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.

 

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 Best Fried Chicken & Southern Food in Denver at LOW Country Kitchen

LOW Country Kitchen opened earlier this year in the LoHi neighborhood (in the former Vita space) — and it brought some much-needed Southern food to the neighborhood. Owners Katy and Brian Vaughn are from the South, and their first LOW location was a hit in Steamboat, so I was pretty excited for them to open another one right here in Denver.

LOW describes its food and beverage menu as a combination of “time-honored Southern cuisine using only the highest quality of ingredients” — resulting in “genuine hospitality, serious drinks, and the best fried chicken you have ever sunk your teeth into.” Now that I’ve finally made my way here and stuffed my face, I have to agree. Not only is the food amazing, but the staff really tries to make you feel welcome.

(Full disclosure: the photo of the fried chicken above is from the LOW website, since my photo of the fried chicken isn’t as awesome, as you can see below.)

Pro tip: there is free valet for Mizu, Lola, and LOW right on the corner of Boulder and 16th Streets — which is a life-saver in this busy neighborhood.


THE HAPPY HOUR

LoHi is a hot neighborhood for a good happy hour, and LOW is no exception — especially if you like a good cocktail. For a refreshing option, I highly recommend the $5 Bumblebee (pictured on the left below). Although the $7 LOW Old Fashioned (pictured right) was a delicious classic. They also have a $6 Deep South Limeade, an $8 Classic Sazerac, $3-4 beers, and $5 wines. And food too: $2–7 Southern snacks such as deviled eggs and dry rub wings.


MUST-TRY FOOD

Now I’m normally not a huge dessert person, but you HAVE to leave room for dessert here. This is the most amazing pecan pie I’ve ever had. I still dream about it sometimes. It really is the perfect ending to a Southern meal.

 

The New 12@Madison in Congress Park Serves Up Inventive, Tasty Dishes for a Great Date Night

Ever since it opened in April of this year, 12@Madison — Chef Osaka’s new restaurant in Congress Park — has gotten rave reviews. Westword called it Denver’s best new restaurant, Zagat praised it for its “low-key refinement,” and Yelp reviewers have given it 4.5 stars. I finally got around to making my way out there, and it was indeed a great place for date night.

For those who don’t know, Chef Osaka’s original Denver venture was a restaurant called Twelve, which was downtown near 22nd & Park and closed in 2014. Chef Osaka then opened Osaka Ramen (which is fantastic), and now 12@Madison. While I really enjoyed 12@Madison, I can’t help but still miss Twelve, though. I love the trendy new 12@Madison space, the sharable small plates, the freshness of the ingredients, and the constantly changing inventive dishes — but Twelve was just a little more decadent (and had some bigger plates).

For all the vegetarians out there, it looked like 12@Madison also has a sizable and tasty selection of vegetarian options.

Considering the prices (small plates will run you $9-$15 each), I would definitely recommend starting at 12@Madison for happy hour if you can. I can’t for the life of me find the information online, but I believe happy hour runs 4-6pm. And it includes these little pork sliders, which were hands-down one of our favorite bites of the night. I wouldn’t mind eating these all night, to be honest.

The only thing I didn’t love were these happy hour “spicy” chickpeas — there really wasn’t anything spicy about them. The texture was fantastic, but I took these home and shook them up with some piri piri spice — and they were much better.

The “baby lettuces” salad wasn’t anything special either, but it was very fresh and a great side for some of the other food.

My favorite dish was the smoked colorado trout. It was just so flavorful and tender — and very different from anything else I’ve eaten lately. Plus look at that plating!

The “duck confit agnolotti” had amazing flavor, and the duck just melted in my mouth. The pasta may have been a little thick/tough for that pairing I think, but I still loved the dish.

My husband’s favorite, the “braised lamb shoulder” — was definitely an expertly cooked lamb dish. I think you can tell from the photo how tender and juicy that is.

And then there was the “coconut panna cotta” — which was a very interesting take on the dish with the pink peppercorns. Not as decadent as I’d want a dessert to be, but still delicious.

I’ll leave you with one last recommendation. If you’re a lover of rose wine like me, you’ve got to try this Austrian rose (and it’s one of the slightly more affordable wine options here). I’ve never seen a rose that color, nor had one quite like this one in taste. Light and mineraly, but not sweet.

