchored around a bar that sits in the center of the space. By day, it will offer seating for customers who want to eat a sandwich from the market and, by night, serve as traditional bar seating for dinner customers. Translation: Denver diners can also get excited about the first full-fledged bar program under Seidel’s watch (Fruition doesn’t have a physical bar). The chef-farmer-grocer plans to offer “a classic cocktail program” and is currently looking for the right barman to spearhead it. While he wasn’t prepared to release a name, Seidel admits that his search extends beyond the Front Range. “We don’t want to get into the rotating bar scene in Denver,” he explains.
Caraway, a Food & Wine Sommelier of the Year is currently drafting Mercantile’s “well organized, concise, and canny” wine list. “You will see a lot of classics,” she says. “I’m a huge fan of the Loire Valley, I love Brunello and classic renditions of Brunello—there is no better food wine out there.” Mercantile’s by-the-glass program will feature wine poured from magnums. In addition, the restaurant will be home to a wine table loaded with decanters, and the space will feature 30 one-case wine and beer lockers that customers can rent and then work with Caraway to purchase and store bottles.
While a market-restaurant combination as architecturally open as Mercantile Dining & Provision is rare, Seidel looked loosely for inspiration all over the world. Specifically, he has taken notes in San Francisco at Craftsman and Wolves and at Flour & Water’s market, Salumeria; in both New York City and Turin at Eataly from Mario Batali and Lydia and Joe Bastianich; and has gotten helpful hints from friends at our area’s own Marczyk Fine Foods, the Truffle Cheese Shop, and Cured. Seidel is excited about the “historic gravity of the building and what it’s going to represent for Denver.” He says that the Union Station project is still on schedule for a July opening.