Our guide to local, sustainable, organic—and just plain good—food.
This article was a finalist for the 2013 City and Regional Magazine Award in the food or dining package category.
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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
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.
A step-by-step insider’s guide to the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. By Andra Zeppelin
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
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
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.com —Rachel Nobrega
Goat Cheese and Red Onion Pizza
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°.
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
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
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
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