It's been nearly two years in the making, but as of Monday, Avanti Food & Beverage, a culinary collection of start-up restaurants housed in shipping containers occupying a decades-old, repurposed two-level warehouse, can count itself among Denver's new wave of urbanized, European market–inspired food-and-drink halls. The space, designed as a culinary think tank for chefs to test their concepts and craft innovative dishes at affordable prices, houses seven distinctly different chef-driven restaurant incubators, two communal dining areas and bars, plus a stunning rooftop patio with panoramic views of the city skyline and Coors Field.
The restaurants include Poco Torteria, a torta shop from Pinche Tacos chef-owner Kevin Morrison; Farmer Girl, a farm-to-table concept from Tim Payne; MiJo, a Japanese-influenced izakaya from John DePierro, chef de cuisine of Bones, and Michael Nevarez of Bonanno Concepts; Brava, a wood-fired pizza and sandwich concept from chef David Bravdica, who made his mark on the Denver street-food scene in 2010 when he graced the 16th Street Mall with a wood-fired-pizza wagon; Quiero Arepas, a Venezuelan spot that features arepas from chefs Becky and Igor Panasewicz; Bixo Mediterranean Bites, a modernized Mediterranean and Western European concept that integrates Mexican twists from chef Marco Gonzales; and Souk Shawarma, a Lebanese-influenced newcomer from Jon Robbins, chef-owner of Bistro Barbes.
Hours are Sunday through Wednesday from 11 AM–midnight and Thursday through Saturday from 11 AM–2 AM; kitchen hours vary from restaurant to restaurant, and happy hour is from 4–6 PM daily.
Take a peek through our slide show below for a first look at the food, the beverages, the space and the view.
The space: Originally built in 1935, Avanti, a former drugstore, followed by years as a printing company, is the vision of founders Patrick O'Neill (owner of Choppers Custom Salads) and Rob Hahn, co-founder and head of GRT, a LoHi real estate investment and development group that backed the project, who commissioned Lauren O'Neil, Patrick's wife, to design the space. "The building has a ton of history, and I wanted to embrace that," says O'Neil, who preserved and refurbished the existing weathered brick and concrete floors and bedecked the windowed quarters with eclectic retro-modern furnishings, intriguing art installations and dining areas, she says, that "double as dinner and a show."
The downstairs dining tables (pictured above) were custom designed to mimic chunky butcher blocks, and the seating configuration was carefully thought out to ensure that those who stop in for lunch or dinner can watch the chefs work their magic. "While this is a culinary collective, I also wanted to create a visual collective, which meant elevating an industrial building with art installations and combining antique and modern elements, all while keeping it classic and functional," she explains.
The cocktail program: Cocktail pro Allison Widdecombe of Williams & Graham, along with Chad Michael George, a Williams & Graham alum, spearhead the bar program, which features wine, beer and nine cocktails, three of which are kegged. The cocktails, all priced at $10 each, include the Afternoon Bramble (pictured) concocted with Leopold Bros. gin and blackberry liqueur, Cynar, lime and fresh mint. "We wanted to craft a high-quality cocktail program that preserved the integrity of the ingredients and spirits and kept things interesting, but we also wanted to make sure that we could make them quickly, so we have both kegged cocktails and built cocktails that don't require too many ingredients or a lot of time to make," says Widdecombe.
Mijo: This globalized, Japanese-influenced izakaya and noodle shop from chefs John DePierro and Michael Nevarez, both of Bones, is all about "taking izakaya-style street food and making it super-affordable," says DePierro, noting that just about everything on his menu rings in at $10 or less. Noodles play a big part on the menu, but don't expect ramen.
"There's enough ramen in Denver already," insists DePierro, who prefers the versatility of udon noodles, which take center stage in his curried udon noodle bowl (pictured) brimming with potatoes, carrots, scallions, peanuts and cilantro. His addictive tater tots with miso aïoli, crumbled cotija cheese and furikaka are bound to be a huge hit too. Located on the ground level.
