Marcella’s Kicks Off Sunday Brunch Italian Style in LoHi

My favorite Italian place in town is now doing Sunday brunch 10am to 3pm! Marcella’s (right on Central Street in LoHi) has always had fantastic Italian food, a fun atmosphere, and one of the best happy hours I’ve ever seen (50% off almost everything but the entrees, and that includes pizza). Well, they’ve finally launched a brunch menu! I had a chance to try it at a tasting event the other week — and I’ve got to tell you — it’s a must-try.

In Italy, eggs and waffles and all that are less of a thing for breakfast. Instead, you’ve got melon, prosciutto (and other meats), and cheeses. I absolutely did not complain about that when I was in Italy. Or the enormous pitchers of Sangria. (The red and white Sangria are both really good at Marcella’s, by the way. And they go fantastically with meat and cheese.)

Meats, meats, and more meats. Yes, yes, and yes. This also exists on the regular menu (and the 50% off happy hour).

You may be amazed to hear that I loved a vegan dish, but I did. The “Sicilian Caponata” with roasted eggplant and other veggies. This is an app that also exists on the regular menu (and the 50% off happy hour).

Truffle Eggs: poached eggs, toasted ciabatta, taleggio cheese. A fantastic, creamy, flavorful vegetarian breakfast dish.

As the main photo on the post might suggest, this was actually my favorite dish. Ricotta crepes with macerated strawberries and almonds. It’s all just so perfectly paired and fluffy and delicate and just sweet enough. And it reminds me of childhood breakfasts at home in Ukraine where my grandpa would make huge piles of perfectly-thin, perfectly-round crepes with a side of blended fresh strawberries (just picked from our farm) and fresh cottage cheese from the neighbor’s cow.

No brunch is complete without a Nutella option. I don’t know what it is about Nutella. Our neighbors pointed out that apparently my face looks like I’m experiencing some sort of nirvana-like moment when I eat Nutella. I am. Can you blame me?

Yes, it’s an omelette. It not may be particularly unique, other than the caprese salad on the side, but it’s delicious. And I’ve had a lot of mediocre omelettes that weren’t delicious.

Apparently, breakfast pizza is a thing. (I guess I’ve simply never discovered breakfast pizza before.) That’s burrata on there by the way — which goes so well with sunny eggs. And before you dismiss it because you don’t see meat: just know it has N’duja (a slightly spicy spreadable pork). You’re welcome.

More meat! This time, it’s the Short Rib Hash. I’ve yet to be disappointed by any slow-cooked meat at Marcella’s, and this was no exception.

I have no idea how it was possible to fit anything else into our stomachs, but we managed. Because these:

And once we walked out of this brunch, we decided to buy one of the condos in the new condo building going up a block away — so you know it was good 😉

El Five Starts Serving Brunch — Accompanied by Beautiful Rooftop Views and Amazing Mediterranean Bites

Whenever anyone asks me what new restaurant they have to visit while in Denver — or what restaurant is perfect for a date — these days, I say El Five. The views of Denver are just incomparable, the service is always top notch, and the Mediterranean-inspired food and drinks are creative and mouthwatering. So I was so excited when I found out that they have recently started doing brunch! Yes, it’s not cheap — and El Five is generally not cheap. But is it worth it? Absolutely. For $47, you get a cocktail, access to the buffet, and one main entree dish. And before you scoff, read on.

BRUNCH: SUNDAYS 10-2PM (reservations recommended)

You can see the view of downtown in the background below. You just don’t get this good of a view anymore. Not unless you’re at Linger or El Five. And the cocktail is also exceptional, — a mix of rosé, apricot purée, champagne, vodka — if I remember correctly. I could easily drink 10 of these with a smile on my face.

