Drew dines on all the things,
@Cheftroyguard has been a leader in the Denver food scene since back when Larimer Square was the only cool place to go in town. More than 10 years ago he opened @tagrestaurant there, and now with eight concepts under his watch, he is still proving he’s not just a pioneer of the past. Guard’s upbringing in Hawaii, and later in San Diego, is evident in his east-meets-west and north-meets-south cooking influence. For example, this ahi tuna ‘Taco Sushi’ - with sushi rice and mango salsa, served atop a delicious mound of guac, is a tastebud irruption of Hawaiian, Japanese, and Mexican cuisine. These tacos have been on the menu as long as TAG has been open, which speaks volumes about how incredible they are.
The fact that Gaurd has literally grown up with the Denver food scene is likewise apparent in many of his concepts. TAG, a hip and fun spot was followed up by @guardandgrace – an elegant and refined dining experience, and the perfect place to settle in for the evening. There is also @tagburgerbar_denver, a crowd pleaser and great for the fam. And when you’re ready to escape for a little fun? @loschingones_denver is the spot to get the group together before a night out on the town. You get the picture - there’s an occasion for it all. So, just GO!! #drewthediningdenverite #tagrestaurantgroup
Drew Meekins does some stuff with the Olympics and is such a big deal that some stranger created a Wikipedia page for him. Which is less creepy than it sounds. For our purposes he eats well and takes kick ass photos of his plates. Follow him on Instagram. Book a skating choreography session here. Not what you are looking for? Cocktails aren't the only thing that should be on ice people.
“Will you be eating the cookies soon?” The young cashier asked me as he placed each pastry in a small paper bag. He was wearing an apron like the bakers I had seen in the back with a crisp white shirt but still managed to look casual in that millennial way. I hadn’t paid him much attention until now. We were consuming the cookies shortly, but his question intrigued me.
“Relatively soon. Does it need to be refrigerated?” Like all the pastries at Tokyo premium Bakery, it had been sitting out on the shelves designed for customers to fill their tray themselves before proceeding to the young cashier.
“No, but if you will not these eating it today, I can wrap them plastic. Japanese dough is accustomed to humidity so it’s at risk to dry out.” He explained this in a very understanding tone that suggested he’s done this before….many times. Considering there was no way any of the cookies would last the day, I declined the plastic wrap relieved he wasn’t passing judgement on me for eating these gigantic treats all in one day.
The cookie in question was the Sunrise. Described as a “soft, sweet bread covered with lemon-flavored cookie”, it took me a bite to understand said description. With each doughy bite, complete with a lemon cookie shell, it was nothing short of special.
I found I had to rely on many of the descriptions here to determine what I was purchasing. Specializing in “Japanese-style bread and pastries”, Tokyo Premium Bakery is certainly authentic. While you will recognize some pastries, such as the croissants (delightful), others are not your typical Denver bakery fare. We also tried chocolate cornet, a Japanese cornet- shaped sweet bun filled with chocolate custard. This one came wrapped in plastic so we did not have to worry about your consumption time, but ate it right away just in case.
The same goes for the drink menu. Offering a variety of coffee and lattes, you will also find Japanese specialties such as the Matcha latte and Houjicha (a Japanese green tea I learned) Latte. I chose the Turmeric Ginger Chai, fulfilling my caffeine and antioxidant quota for the day.
One of their specialties we sadly did not try. We learned you need to order their famous bread 24 hours in advance and plan to do so soon. The person behind me was picking up his loaf of bread, called SHOKU-PAN. Available by one-third or a whole loaf, the slices are up to 4 inches thick. Used as sandwich bread, it is described as “soft and fluffy” and makes my typical sandwich bread look like cardboard.
South Pearl Street has long been a hot bed for Japanese food in Denver. Now you can make a day of it, starting at Tokyo Japanese Bakery for breakfast and eating your way through lunch and dinner at the neighboring restaurants. Just be sure to order your SHOKUPAN ahead of time.
