Rocky Mountain Farmers, Ranchers & Artisans Influence Denver Dining

The term may be overused these days but the intention remains relevant. Diners want inventive dishes made with the freshest possible ingredients and least possible impact on the environment. Chefs want to offer exactly that. One result of this synergistic aspiration is a new focus on something that had all but disappeared from the American landscape in the age of big agriculture–the small farm. Now, local organic produce, animals raised humanely, handcrafted cheese and sausage, house-made canned and preserved goods and a desire to waste nothing all have become the new normal in trendsetting restaurants, and Denver is well ahead of the curve.

The drive to use local purveyors and ingredients is strong in Colorado. From pizza at Sazza to multi-course meals at Root Down, there are restaurants at which farm-to-table is not a trend but a sustained passion. One of the best-known chefs in this space is Alex Seidel, who has Fruition, Mercantile Dining & Provision and his own Fruition Farms, which provides ingredients for both restaurants. Equally passionate are the chefs at urban Farmer in the Oxford Hotel and 15/Fifty in the Sheraton Downtown Denver., proving that good, locally sourced food and sustainability are important to hotel chefs, too. There are many more. The best news is that this is no longer a trend; it's the new norm, at least here in Denver.


Greenwood Village

Sazza brings local, sustainable and farm-to-table concepts to the world of pizza. "We have never felt it necessary to define our version of farm-to-table because it is a lifestyle choice not a business decision," says Jeff Rogoff, owner of Sazza. "What does that mean? In our home, we eat only organic produce, meats and poultry and we support local purveyors whenever possible. This is the mantra that we took to Sazza and have continued to do more as Sazza evolves." Sazza also takes local beyond food, using local for necessities from ink cartridges to plates. Silverware is donated by customers. "It's all about reusing," Rogoff adds. Each season the list of specials changes based on the best products of the season, so check out what's on offer each time you go.

Old Major
Photo courtesy of Old Major

Old Major serves elevated farm-inspired american cuisine "focused on seafood, swine & wine. We're friends with our farmers and fishermen," says management on the restaurants website. "We focus on heritage-raised meats from Colorado farms we know and respect." The restaurant does its own butchering and cures the meats in-house (you can see the charcuterie room from the dining area). While the emphasis is definitely on meals that meat lovers will enjoy, meat is not the only option. There are also seafood selections and veggies and greens offered in enticing ways, so any group with diverse culinary preferences can gather at Old Major and enjoy a meal together. Arrive early for the well-priced happy hour menu and you'll save a few bucks without sacrificing taste (consider the Old Major charcuterie plate).

Yes, this Sheraton is a huge convention hotel, part of Marriott's Convention & Resort Network, but forget preconceived ideas. Its restaurant, 15/Fifty, is as "farm-to-table" as any in town. Flavorful, beautifully constructed dishes and cocktails are created using ingredients from Colorado's artisan purveyors, and that's not a gone-tomorrow trend or an afterthought but a dedicated mindset that extends even to banquet food. It all comes down to passion and vision and the Sheraton F&B staff has both. "We're really passionate about what we do and doing the ordinary wouldn't make us happy to come to work," says Chef Scott Skomal. The menu highlights farms and ranches the chefs source from, and dishes containing local ingredients are marked with a Colorado flag. Menus change seasonally but expect such delights as Tomato Jam Flatbread or an inventive take on Steak Frites. Whiskey lovers should try the Denver Smoked Whiskey Lemonade.

Alamo Placita

"At Beatrice & Woodsley, we search for and serve the best quality and most sustainable products available," says Travis Messervey, executive chef. Like other Denver chefs, he says the term farm-to-table has become mostly a marketing strategy, but he believes that exemplary practices will be noticed. "Believing that good food and sourcing methods speak quietly and confidently for themselves, we focus on proper staging, practice and craft so that nature's diverse creations are best understood and celebrated. This fosters a straightforward and honest relationship with our community, without any use for catchphrases or shortcuts." The South Broadway eatery offers a rustic-American menu featuring vegetables, fish and meat along with a compact yet lovely wine list.

