Feature

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

This article was a finalist for the 2013 City and Regional Magazine Award in the food or dining package category. 

“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. Here in Denver, we’re lucky to have a devoted group of people dedicated to local, sustainable, organic—and just plain good—food. Dig into the stories on the following pages, then get out there and taste the difference community makes.

 5280.com Exclusive: Tour the NOVO Coffee Roasting Facility, make jam with Raj Dagstani, and spend a day at Fruition Restaurant's farm.

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MEAT

 

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.

FARMER'S MARKETS

 

To Market, To Market

A step-by-step insider’s guide to the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. By Andra Zeppelin

  • Be prepared
    Arrive early for the best selection and easy parking. Bring your dull knives for sharpening, plenty of cash, reusable bags, and coolers (leave these in the car). If you forget cash, use a credit card to buy market bucks ($5 vouchers that can be used at any vendor) at the Boulder Market booth.
  • Shop like a pro
    Drop off your knives at Johnson Sharpening (johnsonsharpening.com), get your caffeine fix from Conscious Coffees (consciouscoffees.com), and veer left for the best variety of Colorado lamb from Leistikow Farms (leistikowfarms.com). Select a shank or rack along with a goat shoulder (which makes great tacos—see recipe on page 62). Walk quickly to the north end of the market for a bag or box of organic Palisade peaches from the giant Morton’s Orchards truck (mortonsorchards.com). The lamb and peaches are always hot items, so now you can coast. To the right of the peach truck, pick up farm-raised chicken from Wisdom’s Natural Poultry (wisdomsnaturalpoultry.com). Make your way to the Isabelle Farm stand (isabellefarm.com) for the sweetest watermelons and fresh chiles. Cross over to Colorado’s Best Beef (naturalbeef.com) for an excellent selection of organic beef. Zigzag back to the other side for Munson Farms’ (munsonfarms.com) fragrant cantaloupes and the irresistible peaches-and-cream corn. Then, stop over at Toohey & Sons for a small but flawless selection of tomatoes.
  • Intermission
    Even a seasoned shopper needs a break. Snack on a bag of popcorn from Boulder Popcorn (boulderpopcorn.com), entertain little ones with balloons and face painting, and do not miss Tres Pupusas’ (trespupusas.com) cooler of popsicles. These outrageous treats range from classic strawberry or watermelon to chamomile-infused apricot or basil lemonade.
  • After the break
    Continue your journey with a stop at Black Cat Organic Farm (blackcatfarm.org), where you’ll find fresh mâche, lively mizuna greens, and tender arugula. (Also check out chef-owner-farmer Eric Skokan’s whole ducks and his line of organic frozen soups.) Cross over to the market’s most stunning display of Colorado produce, the Red Wagon Organic Farm stand (redwagonorganicfarm.com). A paradise for the eyes, Red Wagon is the best source for rainbow carrots, Hakurei turnips, and lovage—a stunning, difficult-to-find herb that tastes similar to celery. Just a couple of booths over, Cure Organic Farm (cureorganicfarm.com) always has lovely beets and parsnips, as well as a selection of heritage Berkshire pork—some fresh and some cured in collaboration with Il Mondo Vecchio (ilmondovecchio.net). Finally, if mushrooms are on your grocery list, stop off at the Hazel Dell Mushrooms stand (hazeldellmushrooms.com) for exotic offerings.

 

A Matter of Taste

How a baby reminded me to find delight in each bite.