Brava! Pizzeria Della Strada: David Bravdica, who made his mark on the Denver food scene in 2010 when he graced the 16th Street Mall with a wood-fired pizza wagon that dispenses charred, bubbly crusts topped with mostly local ingredients, has extended his repertoire with a sophomore effort that now allows him to sling pizzas and serve charcuterie and cheese, small plates, salads and sandwiches (don't miss the "Family Jewels," an open-faced meatball sandwich on housemade focaccia) without having to endure the elements. There's farinata, an unleavened gluten-free bread option, too. Located on the ground level.
Poco Torteria: From Kevin Morrison, chef-owner of Pinche Tacos, comes Poco, a torteria that celebrates the torta, the undisputed king of Mexican sandwiches. Poco features 10 griddled variations, including the excellent porchetta (pictured), all of which are served on fresh-baked pan frances rolls sourced from City Bakery. Side dishes (think housemade fries), desserts (churros and tres leches), Mexican sodas and housemade aguas frescas and horchata round out the menu. Located on the ground level.
Farmer Girl: Chef Tim Payne has a solid background in the local, sustainable and organic food movement, and he and his wife also own a one-acre farm, from which Payne sources produce for Farmer Girl, a field-to-plate restaurant with a hyper-seasonal, vegetarian-intensive menu.
"We plan to make use of the produce from our farm, as well as other local farms to showcase artisans, farmers and ranchers, and we're showcasing fruits and veggies with proteins as accents," says Payne, who plans to change his dishes every one to two weeks depending upon what's fresh and season-specific. At the moment, we're fawning over his Palisade peach and pork belly salad. Located on the ground level.
Quiero Arepas: Igor and Beckie Panasewicz, the duo behind Denver's super-popular (and super-successful) Venezuelan arepa food truck, have also taken up residence at Avanti, and while their signature corn pockets stuffed with savory fillings are the primary draw, they'll also features other dishes and drinks (think fried plantains, fresh-squeezed fruit juices and a meatless Monday menu), and, if all goes according to plan, vegan ice cream from Boulder-based Cows Gone Coconut. Located on the ground level.
Souk Shawarma: Jon Robbins, chef-owner of Bistro Barbes, a tiny French-inspired restaurant in Park Hill, is doing something entirely different at Avanti. Here, he's unleashed a Lebanese-inspired shawarma joint with a simplified "build-your-own" menu. Diners get warm pita bread, which is then tucked with falafel or spit-roasted meats (beef or chicken), saffron-scented or plain basmati rice, and a choice of several housemade sauces and/or pickles. Located on the upper level.
Bixo Mediterranean Bites: Chef Marco Gonzales, whose culinary pedigree includes stints at several award-winning restaurants in Spain, France, Mexico and Italy, relocated to Denver earlier this year, and he's making his Mile High City debut with a modern Mediterranean eatery that accentuates the flavors of Mexico. "Our goal is to take our customers on a unique flight of flavors, temperatures and textures that focuses on tapas-style cuisine perfect for sharing," says Gonzales, whose progressive dishes include exotics like cricket crust, chapulines (salty fried grasshoppers) and sal de gusano (Oaxacan worm salt) and are works of art. Located on the upper level.
The beer: There are 20 craft beers on tap, 10 of which are dedicated to Dogfish Head Brewing, and one of those beers, the Collabo-Ryezon, is a collaboration between Dogfish and Denver-based Prost brewing. Another nine beers are available in bottles or cans, and the Infinite Monkey Theorem pear cider, a new release from the Denver winery, is also part of the lineup. Super-serious beer geeks will likely gravitate toward the limited-release bombers, including Avery Brewing's raspberry sour.
The view: As if there's not enough to love about Avanti already, the rooftop patio, decked out with yellow umbrellas and handcrafted lounge furniture made from reclaimed shipping pallets, boasts what may be Denver's best view of the Downtown cityscape.