Tokyo Premium Bakery is located at 1540 S Pearl street and offers seating for dine-in. For hours (do check as it’s closed Mondays and certain Tuesdays) and more information, visit https://tokyopremiumbakery.com/
Another not so detailed dining post from Anna...
Are you into Mexican wrestling? Or Mexican wrestlers? Or Mexican wrestling dolls? Supermegabien is here to introduce you to the last one. As well as incredible Latin American food.
I've always been a fan of Dim Sum. Carts of delicacies roll by producing a pavlovian response and encouraging the kind of experimentation with flavors that seem risky with an entree.
What is Latin American Dim Sum?
It is Latin American Dim Sum.
Perhaps there a more robust explanation but I ignore the fine print.
When we arrived at 6:00 on a Tuesday (lets pretend the early hour was because we were dining with a three year old and not that I roll into restaurants with the octogenarians) every table was full except the corner booth. The host showed us right to the four top and happily added a fifth setting although he had not yet laid eyes on our pint sized diner. Some restaurants are picky about that, but the staff's attitude matched the vibe...buzzy and upbeat.
The menu featured many dim sum options as well as entrees which come in half and full portions. It is hard to ignore the carts. We tried everything on them including the special...which turns out to be buns on Tuesday. Their doughy wrapping was the closet to the sticky buns of traditional Aisan dim sum, but these were stuff with succulent savory meat rather than strange plum-like paste. My favorite was the curry shrimp soup.
A little game for you: which of the above is the soup?
Despite already feeling satisfied it was time for us to try entrees. We chose the mole lamb wrapped in banana leaf and pork with slaw and home made...lets call them rolls but its possible the description was in the fine print.
Here is another game: Which entree are you looking at? Alternatively: Who can't hold still while using her new iPhone's low-light photography mode?
The slaw was incredible. I asked the server about the acid in it and she said it was lemon juice. Simple. Bright. Cuts through the pork. Wait...I gave away the entree.
After trying bites of things that would have sent me screeching to the bathroom at his age the little guy took to examining the decor. He too seemed uninterested in the tiny type and instead featured a Mexican wrestling doll (you knew we were going to get there) high on a perch. Our server agreed to get him down to play with (lets assume gender here, but maybe I shouldn't because his breasts are a prominent feature.) I thought he looked like a voodoo doll monster but the kid seemed to feel pretty comfortable with him.
The kindness of the server, the interactivity of the place (carts! toys!), and the combination of tastes pushed SMB to the top of my return list.
Given the size of the locale, it’s pretty amazing that Vert Kitchen produces the wonderful food that it does. I planned to meet Anna at Overt (the adjoining coffee shop) for some New Year planning, only to realize that there wasn’t just limited seating, but zero seating. Perhaps we should have known since the address is 712 ½? At any rate, we happily went next door to Vert, which I hadn’t eaten at for years and was eager to revisit.
Only slightly larger than Overt, Vert Kitchen has limited seating which is supplemented by the patio on warmer days. We sat by the window and caught up over tea while we waited for our food. Squeezed into the adorable restaurant sipping my latte while I gazed at Pearl street, I almost felt like I was back in a big(ger) city!
While the table was small, the portions were mighty. We were both pleasantly surprised when our food came with full salads (and mine even included a side – I chose the quinoa salad and had to take it home in a box). Since I have zero dietary restrictions (I wish I had the willpower), I had the Fried Eggs and Bacon on Toast. Such a simple name does not accurately describe the meal though. Yes there were fried eggs. Yes there was extremely thick bacon. And yes toast. But this wasn’t your typical fare. Vert touts fresh ingredients and there was no arguing on this meal. The toast, intimidating in color at first, was delightfully covered in tomato butter. I had never tried, or heard of, tomato butter but now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Anna had the butternut squash, kale and brie frittata (and had to remove the butternut squash because she has willpower and exercises it with the Keto diet). When the frittata came on a full bed of salad, Anna was disappointed by the cucumbers. She has such a distaste for them she declared she wasn’t eating the salad. A few bites later after pushing some cucumbers aside, she declared it the best salad she has ever tasted. Ever. Pretty sure it trumped the butternut squash/kale/brie minus butternut squash frittata.