So when I say it’s no ordinary buffet — I mean it. This is an assortment of items from the buffet, which includes spicy mediterranean shrimp, Jamon Iberico on toasted bread, bacon-wrapped dates, tuna-stuffed peppadews, madeleines, beignets, croissants, some sort of cauliflower-in-pastry triangle of wonder, and more. Just the buffet alone would have been worth the price considering how many times I went back. And yes, I’m slightly embarrassed about that.

For my main, I had latkes topped with crab, pickles beats, and dill, eggs — and a bunch of other things I can’r remember. It was tender and flavorful and amazing — and it kind of reminded me of home in Eastern Europe. Maybe the Israeli influence?

All in all, a fantastic experience. Even if you can’t afford to do it every weekend, it’s worth checking out at least once. You’ll probably see me there 😉

Marcella’s Adds Fantastic New Dishes to the Menu, Including a Pork Osso Buco

Marcella’s in LoHi has quickly become my favorite Italian place in Denver since it opened last fall. It’s just the best mix of being hip, bright, friendly, delicious, well-located, and affordable. If nothing else, you have to come for the 4-6:30 M-F happy hour where almost the entire menu is 50% off. That includes the cocktails, beer, most wines, appetizers, meats/cheeses,  soups/salads, pizzas, and more. Basically everything but the entrees and super expensive wines! (But if you’re interested in the super expensive Italian wines, this is a great place to try them by the glass, when most places only let you do it by the bottle.)

I recently got the chance to try the new additions to their menu, and I highly recommend you try them, too! Without further ado… the new stuff:

If you’ve lived in Colorado for any amount of time, you’ve probably tried 1,000 renditions of a brussel sprout dish. In my opinion, Panzano and Marcella’s have the best ones. These come with apples, almonds, ricotta, and grainy mustard. The mustard is a new addition to the dish I haven’t had anywhere else — and I’m a sucker for spice and vinegar. The only thing that could make these better would be bacon.

Another new antipasti (appetizer) is the Spicy N’Duja — which is a paté sausage mixed with orzo, corn, and broccolini. And no, if you haven’t heard of this before, you’re not weird. I haven’t either. Honestly, I wished this was meatier and spicier. Apparently one person complained about the spiciness level and ruined it for the rest of us 😉

Sorry to interrupt the scheduled programming of “new dishes” here — but this oldie, but goodie, deserves a special mention. Don’t ever leave Marcella’s without getting the Melted Pecorino Cheese with crostini, apple, and truffle honey. (It’s also on happy hour for 50% off.)

So full disclosure: I don’t usually eat a lot of cooked fish. I’m more of a sushi fan — or a crab/crawfish fan. But this new fish entree is pretty fantastic. It’s the Barramundi with farro, broccolini, fennel, and lemon caper vinigrette. As far as Italian fish dishes go, this is definitely at the top of my list.

This is the new Chianti Braised Short Rib with radiatore pasta, capers, and horseradish. If you’re a short rib fan, you won’t be disappointed by these. They’re juicy and just-fatty-enough and tender and flavorful and all those other amazing adjectives.

Now for my favorite item of the night: the Pork Osso Buco with brussels, carrots, polenta, and sweet garlic. If you don’t know what Osso Buco is,  you need to go eat as much of it as possible — immediately. Traditionally, it’s a Milanese speciality of cross-cut veal shanks slow-braised until they’re so tender they just fall apart, and paired with some sort of vegetables. It’s an awesome meal to make at home if you have the time. There’s also a pretty fantastic pre-made boxed version of these at Costco. But nothing beats an expert restaurant preparation. I’ve never had a pork rendition before — but holy crap, was this amazing. Honestly, if nothing else on the entree menu — try this. And I am also willing to throw all the money at Marcella’s in the future if they will do the traditional veal version of these, because now I’m convinced they know what they’re doing. (The reason they’re not doing veal is because they’re trying to lower the consumer price point.) Also on the seasonal menu, the ricotta cheesecake with an almond crust, strawberry sauce, and real strawberries. If you’ve never had it, ricotta cheesecake is an amazing cheesecake.