Determined not to be left behind by her siblings, my youngest daughter, Caroline, learned letters at three, ditched training wheels at four, and joined the swim team at five. But she wasn’t always so eager to keep up. As an infant, Caroline would sit in her high chair, yanking at her bib and throwing her food off the tray like the baby in the Capital One commercial. Fifty percent more cash? I couldn’t have cared less. All I wanted was for her to eat her frozen peas. • She refused. Kids in her playgroup lapped up rice cereal and Gerber oatmeal like they were sundaes. Not Caroline. She’d consent to a spoonful or two, then pinch her lips so tightly that no amount of foolish antics (“Here comes the airplane!”) could con her into opening them. I wasn’t worried. Caroline was still happily nursing, and my freelance writing schedule gave me the flexibility to accommodate her quirks. • But as six months turned into nine and her interest in solids remained almost nonexistent, her weight dropped off the chart. So I did what any mother would do: I panicked. Trips to the pediatrician and feeding therapist ensued, but they found no underlying physical or sensory issues. She’ll do it in her own time, they said. In the meantime, make eating fun. • I complied, experimenting with baby food flavors, smiling exaggeratedly as I modeled how to eat, and clapping when a stray Cheerio made it to her lips. I even tried Graduates Puffs, those easily dissolvable cereal snacks dubbed by a friend of mine as “baby crack.” No dice. • The turning point came one Sunday after a trip to the farmers’ market. Slicing organic pears for my other kids, I gave a few baby-size chunks to Caroline. She picked one up, turned its slippery white flesh over in her fingers, and put it in her mouth. Then she picked up the rest and devoured them, before giving the baby sign for “more.” As adults, we often take the pleasure of consuming fruits and vegetables in their purest form for granted. Somehow I’d forgotten that. All those months, all that stress—and all my little girl really wanted was the taste of real food. —Gretchen Kurtz

CONDIMENTS

 

It’s a Scorcher

The makings of a hot sauce empire.

A decade after Danny Cash whipped up a fiery hot sauce, funneled it into an empty Tabasco bottle, and delivered it to one of his favorite restaurants, Davie’s Chuck Wagon Diner on Colfax Avenue, he’s still making the blistering concoction. “People love it,” says Cash, who has always had a knack for tinkering in the kitchen. “It has a quick serrano bite, followed by a wave of garlic, ending with a strong, red habanero back-burn. In other words, it’s freaking awesome.” At the time, making hot sauce was a welcome respite from Cash’s day job, selling knives and pepper spray out of Southwest Plaza. “One day I woke up, and I decided I needed something new in my life,” Cash says.

Bottled Up Anger, as Cash’s signature serrano-garlic mixture is now called, has led this 32-year-old on a sauce-making odyssey he never really expected. After Davie’s Chuck Wagon called in its first order, he launched Danny Cash Hot Sauce with $1,000 in start-up money. Today, the company has a small commercial kitchen, a store, employs 15 people, and boasts a lineup of 27 sauces and condiments, which are sold as far away as Berlin.

Although Cash says he expects to do $1 million in sales this year, Danny Cash Hot Sauce is still a small Colorado company with a modest kitchen and a tough-guy persona gleaned directly from Cash’s image as a Mohawk-wearing, motorcycle-loving biker dude. Smokin’ Tailpipe, Mean Streak, and Radical Heat hot sauces sport labels with fire-engulfed motorcycles and the words “Danny Cash” set in a typeface only a Hells Angel could love.

But the bad-boy aura belies Cash’s gentle, generous nature. Although Cash is proud of his company’s success, he delights in helping other entrepreneurs. More than 50 companies retail out of Cash’s location in Englewood. He’ll even admit that one of the lines on his shelves—Rob Holdaway’s Sticky Brand BBQ Sauce—makes his favorite barbecue sauce. “My own hot sauces taste like work,” he says with a laugh. “I eat other people’s way more than my own.”

As Cash’s line expands (he just released Chidawgo, a condiment inspired by the Chicago dog), it’s fair to say that while hot sauce changed the course of Cash’s life, he’s repaying the favor by leaving a smoking-hot imprint on the industry itself. —Pete Prokesch

Sweet Surplus

Making a business of leftovers.

if you take a moment to look around on your next walk through the city, you may be surprised by the number of fruit trees and berry bushes growing. Come harvest time, Kathy Lee of Modern Gingham Preserves turns this abundance of local food into marmalades and jams. Not only does she forage for public surplus, but Lee’s Congress Park home is also a pickup location for Grant Family Farms’ CSA program—which often means her kitchen houses vast amounts of leftover produce. Adhering to the “waste not, want not” mentality, Lee repurposes the bounty into savory jams such as sweet red onion and a dynamic carrot-ginger-vanilla. Spread these on a sandwich, dab on a pizza (recipe below), or add to a cheese plate, and delight in Colorado’s excess. moderngingham.comRachel Nobrega

Goat Cheese and Red Onion Pizza

  • 1 package premade organic pizza dough (such as Whole Foods’ brand)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 ounces shredded mozzarella
  • 2 ounces goat cheese
  • 4 tablespoons Modern Gingham Red Onion Jam

Spread the pizza dough on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and evenly spread the cheeses. Top with the jam and bake for 20 minutes at 400°.