North Denver

"I like to think of my baking style is that of grace, nostalgia and satisfaction, much like our team and our community that we love to serve," says Tiffany Leong, Duo's pastry chef, on the restaurant's website. Indeed, this restaurant is about food and community in every sense. Philanthropy is central to the philosophy of the owners and staff, just as using local growers and food artisans is. Duo lists nearly 30 Colorado food partners so diners know that much of the menu is derived from local items. It's also a highly creative menu with a comfort food bent. Fried chicken and crawfish hush puppies appear with lamb gnocchi, wild salmon and bison trip-tip, though the menu changes with the season. There are plenty of wines by the glass and bottle to choose from, along with a nice selection of cocktails and Colorado beers.

Located in a chic, airy space with patio seating on Union Station's courtyard, Mercantile offers the perfect mix of sophistication and comfort in its design and its menu. There are plenty of veggie, meat, seafood and house-made pasta options–the cloud-like gnocchi is a work of art–and ask about family dinners, too. In addition, the bar serves up creative cocktails inspired by what's available each season, and offers an extensive selection of beer and wine. Before or after dinner, or if you just want a snack or espresso during the day, wander through the adjacent market, stocked with goods from Fruition Farm and other local growers and artisan producers. You may even see a chef selecting herbs or spices for the evening's meal.

Chef Chris Starkus brought his passion for gardening, growing and beekeeping to the heart of LoDo. "As a chef, bee keeper and farmer I understand that when you can begin from seed selection, that's really where the flavor starts," he says. "No matter if it's mushrooms from Hazel Dell or edible flowers from Lost Creek Micro Farm." In fact, the chef is growing micro greens, mushrooms and whatever you can grow in an aquaponic tank right in the restaurant, as well as sourcing from his own farm in Lakewood and from farms and ranches across Colorado. The mushrooms appear in dishes such as Tableside Roasted Local Mushrooms. Edible flowers are added to foie gras and Pacific halibut. Honey from the rooftop hives enhances charcuterie plates and cocktails. Urban Farmer isn't just a catchy name. It accurately describes the heart and soul of what this restaurant is about.

Capitol Hill

Potager, which means kitchen garden in French, opened in 1997 in Denver's Capital Hill area. The owners, a father and daughter, say the theme of the restaurant is not about a particular type of cuisine (though there are French dishes on the menu) but about locally sourced and seasonally driven foods. "We've stitched together a network of suppliers that we know personally and whose concerns are similar to our own," they state on the restaurant's website. "We buy food from farmers who know their seeds and soil, ranchers who care about their animals, fish merchants who know the fisherman and are concerned about the sea." Many of the farms and ranches are listed in the menu items for which their products are used.

Alamo Placita

Alex Seidel opened Fruition Restaurant in 2007. With its menu of upscale comfort food it was an instant success and remains among Denver's most popular restaurants. Seidel then bought a 10-acre farm and became a hands-on farmer, producing fruits, vegetables and cheese and raising animals for his restaurant and others. "I have never specifically used the term farm-to-table," he says. "I've always looked at it as a trendy label that has been given to us." What matters to him are the relationships involved, and Fruition Farms has been what he calls an education in understanding how to grow crops, make cheese and raise animals and how to harvest these foods. "Farm-to-table," Seidel says, "is all of those processes and understanding what goes into the relationship between producer and end user. This hands-on experience has helped us create a viable, long-lasting relationship between farm and restaurant."

Commons Park

Root Down, in Denver's Highlands neighborhood, won't compromise on its dedication to local and sustainable goods and its philosophy that ranching, farming and fishing should be humane and not harm the planet. Almost everything is certified organic. What doesn't come from the restaurant's onsite garden is sourced from local farms, ranches and food artisans. "The term farm-to-table began as a small, powerful movement toward awareness of our food supply," says founding culinary director Daniel Asher. "Unfortunately, it has become diluted and casually tossed around as a clever and profitable marketing term. The foundation of the Edible Beats group (Root Down, Linger, Root Down DIA and Ophelia's) was based upon principles of environmental ethics that define every decision we make, from what type of paint to use on the walls to what we package our guest's leftovers in." As for the full-range menu, it absolutely hits the mark.


Meet Christine Loomis

Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York,...  More About Christine