8 of Denver’s Most Notable Trends

By Ruth Tobias  |  December 17, 2013

The Mile High City doesn’t grab and discard trends like pick-up sticks (whittled, perhaps, from reclaimed wood)? Around here, we tend to go deep, taking a new (or rediscovered) technique or ingredient as far as it will go. Many of the following concepts, for example, have been gathering momentum for some time now, with good reason - they yield delicious results. 

  • Credit: Christopher Cina

    The Sour, The Bitter and the Just Plain Pungent

    Americans are notorious for their sugar and salt consumption. But our palates are being finally pushed - by fermentation-mad chefs, third-wave coffee roasters, bartenders and brewers. Think sour beers and mustard seeds. Cured fish and wild greens like dandelion (never mind the all-too-ubiquitous Brussels sprouts and kale). Amari and, naturally, cocktail bitters of all types, such as the house infusions The Bitter Bar began featuring a few years back. At Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen, chef Jorel Pierce has built his name on housemade pickles brined in hops (pictured); beer-infused mustards; undersung herbs like dill and caraway; and signature hot, oyster and black-garlic steak sauces. Meanwhile, contemporary Asian-inspired haunts bring the fermented, funky flavors - Ace Eat ServeBones, and Uncle among them.

  • Credit: Christopher Cina

    Unstoppable Offal and Off-Cuts

    Pork heart. Lamb neck. Goat liver. Tripe. And tongue lolling out everywhere. Several years ago, letting it all hang out was strictly the bailiwick of say, traditional immigrant kitchens. Then sweetbreads and headcheese began to show up. Today, based on local menus alone, you’d think everyone were popping gizzards and pig’s ears like candy; could the raw duck ovaries restaurateur Frank Bonanno live-tweeted one of his chefs trying (“like a giant bubble of salmon roe”) be far behind? Perhaps not at Colt & Gray, which has been serving up the likes of trotters and beef heart (pictured in tartare) since day one - and now it’s got the high-tech facility, Viande, to really ramp up production. Among many others, Twelve usually highlights one or two organs on its monthly changing menu, and The Squeaky Bean does too. (You may not see chitterlings anywhere other than Southern and soul-food staples like CoraFaye's Cafe anytime soon, however.)

  • Credit: Mark Cirrincione/MPC Photography

    Barrel Aging

    Be it microbrews, batch cocktails or even condiments, wine and whiskey casks have come out of the cellar and into the kitchen as well as taking pride of place behind the bar. Vesta Dipping Grill, with its signature hot sauce as well as libations mellowed in vessels from local distilleries like Leopold Bros. and Peach Street (pictured), was among the first to launch a barrel-aging program, but Central Bistro & Bar, Southern Hospitality and Root25 Taphouse & Kitchen experiment too.

  • Credit: Christopher Cina

    Sessionable Suds

    Speaking of craft beer - which Denverites do all the live-long day - brewers have made a decided effort of late to move away from high-alcohol hop bombs and toward lighter suds. The German-inspired Prost Brewing Company, for instance, puts pilsners front and center, and Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project showcases sours; meanwhile, the majority of the pours at eateries like Session Kitchen (pictured) and Boulder gastropub Bramble & Hare clock in at under 7% alcohol by volume, some much less.

  • Credit: Christopher Cina


    What happened to plain old ribs and chicken? At this point, they’re practically on the back burner (so to speak), while we’ve seen just about every cheese, vegetable, and spirit out there - not to mention ice itself - get the low, slow smoking treatment. Olav Peterson of Bittersweet (pictured) has favored the technique for everything from polenta to raisin vinaigrette. At the just-opened Lower48, chef-partner Alex Figura offers smoked potatoes to accompany scallops and butter for his ham plate. Trillium's Ryan Leinonen cold-smokes his steelhead-trout raaka in a jar to produce a tableside puff. In Boulder, BRU Handbuilt Ales & Eats chef-owner Ian Clark applies the technique to shallots and even fettuccine, while FATE Brewing Company's Tim Berry features the likes of smoked-cheddar grits and vinaigrette made with smoked goat cheese, as well as doing his own turkeys, chickens and sausages.

  • Credit: Adam Larkey Photography

    21st-Century Health Food

    Just a few short years ago, vegetarians and vegans remained second-class citizens in most restaurants, while sufferers of celiac, Crohn’s and other diseases bore their intolerances entirely in silence. Fast forward to 2013: suddenly reading menus is a lesson in what many of us can and can’t stomach, and all manner of fast-casual health-food concepts are popping up left and right - see Fresh Thymes Eatery, Olive & Finch Eatery and Zeal (to go back just a few weeks), as well as the Glendale branch of California-based chain Native Foods Cafe.

    But Root Down (pictured) is one of a handful that have long been ahead of the curve in terms of highlighting which dishes fit which diets right on the menu, and Cherry Creek's True Food Kitchen and Harman's eat & drink do likewise. 

  • Credit: Christopher Cina

    Grains, Cereals and Such

    In part, we’ve got those gluten freedom fighters to thank; in part, it’s undoubtedly due to the backlash against corporate growers. But way beyond wheat, everything’s coming up farro and oats, buckwheat and rye, and rice of all types as well as now-common quinoa. Beatrice & Woodsley, for one, has made a concerted effort to showcase heirloom products like the grits that accompany chef Pete List's cornmeal-crusted catfish (pictured), as has the aforementioned Lower48, while The Populist's new brunch menu includes a porridge of steel-cut oats and quinoa. And Boulder's Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant is always a sure bet for such stuff.

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias


    The slurpable shellfish have made a major comeback, whether fresh, baked, grilled or broiled. See our recent roundup of raw bars here.