This is on the regular menu, but the Profiteroles dessert just needs a mention. Pistachio, chocolate, and vanilla gelato — with warm chocolate ganache. Like sex on a plate. I’ll leave you with that.

 

thirsty lion pork belly tacos

Thirsty Lion’s Summer Menu: Pork Belly Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Salad, and More

I’ve really liked Thirsty Lion ever since they opened at Union Station (they now also have a Cherry Creek location). It’s a fun, hip bar that’s always happening, has a great patio facing all the bustle of Union Station, offers awesome happy hour deals and an extensive menu — and is in my opinion the best “gastropub” we have in downtown Denver. I recently got a chance to try their summer menu with a friend of mine, and I cannot recommend it enough. Read on for some of the highlights — all available at Union Station or in Cherry Creek.

Before I get into the food, I do want to mention this amazing summer cocktail: The Raspberry Mint Mule-jito (fresh raspberries muddled with mint, lemon, lime, Bacardi rum, Malibu rum, simply syrup, and ginger beer). I love raspberries, so maybe I’m biased, but I always crave a refreshing raspberry cocktail in the summer. Panzano used to have a fantastic one (the R&R), but that’s long gone. This is definitely the perfect replacement to fill the hole in my drinking heart.

thirsty lion summer cocktail

As much of a meat-lover as I am, my 1st love in life is tomatoes. Anything that says “heirloom tomatoes” will get me through the door. So yes, yes, and yes. No summer menu is complete without some generous slices of heirloom tomato. Add some fresh mozarella and basil — and my life is complete.

thirsty lion heirloom tomato salad

If you know me, you know I love me some tacos. Especially pork belly tacos. These have a fantastic Asian twist with the hoisin glaze, daikon, carrot, jalapeno, gochujang sauce (red chili paste), and pickled radish. There are a lot of people doing pork belly tacos all over town, but it’s hard to get the right combination: you definitely need some spice, vinegar, and crunch to balance out the sweet fattiness of pork belly — and these do a great job, if I may say so myself.

thirsty lion pork belly tacos

If you’d told me there was a “summer” pasta dish before this day, I’d be very skeptical. In fact, I was very skeptical when I ordered this Seared Shrimp & Heirloom Tomato Linguini (with garlic, asparagus, olives, red peppers, grape and heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, spinach, feta, and a parmesan crisp). But in fact, this is the perfect summer pasta dish. No heavy creams or butters or super-meaty sauces here (which are delicious, but not quite suitable for summer). Just some juicy shrimp and a variety of veggie flavors and textures — all piled on top of a simple pasta. A great go-to summer Italian dish!

thirsty lion summer pasta and shrimp

I of course couldn’t leave without managing to make room for dessert in my already-full stomach. It’s a skill I work very hard for. (Some people go to cycling class… I eat and drink.) Introducing the Strawberry Rhubarb & White Chocolate Cheesecake. It’s not quite D Bar dessert quality (then again, what is?) — but still a very satisfying end to the meal and perfect for summer 🙂

thirsty lion summer cheesecake

And if you’re curious about the full summer menu (and happy hour menu, of course) — here they are! Some of my happy hour recommendations include the caesar salad, bacon-wrapped BBQ prawns, and spicy fried chicken sliders.

 

Beautiful Views & Delicious Dishes for Date Night at El Five

This post is long overdue, but it’s been a very busy holiday season for me since Thanksgiving. I got a chance to finally visit El Five right before Thanksgiving, though, and it was absolutely Ah-Mazing. El Five opened in LoHi (right next to Linger) earlier this year, and it’s been a really cool addition to the Denver dining scene. It’s a Mediterranean tapas restaurant from Justin Cucci, featuring both traditional and modern plates inspired by all the different Mediterranean countries — from Spain, to Gibraltar, to Morocco. I rarely love every single dish I try at a restaurant, but this was exceptional. There were 6 of us here, and no one could find fault with anything — drinks and service included.