CHEESE & BREAD

 

Milk Made

There was a time not so long ago when Haystack Mountain was the only Colorado-made cheese that was readily available. While Haystack’s offerings (the Buttercup in particular) are still refrigerator staples, our state is seeing a new class of diverse and seriously exciting cheese. Don’t miss the following. —AMF

  1. Hand Bandaged Goat Cheddar
    As a rule, cheddar is best made in a humid climate. And yet, Avalanche Cheese Company’s Hand Bandaged Goat Cheddar defies Basalt’s high-desert location to create a dry, snappy, and upscale cheese that’s worthy of any picnic. avalanchecheese.com
  2. Buttercup
    Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy’s first mixed-milk cheese (it’s made of pasteurized cow and goat milks), Buttercup is creamy, mild, and easy to love. haystackgoatcheese.com
  3. Ashley
    Slice through MouCo’s Ashley—a soft cow’s milk cheese encased in a smoky vegetable ash rind—and you’ll find a tangy cheese that’s best when aged seven to eight weeks. That time in the cheese cave allows the flavors to mellow and the interior to soften. mouco.com
  4. Shepherd’s Halo
    Fruition Farms’ award- winning ricotta is on menus all over the state, but you see far less of Shepherd’s Halo. With this exquisitely ripened and salty-sweet cheese, Fruition chef, co-owner, and farmer Alex Seidel proves that a sheep dairy (the state’s first) can not only exist in Colorado but also thrive. fruitionfarmsdairy.comLeyden
    Unwrap a wedge of Leyden from James Ranch in Durango and discover a raw cow’s milk cheese that’s embedded with whole cumin seeds. The spice adds an appealing lemony flavor. jamesranch.net

 

Rising Stars

Many eateries rely on local bakeries to bake their crusty loaves. This is good news for diners wanting to bring restaurant-quality bread to their own kitchen tables. Below, cross-reference your ideal bread with the bakery behind it. —Christie Sounart

  1. Udi’s Artisan Bakery
    (udisfood.com)
    Bakes for: Fuel Cafe, the Kitchen, Duo Restaurant
    Where to find it: Udi’s cafes, King Soopers, Vitamin Cottage, Sunflower Market, Costco, and farmers’ markets.
  2. Grateful Bread Company
    (gratefulbreaddenver.com)
    Bakes for: Fruition Restaurant, Masterpiece Delicatessen, Euclid Hall, Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Table 6, Il Posto, Vesta Dipping Grill, Luca D’Italia
    Where to find it: 425 Violet St., Golden. Open to the public on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  3. The Denver Bread Company
    (thedenverbreadcompany.com)
    Bakes for: Potager, the Cherry Tomato, Bang!, Venue, Hops & Pie, Boulder Cork
    Where to find it: 3200 Irving St., Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  4. 4. City Bakery
    (303-292-3989)
    Bakes for: Snooze, Elway’s, Shanahan’s Steakhouse, H BurgerCo., Ocean Prime, Steuben’s, the Über Sausage
    Where to find it: Marczyk Fine Foods, Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Deli, and the Cheese Company

COFFEE & SWEETS

 

Buzzworthy

The perfect cup of coffee.

Your cup of joe is a highly personal choice, but think about this: Starbucks has perfected the art of standardization. That venti latte or grande drip will taste the same here as it will in Detroit or Beijing. That’s exactly what you won’t find at independent java huts. • Barista extraordinaire Ami Cusack (currently running the coffee program at Jake’s Brew Bar in Littleton) and I ventured across the Mile High City and surrounding areas sipping cappuccinos and espresso, talking to the baristas behind the bar, and examining microfoam, latte art, and the beans in the hopper. Our findings are below. —AMF