By this point the small eatery was packed and there was a wait for the few coveted tables. After another cup of expensive tea (total pet peeve here, but tea should be free refills like coffee!), we decided we could not monopolize the table anymore with our laptops and packed up our work and leftovers. Really though, I think Anna needed to remove herself from watching me sip the delicious, and free, cucumber water.
Vert Kitchen and Overt are open daily 8am- 8pm. Menus are seasonal and can be found here.
Another not so particular dining review by Anna Palmer
"How's that jew fruit?" Steve asks me from his saddle leather bar stool. We are seated side by side at the U shaped bar surrounding Beckon's open kitchen. I guess the gift for the 16th anniversary is being allowed to make fun of your partner's heritage.
Joe is the juice guy and he is combing creative ingredients in weird and wonderful ways. None of the juices are too sweet and lots of them include ingredients in our dishes.
When each plate it dropped we try to find the juice ingredient. Steve is a bit flummoxed by the fennel (probably my favorite juice ingredient of all) "I would have pushed these fennel fronds aside but I saw what care he took in tweezing them." A moment later he is coughing...and not from his cold. "They fennel fronds are stuck in my throat." I think he likes to say fennel fronds. "Live by the fennel fronds, die by the fennel fronds." He tells me. I am pretty sure I know what to get him for our 17th anniversary.
This is what it looked like when we walked in. And because of the ridiculously good service it looked a lot like this when we rolled out. Just add happy diners. And clusters of glasses. Below: Parker rolls, black cod with cucumber melon things, Halibut with some sort of foam, tweezed greens and my favorite mushroom, Beets with other delicious things, Half quail- which is ridiculous- and pickled qumquat ( guess which ingredient was in the juice). Colorado lamb, I forget but it was an icy palate cleanser with FENNEL FRONDS, Something something over incredible chocolate, Salted chocolate shortbread cookies.
I tried to get a photo of them tweezing food onto plates but the tweezing happens at about the same rate as the wine glasses are filled (quickly) so it is all a bit of a blur.
There was only one sad note of the evening.
Beckon's partner restaurant "Call"is closed until April. On the upside though,
Joe tells me there will be lots of juice upon re-opening.
And I can only assume the glassware to match it.
I moved to Denver over 15 years ago via New York, circa Chicago. At the time, I remember telling my then boyfriend (now husband), I wanted to look downtown for an apartment. Being a Colorado native, he assured me no one lived downtown, a sentiment that was true at the time. We settled in Platt Park and I traded city for cute neighborhood business districts that I began to explore. The first time I went to South Broadway/Baker, I was shopping for a very specific diaper bag and had seen a store online that had an adorable baby section in the back with the bag I wanted. Anyone who knows the South Broadway/Baker district understands that it’s likely not the first place you would think of to find a diaper bag. At any rate, I immediately feel in love with the area and felt instantly at home, it’s edginess reminding me of some of our favorite haunts in Chicago and New York. Over the years, we have enjoyed so many restaurants there and were sad to see a favorite of ours, Deluxe (and its dessert partner Delite), close some years back. Luckily a new restauranteur took over and opened Gozo which has fast become a new favorite.