The rooftop views here also make it the perfect spot for a romantic date night. It’s right across the highway from downtown, so you get a straight shot of the downtown skyline.

As far as cocktails go, there are some really fun, creative options here. Such as the Zombie (amber, dark and overproof rums, lime, falernum, passionfruit, absinthe) — and the Pineapple Mint Collins (vodka, sekanjabin, lime, pineapple, mint, soda). The wine list is also amazing, and I highly recommend chatting with their wonderful sommelier (Kelley Pottle Graham) to find the perfect pairing, or even get something that’s not on the menu.

As a starter, we loved the Mediterranean Sea plate — I believe what’s on it changes, but we had oysters, sardines, lobster, shrimp, mussels, and seaweed salad. It’s a great variety of light seafood to get started with.

The Grilled Mackerel and the Shrimp & Calamari a La Plancha were great seafood follow-ups with bold Mediterranean flavor. And they were perfectly charred/fried on the outside, while still being incredibly tender on the inside.

The Ash Roasted Carrots look pretty much like a masterpiece. As far as vegetarian dishes go, this one was pretty fantastic — and very thoughtful about combining the right flavors and textures (as is every dish here, to be honest).

The Charred Baba Ghanoush (Eggplant) — rich and filling and awesome:

The chicken skewer dish was one of my favorites, but sadly I don’t think on the menu right now. I rarely find chicken this packed full of flavor and this juicy on the inside — which is why you don’t see me praising chicken very often.

The Shawarma Spiced Lamb Ribs pack quite a flavor punch, too. I’m not the biggest fan of lamb — and these are pretty lamb-y — but those at the table who like lamb, loved these:

A little less lamb-y, and perhaps even more delicious, is the Moroccan Lamb Sausage. My husband practically refused to share this after he got his hands on it (he’s a huge lamb fan).

The last of my favorites was the Grilled Hanger Steak. I mean just look at it. There’s clearly a trend with every single dish here: thoughtful, creative combinations; bold Mediterranean flavors; and skillful veggie and meat preparation. All in a fun atmosphere with great service. I’ll definitely be back.

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Bremen’s Wine & Tap Introduces New Seasonal Menu Under New Executive Chef

New Executive Chef Isabel Ranney has recently taken over from Matt Selby at Bremen’s Wine & Tap — which opened in the trendy LoHi neighborhood at 33rd & Tejon just this last June. I got a chance to try her new fall/winter menu, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had recently. Isabel Ranney has a background in herbalism, which gives her a unique perspective:

“I went to school for herbalism and I love to add herbs into my cooking that I know will help people at this time of year. For example, the lamb shank has elderberries and rosehips which are packed with antioxidants and are antiviral, so it helps people’s immune systems without them even realizing because it also tastes delicious.”

Set in a bright, vibrant atmosphere, Bremen’s Wine & Tap serves seasonal American fare made with local ingredients and some of the best-sourced meat in town. I thought the meat dishes were all absolutely amazing here. Bremen’s also has some delicious hand-crafted seasonal cocktails and a fantastic wine list that pairs perfectly with the food.

Specials:

  • Happy Hour daily 4-6pm
  • Set the Mood Mondays (1/2 off all bottles of wine)
  • Uncorked Tuesdays 7-8pm (free wine, beer, spirits tastings)
  • Ladies Night Wednesdays ($5 on all tap wines)

The butcher’s board pictured at the start of the post is one of the top-selling appetizers on the menu (chef’s choice of meats and cheeses, house-made grain mustard, and pickled vegetables). My favorite board was the “Lamb Lollipops” though — which consists of the most tender, delicious lamb I’ve had in Denver, paired with mint creme fraiche, flatbread, and shaved onion & parsley salad:

My husband’s favorite dish was the Steak Tartar (with capers, white anchovies, and egg yolk). It’s made with steak from the Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe down the street, and the meat quality really shows. For all the vegetarians out there, they also have an Asparagus Pear Tartar with tangerine oil and avocado that even all us carnivores loved (sorry, I don’t have a photo).

