A Foodie does Denver

Earlier this month, Mike and I took a week long vacation to Colorado!

Why Colorado?  Well, besides the fact that we found round-trip plane tickets from Chicago to Denver for just $188, after years of travelling abroad at every opportunity we could get, it bugged Mike that we’ve never visited any of our own country’s National Parks together.  He’s much more outdoorsy than me, so I agreed to as much hiking as he wanted to do, so long as we also squeezed in a little bit of city time and foodie tourism :-)

Even better, two of our closest friends in Chicago – Hiral & Nick – were able to join us for the first half of our trip, and for the second half of the trip my Aunt & Uncle invited us to join them at their cabin near Colorado Springs.

Our itinerary:

  • Friday Night – Late Night Flight to Denver
  • Saturday – Met up with Hiral & Nick bright and early & spent the full day exploring Denver
  • Sunday – Stopped in Boulder for a couple hours, then headed to our cabin in Estes Park
  • Monday / Tuesday – Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park (amazing!)
  • Wednesday – Dropped Hiral & Nick off at the Denver Airport.  Spent another couple hours in Denver then headed to Colorado Springs.
  • Thursday/Friday – Explored the Colorado Springs area with my Aunt & Uncle
  • Saturday Night – Drove back to Denver to catch our flight back to Chicago

Whew!  It sounds like a lot, but it was actually quite relaxing.  None of the driving segments were more than 2 hours (though some of the windy roads & altitude changes were pretty stressful).

We did WAY too much to fit into one post, so I’ll start with Denver!

Exploring Denver

We didn’t have many ideas of what to do in Denver (besides touring the Mint, but the free tickets are nearly impossible to get), so we wound up just walking around and soaking in the city, the sunshine, and the big blue skies.  Lucky for us, there were quite a few events going on during our one day in the city!

Comic-Con just happened to be in Denver that weekend.  Unfortunately it was sold out so we couldn’t go in, but it was fun enough just hanging out by the entrance and people-watching.  

We enjoyed walking through the 16th Street Mall area, and I was surprised to see a number of REAL pianos set out in the street for anyone to play as part of Denver’s “Keys to the City” program.  I heard several very talented musicians tickling the ivories as I passed through the streets… which inspired me to hit a few random keys and smile like I knew what I was doing:

On our way to check out Tattered Cover bookstore upon Cate’s recommendation, we passed through Larimer Square which had a truly amazing Chalk Art Festival going on.

And lastly, we checked out the People’s Fair in Civic Center Park which had a few bands playing as well as tons of booths, including several animal shelters having adoption drives and a booth for the Vegan Life Colorado non-profit.

Root Down Denver

That night, we had dinner reservations at Root Down Denver, a “field to fork” restaurant that was a perfect choice for our mixed group of vegetarians & omnivores.

A friend of ours had told us that we simply must sit on the patio at sunset.  I’m glad we took her advice! (Thanks, Archana!)

 To start, I had a glass of Lemonade with Chia & Ginger and was surprised that it even included a free refill!  The texture of the drink reminded me of bubble-tea thanks to a generous amount of chia.

 I also had a cup of their vegan Zucchini & Roasted Poblano Soup which was my favorite course of the evening – it had a beautifully light texture accented with spicy chili oil and smoky pepitas.

Our server encouraged us to order several small plates to share, so Hiral (who’s also a Vegetarian) and I decided to share two dishes for our entrees: Beet Risotto and vegan Country Fried Tofu.  

I love that most of their menu items can be made vegan upon request.  There was a vegan option available for the Beet Risotto, but since Hiral wanted the cheese, I agreed to indulge in sharing their regular version.  It was a worthy splurge – although the color was vibrant, the beet flavor was very mild, allowing the creamy goat feta to shine through.

The Country Fried Tofu had a perfectly spiced crust and we loved the vinegary lentils it was paired with.  As beautiful as the green pea puree looks on the plate, I think it was there just for color since it really didn’t add any flavor to the dish.

For Dessert, I ordered their vegan Chocolate Coconut Truffle.  This was as rich as a chocolate truffle candy but the size of a full brownie – dare I say it? – it was too much.  It was topped with a sprinkling of salt and a scoop of Avocado-Lime Sorbet, but for me, the flavors didn’t mesh well together.  I think I would have been happier with a truffle half this size and a larger serving of berries.