  1. Go to: Crema Coffee House, 2862 Larimer St., 720-284-9648, cremacoffeehouse.net
    Drink this: macchiato (two shots of espresso with a dollop of microfoam)
    Cusack says: Crema is constantly changing up its espresso. I always go with whichever espresso the barista says is pulling best that day.
  2. Go to: Pablo’s Coffee, 630 E. Sixth Ave., 303-744-3323, pabloscoffee.com
    Drink this: small latte for here
    Cusack says: Go for the latte art.
  3. Go to: Aviano Coffee, 3031 E. Second Ave., 303-399-8347, avianocoffee.blogspot.com
    Drink this: espresso
    Cusack says: This is the intellectual side of coffee. The baristas are dedicated to their craft; they are always precise, on point, and methodical.
  4. Go to: Corvus Coffee Co., 1947 S. Broadway, 303-913-8906, corvuscoffee.com
    Drink this: chicory iced toddy
    Cusack says: Owner Phil Goodlaxson is very adventurous and innovative. The roaster is right in the shop so the whole bean-to-cup process is transparent.
  5. Go to: Hooked on Colfax, 3213 E. Colfax Ave., 303-398-2665, hookedoncolfax.com
    Drink this: dirty chai (chai with two shots of espresso)
    Cusack says: I love how the shop supports local products like Sweet Action Ice Cream, Corvus espresso, Pablo’s beans, and Bhakti Chai.
  6. Go to: The Denver Bicycle Cafe, 1308 E. 17th Ave., 720-446-8029, denverbicyclecafe.com
    Drink this: cappuccino
    Cusack says: The shop uses a bottomless filter (most places use a machine with a double spout), which is impressive because it indicates how well the espresso has been tamped down.
  7. Go to: Happy Coffee, 1 S. Broadway, 720-328-8214, happycoffeeco.com
    Drink this: toddy, which is brewed via the Japanese drip system.
    Cusack says: This is a coffeeshop for hipsters and coffee geeks. I love that the largest size drink you can order is 12 ounces.
  8. Go to: Jake’s Brew Bar, 2540 W. Main St., Littleton, 303-996-1006
    Drink this: eight-ounce goat’s milk latte with a honey drizzle
    Cusack says: I make all my own syrups. Don’t miss the vanilla-clove-cinnamon.
  9. Go to: Metropolis, 300 W. 11th Ave., 303-534-1744, metropolisdenver.com
    Drink this: cortado (two shots of espresso with an equal amount of milk)
    Cusack says: Ask for either Brock Wortman or Miguel Vicuna to make your drink. Look for a second location in LoHi to open.
  10. Go to: 2914 Coffee, 2914 W. 25th Ave., 303-953-8997
    Drink this: latte for here
    Cusack says: Owner Anthony Davis worked for Amante (in Boulder), and he knows how to pour. His latte art is impressive—note the meringuelike microfoam.
  11. Go to: Boxcar Coffee Roasters, 1825 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-527-1300, boxcarcoffee.com
    Drink this: cappuccino
    Cusack says: Watch the baristas make your coffee. The brewing technique is more science lab than coffeeshop. Look for Boxcar to open an outpost in Denver.
  12. 12. Go to: Two Rivers Craft Coffee Company, 7745 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, 303-424-1313, tworiverscoffee.com
    Drink this: pour over (an individually brewed cup of coffee)
    Cusack says: Owner Eric Yochim sources excellent beans. Right now he’s using Novo and Corvus.

 

 

Time Machine

Chocolate, the old-fashioned way.

Nibble a piece of Ritual Chocolate, and it might surprise you. That’s because what you’re tasting is the cocoa bean, rather than sugar and cocoa butter. The flavor is dense and earthy, even floral—and surprisingly complex. “That’s what got us into chocolate,” says Robbie Stout, who owns the year-old Denver company with his wife, Anna Davies. “We wanted to see how far we could take the bean.”

Stout and Davies travel to Costa Rica to source their beans directly from the farmers. Back in Colorado, they make 80-pound batches of chocolate once a week on machines from the early 1900s that winnow, mix, and temper. The resulting chocolate is aged for six months, then molded into either silver dollar–size disks or solid bars. Only then are the pieces wrapped in gold foil and brown paper, and hand-stamped with the Ritual logo. It’s a lengthy process for a simple pleasure—and that’s why Ritual is worth seeking out. Find Ritual Chocolate at Cured, the Truffle Cheese Shop, and Artemisia & Rue. ritualchocolate.com —Chelsea Long