If you’re a fan of salads, the ones here are some of my favorites. The Pickled Pear Salad (almonds, bacon, arugula, goat cheese, rosemary vinaigrette) is meant to help with digestion:

And the Kale & Beet Salad (rotisserie chicken, shaved fennel, candied walnuts, manchego, charred lemon vinaigrette) makes for a great meal just in itself:

Another great vegetarian option on the menu is the Farro Bowl with roasted root vegetables, Rebel Farm’s greens, and sunnyside eggs:For the seafood lovers, the Seared Sea Scallops with bacon & charred onion risotto and a wine vinegar reduction is divine. Three huge, perfectly seared scallops with just that perfect amount of sweetness. Ask the staff to recommend an acidic wine pairing that helps with that decadent texture, trust me.

My personal favorite main dish was the Duck Breast with gnocchi and a leek and mushroom ragout.  This duck as absolutely perfect (especially with a good glass of Pinot Noir).Between the lamb, the tartar, and the duck — I’d say Bremen’s has truly perfected its meat dishes. I would eat of them again on any given day. I’m sure the Chef’s Cut Grilled Stead, the Lamb Shank, the Rotisserie Chicken, and the Bone-In Pork Chop must all also be fantastic.

Citizen Rail Opens in LoDo with a Fantastic Happy Hour and Dry-Aged Steaks

The recently-opened Citizen Rail on 16th & Wewatta in LoDo has brought an awesome new happy hour to the area — and it definitely stands out among all the other downtown options with the quality of the food and drink options.

Happy hour runs daily 2:30pm – 6pm, but get there early, because it gets packed!

During happy hour, you can get select specialty cocktails for $7, beer for $4, wine for $5, or a “combo” such as a glass of rose + mezcal (or a glass of stout + bourbon) for $7. What I like is that the happy hour wine options aren’t your typical Chardonnay and Merlot, but a Spanish Albrarino and Garnacha.

A must-order during happy hour is the Crispy Artichokes & Dungeness Crab (photo at the top of this post). Not only does it look like a work of art, but it’s also delicious. They get those artichokes perfectly crispy, which goes so well with the tender crab. And it’s only $9 during happy hour, vs. $16 during dinner.

Another amazing happy hour option is the Hickory-Braised Oxtail & Rice Grits (below) — $6 during happy hour instead of $13. Oxtail is generally my favorite cut of meat, because of how tender and juicy you can get it if you cook it right — and this is cooked right.

A little less unique, but no less delicious, are the Mesquite Fired Mussels ($8 during happy hour, or $14 during dinner).

What Citizen Rail is actually known for is it’s dry-aged steaks — which are butchered in house and displayed in a glass room for everyone to see. And what a beautiful sight it is. I love what lengths they go to for sourcing their meat, too:

“When it comes to sourcing proteins, Chef Graves is meticulous. He searches out wild venison from Texas, tender Sonoma ducks, cattle raised on spring water and pristine Wyoming pasture. Adjacent to the grill, you’ll find sides of pasture-raised beef and house-butchered Colorado lamb slowly maturing in Citizen Rail’s dry-aging room alongside hand-cut venison and pork steaks, rabbit and fowl.”

One of the in-house dry aged options is the 36oz Tomahawk steak (for two). If you like your steaks with that salty bit of crust and a good amount of marbling, this is for you.

Or you can go the 18oz bone-in rib eye route, which I think was my preference. For sides, I highly recommend the duck fat roasted potatoes (let’s be real, you can’t go wrong roasting anything in duck fat).

To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what dessert we ordered, but it had chocolate and ice cream — and it was delicious. I have no idea how we managed to eat it after everything else, but we did. From appetizer to dessert, I really can’t point out any down sides with the meal.