Mike ordered a slice of their Caramelized White Chocolate Cheesecake with Animal Cracker Crust.  I’m normally not a fan of cheesecake, but this was no ordinary cheesecake.  It was light and fluffy and possibly the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.  Thankfully, Mike generously shared and it was the perfect end to our only full-day in Denver.

Watercourse Foods

When Mike and I were back in Denver to drop Hiral & Nick off at the airport, afterwards Mike & I grabbed lunch at Watercourse Foods.  Much to my surprise, we liked Watercourse even more than Root Down and were sad that our friends weren’t with us to try it.

I ordered the Polenta Florentine which was Polenta Cakes topped with Vegan Smoked Gouda and a Lemon-Caper-Roasted Tomato Sauce with wilted Spinach and Seared Artichoke Hearts.  What impressed me most of all was the vegan gouda – wow, that was good. I also loved the giant-sized caper berries and flavorful marinade on the artichoke.  It was a beautifully composed dish.

Mike ordered the Po-Boy which came with his choice of either Polenta Crusted Mushrooms or Artichoke Hearts and a choice of Chipotle or Lemon-Caper Aioli.  He chose the Mushrooms with Lemon-Caper sauce, and this sandwich was utter perfection.  Somehow, I liked this sandwich even more than my own amazing meal.

Best of all, though, was the Tomato Coconut Curry Soup Mike chose as his side-dish.  This curry would be right at home on the menu of any top-notch Indian restaurant.  It was so good, I nearly ordered my own bowl after tasting Mike’s.

After seeing their beautiful case of Vegan pastries (including “Fauxstess” Cupcakes), we knew we had to order dessert.  We shared a piece of their Coconut Cream Pie which, though it wasn’t frozen, was as thick and creamy as ice-cream. 

Nooch Vegan Market

After lunch, we made a quick stop at Nooch Vegan Market – an all Vegan grocery store, similar to Food Fight! in Portland.  While the store itself isn’t very large, it had a huge assortment of hard-to-find Vegan products.  I had a great time picking out “thank you” items for my Aunt & Uncle (a box of Sjaak’s truffles, locally roasted coffee, locally pickled peppers, and Blueberry-Walnut Almond Butter) along with quite a few items for myself:

Hurraw Lip Balms (in Licorice & Sun Protection), Black Bean Pasta, Hibiscus-Ginger Chocolate & amazing sounding flavors of Instant Oats

As we were checking out, we also got to speak with one of the owners, Joshua, who was so warm and friendly.  He told us how he got started, which included a call to the owners of Food Fight! for their advice.  He also suggested for next time we’re in town to check out their monthly vegan BBQ events called “CHOMP” which sound really fun!

City, O’ City

Last but not least, a few days later we had the final meal of our trip in Denver before heading to the airport.  Since we loved Watercourse so much, we decided to check out their “rebel little sister” restaurant, City, O’ City.  The food here was just as fantastic, but the place had more of a hipster “bar & grill” feel than the cafe-like setting of Watercourse.

We arrived in time to take advantage of their Happy Hour specials by ordering a plate of their famous Seitan Wings for just $5.  It was a HUGE plate full and the wings were so spicy and juicy,  I don’t think I’ve ever had better.

We also ordered some festive drinks.  I got the Pepper Pirate mocktail  (Yerba Mate with OJ, Black Pepper, and Black Tea Syrup), which was very refreshing though not exactly spicy.   Mike ordered their drink of the day which was a Green Juice mixed with Mezcal (smoky tequila).

For his entree, Mike ordered the Savory Waffle which was OMG good.  The waffle was focaccia-like and covered with veggies in a light cream-sauce.  A Vegan option for the Waffle is also available, but I couldn’t convince Mike to give it a shot.

After the amazing soup at Watercourse, I simply had to order a bowl of the Curried Carrot Soup, which was an excellent decision on my part.  It was so delicious, this bowl was gone in less than 60 seconds.

For my meal, I ordered the BBQ Plate of Tofu with Bourbon BBQ Sauce, Vegan Mac & Cheese, and Sauteed Greens.  It was tasty, but Mike and I both thought it wasn’t as good as Soul Vegan’s BBQ plate available at Chicago-land Whole Foods Markets. I regret that I didn’t order something more unusual like their Savory Oats or Kimchi and “Sausage” Torta.

Regardless, it was a fantastic meal and leftovers from my BBQ Plate & Mike’s Waffle tasted just as delicious a couple hours later from our seats on the plane ride home!

I’d love to hear from you!

Have you even been to Denver?

Have you ever tried a Savory Waffle? Savory Oats?