A Little Bit of Eating & Shopping in Denver
Knowing absolutely nothing about the food scene in Denver, I was fully prepared to let the fancy banquet hall hors d'oeuvres, premium surf & turf and slices of scrumptious wedding cake be the culinary coup de gras of my trip. But once I started researching and collecting word-of-mouth recommendations from local Denverites, I realized I had traveled to a burgeoning Southwestern foodie Mecca. Apparently a slew of new restaurants have opened up, thanks to an influx of reputable chefs creating farm-to-table menus and designer cocktails inspired by the region. With the clock against me, and enough endorsed eateries to make a reservation at for the next two weeks, a unanimous consensus of praise would have to the criteria for my selections. Out of the handful we were able to try, these two lived up to all their hype and more.
A Little Bit of Eating...
Located in the historic Larimer Square amongst the 19th-century landmark buildings, is the Mediterranean inspired Rioja. The exposed whitewashed brick, copper-topped bar, circular concave mirrors, and hand blown glass light fixtures give the restaurant a contemporary aesthetic without being cold. Industrial wine racks display a diverse selection of vino while assisting in separating the two dinning sections. Outside on the patio, baskets of wild summer flowers and greenery hang off the iron rails. It’s a warm and inviting atmosphere that is only surpassed by the quality of the food.
Hearing that Rioja’s brunch was top-notch, we hopped in a Lyft early Saturday morning to beat the crowd. The meal began with complimentary rosemary & goat cheese house-made biscuits. Appetized, we moved on to the “Rioja Eggs Benedict” and “Eggs in Purgatory.” The Benedict had perfectly poached eggs on top of a larger goat cheese house-made biscuit finished with Parmesan sauce. The eggs in the “Eggs in Purgatory” came baked on a bed of goat cheese grits, savory tomato olive ragu and a piece of grilled focaccia bread to dip with. What impressed me were the unconventional twists on classic flavor profiles for breakfast items and how well the dishes were executed. Along with having a pineapple juice spritzer, we finished our brunch with the “Rioghnut”—a donut and croissant combo covered in chevre glaze and lemon macerated blackberries.
Winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for "Best Chef Southwest" in 2013 and semifinalist for "Outstanding Chef" in 2016, executive chef/owner Jennifer Jasinski has truly created memorable dishes sourced from local ingredients found in Colorado. Rioja earned a TBOT 9.5.
Located at The Source—another warehouse marketplace in the RiNo district of Denver where patrons can purchase bespoke merchandise or congregate for drinks, Acorn serves new American cuisine and artisanal cocktails. From the exposed air-ducts and exhibition kitchen to the graffiti covered brick walls and piles of split wood stacked against the metal scaffolding frame of the building, this is industrial inspired décor to the hilt. I’m surprised large metal barrels with wooden crates pushed up to them as stools for seating aren't in the place of the marble tabletops and gunmetal chairs. The space is definitely cool, but that’s not why people should go there.
We started with their crispy fried pickles. Lightly battered rounds of juicy-sour pickles warmed from the fryer, enhanced by a green goddess aioli. The pickles were wonderful, but nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
Executive chef Bill Espiricuetta’s approach to preparing brisket comes from his Austin, Texas roots and his time living in Kansas City, (Westword.com). The merging of these two styles results in one of the most successful brisket sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. The SMoK brisket sandwich features fall-off-the-bone tender meat shavings smothered in a spicy flavorsome made-from-scratch barbeque sauce. It truly raises the brisket bar to the stratosphere. Acorn earned an overall TBOT 9.3.
A Little Bit of Shopping...
I normally like to get my vacation cardio in by doing a little heart rate raising shopping. I tend to be more attracted to the mom and pop local gift shops and clothing stores carrying items and labels I might not be familiar with. Pressed for time, I wasn’t able to do as much damage as I might have liked, but I did discover a charming set of his and her shops called Soul Haus and Pandora On The Hill.
Owned by a husband and wife team, Soul Haus sells vintage inspired men’s and women’s apparel, barware, and gifts, while next door at Pandora On The Hill cards and jewelry are sold. They promote local brands, are a certified green business and take at least 6% of each item purchased and donate it back into their local community.
In addition the Ryland green and black gingham shirt I purchased (worn to the Wynkoop Brewery pool game shellacking from the previous TBOT Denver Do’s post) my partner picked up a handmade silk tie with a hand-screened bee pattern down the front of it by Cyberoptix. They also carry solid colognes from Fulton & Roark.
“Fulton & Roark Solid Cologne is a highly-concentrated wax-based fragrance that is long-lasting and steady wearing. Its rugged, shatterproof design can go anywhere, from your gym bag to your pocket,” (F&R).
Reasonably priced with a highly curated selection of attire and accoutrement, this store is a great place to visit if you ever find yourself in Denver.
Rioja- 1431 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202, (303) 820-2282
Acorn- 3350 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216, (720) 542-3721
Soul Haus- 1225 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80218, 303) 830-7685