If anything, I would say the chicken entree isn’t for everyone: I tried my friend’s, and it had a little too much of a smoky flavor and not enough crispiness on the outside for me. But if you come to a steakhouse to get chicken, you’re probably doing it wrong.

The New Marcella’s Restaurant in LoHi May Just Be Your New Favorite Italian Restaurant

The other day, I got a chance to check out Marcella’s Ristorante, Pizzeria and Wine Bar that just opened on Central Street in LoHi (right down the road from Prost Brewery, with a beautiful patio facing downtown). And I have to say, this just might be my new go-to for Italian food — so if you’re a fan of Italian, you’ve got to check it out. It’s the perfect balance between some of the fancier, dimly-lit Italian restaurants around town — and the slightly-kitchy family style Italian chains. Marcella’s has a fun, lively, vibrant atmosphere that’s the perfect mix of traditional Italian with modern, trendy Colorado — making it ideal for a happy hour with coworkers, a casual date, or dinner with the family. And the food is just soooooo good!

Some timing details: The restaurant is open Monday-Thursday 4-10pm; Friday from 4pm to midnight; Saturday and Sunday for brunch 10am-3pm; Saturday for dinner from 4pm to midnight; and Sunday for dinner 4-10pm. Happy hour is Monday-Friday 4-6pm and includes 50% off many of the drink and food options from the regular menu! That’s an amazing deal if you’re a happy hour fiend like me!

I decided to try one of the specialty cocktails, the Grapefruit Basil Fizz (Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Italian basil, hand squeezed lemon)  — and was very impressed. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other cocktail options and seeing how they evolve their cocktail menu.

Now for the aforementioned delicious food! The #1 must-try is the Braised Veal Meatball with a simple tomato sauce. It’s bigger than the size of my fist — and it’s so incredibly flavorful that I’m salivating just thinking about it again. It’s not like any other meatball I’ve ever had: it’s not densely packed together like most meatballs I’ve tried, but literally falls apart as you touch it and melts in your mouth. I know I’m getting this again during happy hour when I come back! (The 1st photo below is mine, but the 2nd was borrowed from Marcella’s, since I think the day lighting does it much more justice.)

Next on my list of favorites are the parmesan crusted onions from Marcella’s brick oven. It’s not something I would have thought to order if they hadn’t suggested it — but I’m so glad I did. I loved this with the meatball, but they’d make a great sharing plate on their own, or a side for something else. That sharp parmesan flavor is just perfect with the slightly sweet caramelized onions.

Another highly-recommended appetizer is the melted Pecorino cheese imported from a Tuscan farm in Italy — with crostini, apple, and truffle honey. I mean, how can you go wrong with melted cheese?!

Alright, now for some main dishes. We decided to go with the chef/house recommendations for the table, and we weren’t disappointed. They were all traditional Italian dishes that were just perfectly executed and full of flavor — and exactly what you’d want from an Italian restaurant. This is the Chicken Parmesan, a classic:

My personal favorite was probably the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara with crispy pancetta and a whole egg yolk (I took the photo after I broke the yolk and swirled it around — woops). It’s just so creamy, and the salty pancetta is the perfect addition, especially for a carnivore like me!

My husband would probably say his favorite was the Gnocchi con Bolognese. It’s not what you typically imagine “bolognese” to be — since it’s made with big chunks of braised lamb. So if you’re a lamb fan like my husband, this dish is perfect for you!

You’d think we’d be way too full to eat anything by now — but thankfully we didn’t finish our entrees and took them to go, so we could leave room for dessert. And the desserts here are awesome. This is the chocolate almond cake, and I’d eat it again anytime. It’s not overpoweringly almond-flavored, but just enough to give it that unique flavor.

And we all agreed the Cannolis here were the best we’ve had outside of Italy. You may think you’ve tried a cannoli elsewhere in Denver, but these will redefine what you think of as cannolis.