Gozo, named after an island off Sicily, serves predominately Italian food and the wood oven pizzas are a longstanding favorite. The décor is stylish and rustic, with a white-washed brick wall, an open kitchen with a prominent wood oven, and a large bar surrounded by seating. We recently visited with three kids in tow- usually our South Broadway dining experiences are sans kids unless its Punchbowl, but since they are finally of age to sit and eat without being absolute nightmares and they love Italian, we figured it was worth a shot so mom and dad could get a decent meal. We knew we made the right choice when we ordered cocktails and mocktails and everyone was feeling very grown up. I enjoyed my Last Summer cocktail but couldn’t decide if it was a tribute to the recent summer ending, or a previous time when summer was a magical break from life versus just a hotter, sweatier version of being a grown up. At any rate, it was delicious. My husband, Seth, went with their take on an old favorite- the Smoked Old Fashioned featuring a hickory smoked orange, and our kids enjoyed the Cucumber Spritzer and “Up & Up” mocktails.
Fearing unrest amongst the unfed, we started with truffle fries for the kids and the burrata for the adults. Of course, Seth and I ate half the fries and the kids ventured out a bit, mostly to eat the toasted bread with a bit of marmalade like Paddington (which tasted delightful with the actual burrata but that was lost on them). While I had eaten enough of the delicious sweet, creamy, in-house made burrata to last until morning, we decided to plow ahead and order mains. The boys were happy to find that while there is no “kids” menu, they could order a plain pizza or pasta any way they wanted. Seth and I stuck to the menu and I ordered the Butternut Squash Risotto (fully embracing the present fall season now that my cocktail was finished) and Seth ordered his favorite, a pepperoni pizza.
Fresh out of the wood oven, the pepperoni pizza was not your average slice. Featuring sliced pepperoni, roasted pancetta, and fresh cheeses, the pizza was hearty and flavorful. Having eaten my weight in burrata, I was instantly both jealous and relieved to have passed on pizza for the risotto. I love a good risotto and Gozo’s is no exception. Featuring fire-roasted butternut squash with a sage brown butter, each bite was creamy and delicious.
My only regret was wearing high-waisted jeans and sadly we were all too stuffed for dessert. Instead, we wandered around South Broadway a bit, enjoying the window shopping and diversity of shops, food and entertainment the area has to offer. We have heard Gozo has a great brunch too and vow to come back and spend a morning brunching and shopping (as soon as our boys can tolerate that).
Tucked out of range 12 miles north of Vail, accessible only by a winding dirt road, is a beautiful spot, the Piney River Ranch. The ranch sits on the edge of Piney Lake with abundant views of the Gore Range. A popular spot for day visitors, welcome from 9am – 6pm, the ranch rents canoes and paddleboards by the hour. Fly fishermen can also be seen throughout the lake and if your kids are like mine, the cold mountain water won’t deter them from a swim (which deters the fish and annoys the fly fishermen as we found out the hard way). For those willing to stray from the water, there is a 3-hour hike (about 6 miles roundtrip) to a waterfall, as well as 1 or 2 hour guided horseback rides that depart from Piney Stables. For those feeling like they can’t get enough, there are several small cabins and “glamping tents” available for nightly stays.
Recently, at the end of the Piney Ranch season, we rented the Bear cabin. We meant to take our kids camping all summer, but well, camping is a TON of work….the tent, the food, the bathroom, the everything…..If you are like me (outdoorsy in an aspirational sense) , this really is the next best thing. Our cabin had a bunk room, as well as king bed in the front room. No running water, but a bathroom is a short jaunt up the hill (with real flushing toilets)- a small price to pay for the lake view. There is also a restaurant at Piney Ranch- the 9350’ Bar & Grill. However, knowing we would arrive after it closes with the day visitors at 6pm, we had planned accordingly and packed typical camping fare- hot dogs and s’mores. Each cabin is equipped with its own campfire set up right outside the front door- which for us meant right by the lake front. If you are more adventurous though, you do pass many USFS camping sites along the dirt road.
After checking in and taking a short hike, my husband went about making a fire for our dinner (oh, I should mention that the cabins do come with an outdoor propane grill as well, but we were going for as close to camping as we could get here). Of course, without the proper tools to gather wood, we ended up buying bundles at the ranch store upon arrival- cheating, I know, but we made the kids each carry a bundle to make it a bit more authentic. It took a bit of newspaper and firestarter (also sold at the store), but soon we had a roaring fire. Using the grate provided with each fire (I know, less and less like camping), my husband successfully cooked the hot dogs and we enjoyed a picnic by the lake. Luckily it was dark as each hot dog had a nice black coating from the fire that would have made my kids adamantly refuse to eat if they had been able to see it.