 

 

 

Bite of the Week: Gravy Cheese Fries at Steuben’s

If you follow me on social media, you’ll have probably seen my photo of these this past weekend. And if you don’t follow me on social media, you should:

You’ve probably heard of Steuben’s before, since it’s been around since 2006 and has a perpetual line out the door for brunch (at least the one here in Uptown does). It’s one of those places that is a really interesting mix of modern decor and food — and old-school, diner classics. I love coming here for some comfort food and creative cocktails, although I tend to try and avoid busy brunch times and go for happy hour instead (3-6pm & 10pm-close daily). But if you do end up going for brunch, I highly recommend the cast iron french toast — a fluffy, sweet pillow of goodness floating in caramel sauce inside a little cast iron skillet.

That aside, let’s talk about my Bite of the Week, which is one of my favorite things here at Steuben’s — the gravy cheese fries! I’m a sucker for a good plate of  smothered fries, but I’m also picky about how it’s done. I mean you know how disappointing it is to order a plate of fries with a topping, and then get a big bowl of fries with just a little something on top — so you end up eating 3/4 of the fries plain. (I know, first world problems.) Well, this isn’t one of those plates.

The gravy cheese fries at Steuben’s are crispy skinny fries that are smothered with delicious gravy, and then covered with cheese. And it’s not gross, cold shredded cheese — it’s perfectly melted and even starting to crust a little on top. You definitely need a fork to eat these, which means you’re doing it right.

I also can’t end this post without a mention of another one of my favorite dishes here, the Monte Cristo sandwich. And no, I didn’t have a clue what this was until I looked it up. Google told me it’s a fried sandwich that is “a variation of the French croque-monsieur” that was popular in American cookbooks in the 1930s–1960s and “combines the sweet flavors of French toast with ham, turkey, and cheese.” Sounds good enough — I decided to try it. It may not be for everyone, but if you like dishes that combine sweet and savory, you’ll love this. It basically tastes like meat and melted cheese inside a fluffy beignet with powdered sugar on top. Those are a few of my faaaaavorite thiiiings.

 

Also, the burger here is pretty fantastic. I always get just the classic burger with some bacon on top — as should you. Steuben’s serves Tender Belly bacon, and the strips are always huge and perfectly crispy. Everything is better with bacon, right? 😉

Parting: don’t spend $23 on the lobster sandwiches here. I think you’ll be disappointed. There are just so many better options here, especially for the price. For a good lobster sandwich, I recommend trying the one at Blue Island in Cherry Creek.

 

Great Lunch Plates: Nachos and Chicken Caesar Salad at the Tavern Downtown

I know, some of you may be shocked. The Tavern Downtown?! And yes, I normally I consider the entire stretch of bars/clubs around 20th & Market to be “frat row central” — as I like to put it. However, the Tavern has a really nice, quiet, open rooftop patio if you decide to venture there for lunch (and the misters are great during the summer). It’s hardly the packed, thumping, V-neck T-shirt and mini-dress filled place it can be at night — as you can see on the right below.

These two photos courtesy of the Tavern Downtown website

The Tavern is also both the University of Miami bar and the San Francisco 49ers bar — so it’s pretty much my 2nd home during football season.

And Monday through Friday, 3pm – 7pm, you get buy-1-get-1-free house wine, well drinks, and all draft beer.

What may surprise you, is that the food here is actually quite good. It’s always great for a burger and a beer (I personally love that they have Alaskan Amber in bottles), but I also have 2 favorite plates here that I think are pretty unique:

1) The Tavern Nachos

Guys, they’re pre-portioned! And melted! Every little nacho has the perfect amount of chicken, refried beans, melted pepper jack cheese, and a jalapeño on top. You can also get this with ground beef instead of chicken, but I really like the chicken. You can also get them vegetarian, but then what’s the point? (The guacamole you need to order separately, but it’s worth it.)

Who else do you know that does this? No really, cause if you know, tell me. Normally you eat the few nachos on top that have all the good stuff on them, and then you’re digging for the last tiny bit of meat with the 100 nachos you have left over.

Best. Nachos. Ever.

2) The Chicken Caesar Salad

So I don’t know if the photo does it justice. Hell, I don’t even know if that’s home-made Caesar dressing or something out of a bottle (I’m betting the latter). But I have to be honest, this is my favorite Caesar salad in town — and has been for awhile. They take an entire head of romaine, split it in half, and grill it. And they give you a very generous amount of shaved Parmesan and Caesar dressing (you don’t have to use it all if you don’t want). And then one of my favorite parts: you can choose between chicken breast and chicken thigh. And if you’re any kind of foodie or home chef worth your salt, you know the chicken thigh is where all the juiciness and flavor is at! I can’t believe more places don’t do this.

