Food Lover's Guide to Denver

“Local first, sustainable second, organic third.” Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson’s simple food philosophy can, and should, be a guiding light for all of us.

September 2012



Not the Other White Meat

Tender Belly restores pork’s glory.

Bacon is good for you. If you don’t think that’s true, you’re probably eating the wrong kind. At least that’s what Erik and Shannon Duffy, brothers and partners of two-year-old, Denver-based Tender Belly, will tell you. The Duffys, who grew up eating pigs raised on their grandfather’s Iowa farm, say that most people have forgotten the succulent flavors and tenderloin-red hues of non-factory-farmed pork. “The pig industry progressed from a quality, heritage-breed pig to a more mass-produced pig,” Shannon says. “We decided to give people the pork we were raised on.”

To do that, former chef and all-around food guy, Erik, started making thick-cut, smoky bacon made from hogs raised in an uncaged, hormone-free, and humane environment back on an Iowa farm. Then, in 2011, he went about introducing Tender Belly’s nose-to-tail offerings to the Denver restaurant circuit. Since then, Tender Belly’s bacon, sausage, Berkshire cuts, and whole hogs have been moving from the specials list to a menu must-have.

So, what’s the difference? “Tender Belly pork is like a well-marbled steak. It should be red. It’s juicier. It’s not lean. It’s not dry,” Erik says. “People are afraid of the word fat, but this is good fat. It’s a buttery, rich flavor.”

Clearly, Coloradans aren’t worried about fat: Tender Belly appears on 85 restaurant menus along the Front Range and in the mountains. (The Duffys have clients in Arizona, Nevada, and California as well.) That popularity may require the brothers to expand some of their farming operations into Colorado, possibly in the Denver or Boulder area. And that means only one thing: even more high-quality pork. —Lindsey R. McKissick

A Butcher’s Life

Breaking down 400 pounds of meat is all in a day’s work for Marczyk Fine Foods’ meat and seafood manager Brian Glasgow. —AMF

5 a.m. I’m the only one here. I set up my work area and sharpen my knives. Then I start on one side of the cases—I do the pork, beef, and lamb cases first—and cut steaks, chops, and roasts. Each case takes about one to one-and-a-half hours. Then I do the grinds. We have two: extra-lean and butcher’s choice. For butcher’s choice, we use the chuck roll—a non-motor muscle that’s basically a classic pot roast—and we trim out every one by hand. This is what we use for our Friday Burger Nights, and we make sure the grind is perfect.

8 a.m. I move on to the chicken case. I start with whole birds and break them down into parts. I begin marinating some for easy dinners. I also brine birds for 24 hours, and then we slow-smoke them at 150 degrees for eight hours. Between the two stores, we bring in about 240 chickens a week from Boulder Natural Meats.

9:15 a.m. The sausage case is left. I bone out the shoulders and give the bones to the kitchen to roast off for stock. I grind 100 to 200 pounds of pork at a time. Then I make 20-pound batches of different sausages: Bratwurst, hot Italian, sweet Italian, chorizo, breakfast sausage, and French sausage. We make about 900 sausages a week.

10 a.m. I call in our daily beef, lamb, and pork orders to Niman Ranch. By this time other staffers are coming into work. A crew of guys sets up the seafood case, and starts making meat skewers and entrées.

11 a.m. I start going back through the cases—I’m constantly making sure they look perfect. Then I begin working on backups for the evening staff because they’ll be busy with the after-work rush. We always have to have extra amounts of ground beef, the big-selling steaks, lamb chops, and pork chops.

1 p.m. I’ve made a fairly large mess during the day so I clean up to get everything ready for tomorrow. Then my day is done.