We did make the kids forage for sticks for s’mores and after 2-3 s’mores each and a few ghost stories around the fire, we retired to the cabin to play cards. The ranch is popular for event rentals, and we were the only cabin occupied by people outside of a wedding party. Luckily, they were a relatively quiet crew and we all quietly bonded over disobeying the ranches’ alcohol policy (no BYOB apparently).
Leaving the windows open, we all had an almost camping like night’s sleep – there is no wifi or cell phone service anywhere on the ranch so truly unplugging for 24 hours was a bonus to the experience. After a quick breakfast (we brought a few things in a cooler), we ventured out for the 3 hours hike to the waterfall. It was a beautiful day and the leaves were changing which made the hike completely worth it. If you are short on time though, I would recommend sticking to the lake, where we spent the afternoon canoeing, paddle boarding, and fishing after our lunch at the 9350’ Bar & Grill. The restaurant is in the main lodge on the property and faces the beautiful views of the lakes and mountains.
On the website, the restaurant “boasts the best smoked BBQ around.” Given that there is nothing around Piney River Ranch (and I don’t think our charred hot dogs count), I would venture to say their claim is true. Not feeling up for smoked brisket or smoked pork, we ended up with some kid meals, a cheeseburger, and a B.A.L.T. We all enjoyed the meal- in part because we were starving with all the hiking and fresh mountain air. Perhaps next time, we will try something more adventurous on the menu and test their BBQ claim. At any rate, we will certainly be returning for the view.
For more information and reservations, visit https://www.pineyriverranch.com.
Despite it being 5:00 the host looked at us with arched eyes. "You have a reservation of course." "Of course." Of course we did. It was Saturday night (if you can call 5:00 night) and dining in Denver requires a reservation. Obviously.
Perhaps it was Steve's liquid but despite wanting to order all of the meats and carbs we did begin with a lovely baby squash dish. We were particularly interested in the
masa crunchies and we were right to be. I think more veggies need Masa crunchies.
Here you see chicken and waffles with burnt orange syrup, orecchiette with
roasted mushrooms, confit garlic, hazelnuts, manchego cheese, and a deconstructed french dip. Or you would have seen the deconstructed French Dip but Steve ate it before I photographed it. The big winner was the orecchiette, or more specifically the orecchiette sauce. I didn't think I liked hazelnuts outside of a Nutella tub, but apparently I do.
Do I recommend 12 @ Madison? Oh yes. Just make sure you have a reservation, an order of the sauce that comes with pasta, and a double order of rolls.
First there was the hype. A good friend of mine had bought the Safta cookbook. She swore she would only eat Safta 7 days a week, 3 meals a day, for the rest of her life. It was that good. We decided to check it out for our anniversary the following week. The entire week before going, everyone, friends, coworkers, strangers on the street were talking about Safta it seemed.
“Have you tried Safta?” “You have to try Safta,” “Blah, blah, blah, blah, SAFTA, blah, blah, blah.” The night before our anniversary, I woke up to a soft whisper…SSSssaafta…. Riding into my very own bedroom on a unicorn was a handsome bartender, shirtless in his Safta signature apron with a Crystal’s Light on a silver tray…..Ssssaaafftaaa.
Could it be this good? Our expectations were high needless to say. We went, we drank, we ate, (too much of both) and pretty much loved it. I must admit though that it took one more visit to love, love it. The second time we even ate the bar, something I generally don't prefer; but well, as you can tell I love their bar and bartenders so it was amazing.
