Whether you're a BLT bon vivant, cassoulet connoisseur or eggplant enthusiast, comfort-food season is here in earnest. To that end, here’s a peek at some of the best rib-sticking, soul-satisfying dishes in Denver.
Vegetarian cassoulet from Bistro Vendome
"I've been thinking about doing a vegetarian version of this classic French dish for years, and finally put it on the menu," says chef de cuisine Adam Branz, whose updated cassoulet is served in a cast-iron crock with fresh vegetables (parsnips, turnips, marrow beans, carrots, celery root and fennel), tomatoes and garlic-rubbed bread crumbs.
1420 Larimer St.; 303-825-3232
Eggplant Parmesan from Panzano
When it comes to eggplant, there are two camps: ardent enthusiasts and steadfast opponents. But even the naysayers have to admit that Elise Wiggins, exec chef of Panzano, turns eggplant to gold. Her melanzane fritte — fried eggplant — showcases an herb-specked, long-simmered pomodoro sauce topped with delicately breaded spheres of aubergine. Embellishments of goat cheese, fresh basil leaves, basil oil and balsamic reduction give the traditional Italian favorite a modern pump of sophistication.
909 17th St.; 303-296-3525
Bloody Mary from Stoic & Genuine
Denver is a true Bloody Mary town, and while you'll find the classic morning pick-me-up on just about every drink menu in the city, you won't find anything similar to the concoction poured at Stoic & Genuine. Here, the housemade mix (a blend of V8, spices, Cholula, sambal), horseradish and Worcestershire sauce, is supplemented with house-brined pickles, a stick of Castelvetrano olives and, for its crowning glory, a tower of seasoned Mexican shrimp and a crab claw. A tiny bottle of Tabasco seals the deal.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 303-640-3474
Whole fish from Ace Eat Serve
The yesteryear Friday night fish fry is still alive and well at Ace Eat Serve, but chef Brandon Biederman updated the concept by serving a whole fish (everything from snapper to rockfish to sea bream). This dish for two is a sea marvel with a mound of fried or jasmine rice and wok-tossed vegetables. The fish dish changes each week — as does its preparation — but no matter how it's cooked (fried, steamed or grilled), we love the fact that Biederman focuses on underutilized and underappreciated fish.
501 E. 17th Ave.; 303-800-7705
Nashville-style hot chicken from Lou's Food Bar
As anyone who crushes on fried chicken knows, it's the kind of dish that can lead to fame and fortune. The fried chicken at Lou's was a hit from day one. And when it introduced the notoriously spicy Tennessee version — revealing a fiery blast of heat and crisped skin that crackles — that, too, became an instant cult favorite. "Our fried chicken, an American classic, has always been very popular," says owner Frank Bonnano. "But when we debuted the Nashville-style hot chicken with my own secret spice combination — plus duck fat — it really soared."
1851 W. 38th Ave.; 303-458-0336
Pork-belly BLT from Carbon Beverage Cafe
The nostalgic BLT (a sandwich staple that's witnessed few changes since its inception in the 1930s) undergoes a major overhaul at this cheeky coffeehouse and cafe. Chef Scott Parker serves a deconstructed version in a compartmentalized TV dinner tray. Butter lettuce hearts, brioche bacon tater tots, beefsteak tomatoes and house-cured pork belly all make an appearance. The idea is to combine the different flavors, the mix them with a bit of the green goddess dressing. Green beans dusted with togarashi and a house-baked brownie make it a full meal...for the bargain price of $9.99.
1553 Platte St.; 720-428-8565
Pork-skin carbonara from Euclid Hall
Forget everything you thought you knew about spaghetti carbonara, because the kitchen crew at Euclid Hall — most notably chef de cuisine Jake Grant — turned the honored egg-and-bacon dish into a contemporary, show-stopping epiphany. Here, the fat-scraped, boiled noodles — roughly the thickness of soba noodles — are created with pork skin from the hogs that Euclid Hall breaks down every week. The mega-rich, cream-based dish — which also includes house-cured lardons, fresh peas, peas shoots and mustard vinaigrette — is crowned with shavings of a cured egg to mimic Parmesan.
1317 14th St.; 303-595-4255
Pho from Onefold
There are dozens of pho dens in Denver where you can slurp noodles, but most of them are carbon copies. That's why we're currently enamored with the pho at Onefold, a charming farmhouse-style cafe that dispenses restorative bowls of steaming grass-fed beef or chicken broth generously stocked with brisket, tendon or rare flank. Then there's the requisite condiments of basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts and jalapeños. And while you can tow the traditional line and order your pho with rice noodles, the up-to-the-moment kitchen offers a modernized alternative: organic squash noodles.
1420 E. 18th Ave.; 303-954-0877
Scampi from Bar Dough
Before we ordered the scampi from Bar Dough, we asked chef and co-owner Max MacKissock to give us the lowdown. Suffice it to say he undersold it. Big time. If there's one dish on this list that you must try, like, now, it's this one. Stunningly displayed on an ornate glass plate is a school of grilled New Caledonia prawns — heads intact — cloaked in an absolutely fantastic sauce that's all about technique. MacKissock makes a piping hot shrimp stock, reduces it, then blends it in a Vita-Prep with cold butter and xanthan gum. Lemon, garlic and parsley add pops of flavor. In a word: brilliant.
2227 W. 32nd Ave.; 720-668-8506
Hanger steak from Old Major
Forget filets, strips and rib-eyes. Hanger steak is our new beef obsession. And while the off-cut is making appearances on menus all over the city — usually with a typical side of frites — Justin Brunson's food temple features a stellar version. The salt-crusted, scarlet-fleshed meat is sliced and fanned, then plated with a vibrant splay of white beans, peppery chicory, cubed potatoes, carrots and sorrel.
3316 Tejon St.; 720-420-0622