Every evening at the Highland's Garden Café, the chef-owner's mother, Helen Yeager, designs the flower arrangements for the 34 tables that fill the restaurant's cozy rooms. Her arthritic fingers place tiny flowers into delicate bowls, porcelain dishes, and glass vases. Small details, like flowers harvested from the cafe's gardens, typify the attention paid at many of Denver's independent eateries. But blossoms aren't the only hand-picked ingredient on these tables. Although local chefs have used domestic produce, eggs, and even meats on their menus for years, they're shining the spotlight on Colorado products this fall.
On Saturday, September 6, Harvest Weeka week-long event celebrating Colorado's culinary culturemakes its debut. In partnership with the Colorado Wine Board and Colorado Proud, members of the Denver Independent Network of Restaurants (DINR) will offer diners special menus highlighting local ingredients. The idea behind Harvest Week is twofold: One, to promote homegrown products (from Fat Tire to Rocky Ford cantaloupe) that taste better and are more sustainable because they've traveled fewer miles; and two, to educate the public about Denver's bounty of local, independent eateries.
For more than two years, a handful of Denver's independent restaurant owners, chefs, and managers has banded together to offer each other support in the sometimes harrowing world of restaurants. Today this budding network of about 40 eateries (think local spots like Table 6, Black Pearl, Dixons, and Sushi Den) shares innovative ideas, brainstorms industry trends, and once a month enjoys the company of fellow chefs, restaurant proprietors, and other professional foodies. "It's all about encouraging each other," says Elizabeth Williams, the events and marketing manager for Highland's Garden Café and the chair of the Harvest Week committee. "These restaurants are the heart and spirit of Denver."
Harvest Week is the first official DINR event. During those seven days, diners can expect local dishes such as smoked Colorado trout, Montrose apple salad with Haystack Mountain Red Cloud cheese, roasted garlic-crème fraîche, and surprises like coconut-encrusted Colorado rack of lamb with lemon grass, paired with gingery kabocha squash. Menus will vary restaurant to restaurantwhich makes the week a bit of a culinary treasure hunt. And so, we challenge you to branch out, dine out, and discover your favorite local meal. www.eatdenver.com