I did have the Crystal’s Light and while the bartender was fully clothed and no unicorns were present, it was still magical. It has many of my favorites (vodka) and things I didn’t even know I like (elderflower). Putting our faith in said bartender, we let him direct us on how much and what food to order. One mistake of our first experience was filling up on too many sides (salatim section of menu) and hummus dishes, both served with their infamous pita bread. The pita…. it’s easily the best I have ever had. With no willpower when it comes to carbs, I learned however, we needed to pace ourselves to enjoy some of the larger dishes too. The staff is generous with the perfectly cooked pita and it’s easy to accept their never-ending offering of the warm bread.
This time around, we started with the muhammara and the lamb ragu hummus, served of course with generous pita. The lamb ragu hummus is arguably the most popular and its easy to see why - the velvety, smooth hummus mixed with the flavorful lamb topping can only be described as delightful. I could easily have eaten this for my meal, but I would have missed out enjoying the larger dishes. Pacing ourselves with our pita this time, we next enjoyed the crispy eggplant (the only time I have ever seen my husband eat eggplant), and then ended with the Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shank. Considering that the man behind Safta named his parent company Pomegranate Hospitality, you just know this dish is going to be good. Paired with a whipped feta and fresh peaches, what could go wrong? Nothing. Sadly, on both visits we did not save room for dessert, but vow to return with a larger group to expand our culinary experience.
Safta in Hebrew means grandmother – you can see the touch of an older generation in the water glasses adorned with pink flowers, plates that would have worked in the 1950’s and even a portrait of the owner’s grandmother can be found hanging in the bar. Many of the recipes are inspired by his grandmother- someone all of us in Denver owe a thank you.
I am not the best traveller. I don't like cars or planes. I don't like boats or trains. I don't like strange beds or slowly dripping showers. I don't like friends having fun and staying up all hours. I don't like hiking or biking. There is not much to my liking. But I like Aspen. And channeling Dr. Seuss.
I also like eating and drinking.
I woke up early on day two to buy pastries. I bought all the pastries. They cost a billion dollars and were sickeningly good. Maybe the place was Paradise bakery? If not it should have been. I was not the only carb-obsessed traveller. We each brought snacks to share. Not many of these bags made the trip home. Particularly because they paired so well with the Green Chili cheddar dip.
In addition to carbohydrates day two featured the one hike I managed: Maroon Bells. Short and spectacular. Lets ignore the fact that we got there by shuttle and a large portion of the "hike" was navigated with ease by octogenarians. I didn't include the iconic lake shot because I am not one to follow the herd.
Except literally as I followed the herd around the lake.
After the hike we needed hydration so we headed the W hotel bar. We are attending to our hero, enjoying his Australian accent as much as our drink orders. Our priorities changed however when he dropped our drinks in the pool. It was a rescue mission befitting the great Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin. But luckily less deadly. It had a happy ending:
The next morning those of us who were sane skipped the hours long almost pure vertical hike. We hit a local coffee shop. Shop local people. Just check the cup if you need a reminder. Which you might before your caffeine.
Then we headed to the art market/farmer's market, the John Denver Botanic Garden, and a walk to look at billion dollar houses.
One of our group calls the Hotel Jerome her happy place. Or something more soulful. That said we decided to pop in around lunchtime. You can do some deep reading about the architecture and amenities on their website. We walked through the excellent lobby, checked out the closed bar and then settled in for burgers at the J Bar. Although I don't remember prohibition I have decided to add the word fiasco to my life. It is a fiasco that I have been ignoring it for so long. Was that as forced as me at Maroon Bells. Maybe.
That night (our last one) found us at Monarch Steakhouse. Eat local. Here I followed the martini rule. Martinis are like breasts. One is two few. Three are too many. Except that I didn't actually follow the rule and had three. Hence the un-fun drive home.
Another highlight of Aspen? The bathrooms! I am not talking about posh bar bathrooms. I am talking about outdoor bathrooms.
Here's to Aspen: full of hikes, bites, drinks and billionaires. And snark.
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