Yesterday Lindsey and I drove down to Denver for a gourmet food tour, and man was it awesome. A few months ago we found a LivingSocial deal for Denver Gourmet, which is a small food tour company in the Lower Highlands area (LoHi) started by Chelly Vitry, who was also our tour guide. I wish I’d taken pictures, but then I didn’t know I’d like it enough to blog about it, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.
Lindsey and I had to start the morning at my workplace, since I had some leftover work from Friday I had to do, but we left around noon to make what we thought was a 1:00 tour. That’s what our ticket said anyway, but when nobody showed up we started getting nervous. We checked the tour calendar on Denver Gourmet’s website (thanks for having that, by the way!) and found that it actually started at 1:30. This turned out to be serendipitous, since we were pretty hungry. The tour we went on is a tasting tour so they suggest you eat lunch before, something we wouldn’t have had time to do without the schedule change. So the first unofficial stop on our tasting tour was to ink! coffee, which is right on the plaza where we met for the tour in Riverfront Park. I can’t speak to their coffee, except that it smelled fantastic in there, but we had breakfast burritos, and they were delicious. Now on to the actual tour!
The first stop was the EVOO Marketplace on the corner of 15th and Market in LoDo (Lower Downtown). It’s just like any olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop in that you can walk around and taste all of the oils and vinegars, but Mick and Carolyn Major, the owner-operators of EVOO Marketplace, are so passionate about their product that visitors can’t help but be swept up by it. Both of them were moving constantly, going from person to person suggesting oil and vinegar combinations for us to taste. My favorite pair was the blood orange olive oil with dark chocolate balsamic vinegar. Wow. It was like the richest whack-and-unwrap chocolate orange you can imagine. Lindsey loved the tuscan herb oil with the 18-year balsamic, which is so sweet and smooth you almost can’t believe it’s vinegar. That combo would make a fantastic vinaigrette. We finished our time here by eating some vanilla ice cream topped with vinegar. I know it sounds weird, but it was way better than any ice-cream-specific sauce I’ve ever had. I mixed the pomegranate and dark chocolate vinegars, and it was delicious.
So now that we’re full of oil, vinegar and ice cream, we went back to LoHi for the rest of the tour. Next stop is the Shangri-La coffee shop, which is owned and operated by chef Massimo Ruffinazzi. He made us two different kinds of panini, and both were fantastic. The bread he uses is made specifically and only for his shop by a local bakery, and he never makes anything in advance, it’s all made when you order. It’s that kind of attention to the customer that really shows through in the quality of the food. A couple of people on the tour also got some espresso there, and they said it was excellent.
Alright, we’ve eaten some real food, now let’s get back to the good stuff. Cupcakes! Living the Sweet Life is a small bakery started by Erika Cunha as a delivery-only catering business that now has a storefront and a loyal clientele who may or may not be addicted to her chocolate-chip cookies. We went upstairs, where they have some tables and chairs, and Erika brought us some cupcakes to frost and taste. While we ate (they were really tasty, btw) she told us about her shop and gave us some insight into the way she works. We learned that she makes about 200 pies (including double crusters!) during the Thanksgiving season, and each crust is made by hand individually, which seems like a lot of work to me, but that’s some serious dedication to excellence. I’m sure her pies are super-delicious.
The last stop on our tour was the Denver Beer Company, which is a brand new brewery in LoHi. Unlike most breweries I’ve visited, DBC believes in serving only seasonal brews, almost to a fault. In the three months that they’ve been open, they’ve had 39 different beers on tap. That’s INSANE! While I value being able to get a beer that I like consistently if I so desire, it’s an interesting method, and it keeps things exciting. They also have a beer garden outside, which is awesome, and they don’t have any TVs for sports events. Some people may think that’s lame, but I like it. I’d rather sit with friends and talk at a normal volume over a good beer than have to shout over sports fans and TVs. We tried four different beers during our stay: Tangerine Hefeweizen, Confluence Pale Ale, Pumpkin Rye and Graham Cracker Porter. All were excellent. I’m not usually a big fan of porters, but this one was fantastic. It’s really only the second porter I’ve ever actually liked, the first being the Vanilla Porter from Breckenridge Brewery. All were fantastic beers, and I really hope there’s somewhere near me where they distribute.
We left shortly after I had filled the rest of the room in my stomach with beer, because I still had to do some work, which was lame. But the tour was a lot of fun. Chelly was an excellent guide, peppering our walk with interesting facts about the city, which I’m ashamed to say I never knew, even after living just an hour away for nearly three years. Doing stuff like this makes me wish I lived closer to the city so I could take advantage of places like this. But if nothing else, now we have some new places to take visitors, and believe me, we will.