And yes, I don’t know where the hell the croutons are at… normally they have them on there. I should have said something, but I was too excited for the rest of it. Surprise.

Bite(s) of the Week: Colorado Striped Bass and Bison Burger with Mash and Gravy at Hard Rock

You may be surprised to see me writing about the Hard Rock Cafe — and I am a little, too. I don’t usually frequent chains, other than maybe small chains that are all about good sourcing and from-scratch kitchens (e.g., Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar). However, I did find myself at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Denver the other day, because it was chosen as one of 12 cafes out of the 175 Hard Rock locations worldwide to be part of their “Test Kitchen” program.

That means that Hard Rock Cafe Denver and its Executive Chef Hans Andersen have been hard at work evolving the menu to feature fresh, responsibly-sourced, local ingredients. And starting  on July 25, 2017, they started serving dishes such as Colorado Striped Bass and the Mile High Bison Burger — all locally sourced through vendors such as Seattle Fish Company, Freshpack Produce, and Rocky Mountain Natural Meats.

It’s nice to see the Hard Rock Cafe making these changes — especially it being a large chain. I think here in Colorado many of us are big on sourcing ingredients locally when possible, or at least I am.

Now for the part most of you probably care about, pictures of the food. These are my 2 favorite little sample bites I had at Hard Rock the other day: the aforementioned Colorado Striped Bass, and the Mile High Bison Local Legendary® Burger.

Hard Rock Cafe Denver samples of striped bass and bison burgerIf you’re curious what these look like when they’re served as a normal portion, I got photos of those too!

This is the seared striped bass served atop a risotto corn cake, lemon beurre blanc, and fresh seasonal vegetables (in this case, asparagus). They’ve done a really amazing job with the fish, which I really wasn’t expecting from Hard Rock. It’s extremely tender and moist under that crispy skin. Even people who weren’t huge loves of fish said they really liked this one. And I’ve never had a risotto corn cake before, but this one was pretty perfect: super creamy on the inside, but crispy on the outside. It’s definitely a dish I would come back for — and it’s perfect for a work lunch downtown.

hard rock cafe denver colorado striped bassAs for the Mile High Bison Local Legendary® Burger, it’s a house-made bison burger served open faced on freshly baked, grilled bread and topped with creamy mashed potatoes, Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale gravy, and crispy onions. This thing is pretty huge, so I’d probably do it for dinner (unless you can take a nap after lunch). However, I’m still definitely coming back for it. It’s a perfect representation of some of the ingredients that make Colorado unique, and it’s also the perfect comfort food if you’ve had a shitty day. If any of you remember Jonesy’s back when it was open in Uptown, they had these fantastic little happy hour sliders with thick slabs of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy that were just to die for — and this is better.

hard rock cafe denver mile high bison burger

Bite of the Week: Maine Mussels at The Kitchen

Note: the last few times I’ve been here, this hasn’t been on the menu, so I would call to see if these are in season if you’re going to The Kitchen just for the mussels.


As someone who used to work in LoDo (and still frequents it for all my client meetings), I have visited pretty much every restaurant in the area for lunch. And one of my favorite lunch options in downtown/LoDo is the mussels dish at The Kitchen.

The Kitchen Mussels

The “Maine Mussels” (garlic, fresno chili, thyme, grilled bread) are listed as a “starter,” but I think they’re enough for a full meal — although they’re not as big as some of the mussels pots you may be used to. At $16, they’re a little pricy, but that’s The Kitchen for you. I’m pretty sure there might be an entire stick of butter in that broth, and I so don’t care. Plus these are some of the biggest, juiciest mussels I’ve found in Denver. Unfortunately, they’re only available when they’re in season.

I think the only other dish that comes close is the Panang curry mussels at Jax — but unfortunately Jax isn’t open for lunch. The mussels are on the happy hour menu there, though, so come 4pm — pop on over there!

And if you’re looking for a good white wine, my personal favorite at The Kitchen is the Rebholtz Pinot Blanc (Pfalz, Germany), although the $50 price tag isn’t small.

The Kitchen wine