Last year we introduced you to Avanti Food & Beverage — a first-of-its-kind restaurant incubator that planned to create a culinary think tank for our city’s most innovative chefs. The space, located in LoHi, would provide multiple test kitchens where local creatives could try out their newest concepts on the general public before taking the project full scale. At first, the idea sounded ingenious — lowering the risk of opening a restaurant could spark a culinary renaissance by giving Denver’s best (and even undiscovered) talents free reign to create something completely new. But the concept also sparked uncertainty. Would Avanti negate all the burdens of opening a restaurant for its tenants only to assume those responsibilities for itself? Would the egos of all the various participants get in the way, or would it truly be a collective eatery? In the beginning, we weren’t sure.
But now, after months of endless curiosity (and construction), this idea has materialized and, as a result, some of these question are about to be answered. Because today, on July 13, Avanti will open its doors. Excitement has run high, and expectations even higher. Keep reading to get a first look at the space and the tenants, then stick around to read our predictions. Will you agree or disagree?
Designed by Scout Interior Design and Meridian 105 Architecture, this turn-of-the-century building has completely transformed from its once dilapidated state. Now boasting two-stories—including a plush rooftop patio with an unobstructed view of Denver—Avanti is a modern and sleek edifice that blends both rustic and industrial attributes. The exterior displays this balance with a mix of beautiful shou sugi ban or “burnt” wood, a mosaic of faded red brick and large, metal-framed windows that puncture the hard facade. Looking inside, you’ll find a large atrium on your left and an open floor plan with a lounge and wraparound bar on your right. Down the hall you’ll see a communal eating area with five shipping container kitchens. Upstairs, there’s the remaining two concepts (Souk Shawarma and Bixo) as well as another bar, a covered outdoor eating area with more communal seating and an umbrella-clad patio. Throughout the space you’ll find mix-metals, heavy wooden furniture and repurposed goods from the building’s history—such as old printing presses that now act as terrariums. Other than the artifacts that are peppered throughout the space, much of the furniture—as well as the artwork—comes from local designers.
“I wanted it to be a visual collective,” explained Lauren O’Neill of Scout Interior Designs (she is also wife of Avanti founder Patrick O’Neill). She explained that the space, which features Restoration Union, Banshee Press and HouseFish, is meant to exhibit the culture of craft and not only of culinary talents but design as well. “I wanted to create a gallery space where all the craftsmanship would shine,” she said.
Who: Allison Widdecombe and Chad Michael George, known primarily for their work at Williams & Graham, a bar that was named one of the World’s Best Bars in 2014.
What: An accessible drink list that features 20 beers on tap (half are brews from Dogfish Head), a curated selection of old and new world wines by the glass, and nine cocktails. The cocktails, crafted specifically for Avanti by Widdecombe and Michael George, are simple, yet unique. “We wanted to make a drink list that is very accessible for a busy place… but while keeping the quality high,” she said. The menu has three cocktails on tap as well as six signature drinks. The cocktails are made with fresh juices, and sometimes feature uncommon ingredients like cynar, an artichoke bitter that can be found in their take on an old fashioned. Beers are on average $7, whereas the wines by the glass are $7-$12 and all of the cocktails are $10.
Try: The Collabo-Ryezon—the collaborative rye-wheat brew from Prost Brewing Company and Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery. Also, the Queen of Bombay cocktail made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, St. Germain, Stirring’s Ginger Liqueur, lemon and sparkling wine is worth a go. It’s light and citrusy with an herbaceous kick. It is exactly what you’ll want to drink while soaking up the sun on Avanti’s rooftop patio.
Avanti includes an incredibly diverse collection of micro-eateries that provide a wide range of options. Everything is well-portioned with lunch options capping at $9 per plate and dinner options no higher than $15. From globally inspired comfort food to gluten-free, farm-to-table eats and even Mediterranean inspired haute-cuisine, the concept was curated to cater to a wide range of cravings and preferences. Pro tip: Avanti will be open late (until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday), making it the perfect spot for after hour eats.
Who: Chefs John DePierro and Michael Nevarez of Bones — an Asian fusion, noodle-centric joint from the Bonanno Concepts restaurant group.
What: Globally inspired rice and noodle bowls with a strong influence of Japanese bar food. The menu features a range of playful Asian fusion-inspired dishes from tater tots made with miso and Cotija cheese to steelhead trout dressed with a Kabayaki glaze. “It’s the comfort food I would cook myself at home,” explained DePierro. They are also working on expanding their influences to include more international cuisines during their time at Avanti. “I don’t want to [do] just Japanese food… We want to get into Korean, Thai, Vietnamese [and] Mexican,” said DePierro. “We’re having fun with it.”
Try: The curry udon bowl made with thick, soft udon noodles mixed with chopped potatoes, carrots, scallions, cilantro and peanuts is supremely satisfying. The tater tots were also mentioned as a favorite by several Avanti chefs.
After Avanti: DePierro explained that they are looking to expand MiJo into a brick-and-mortar fast casual: “We want to take it not only around Denver, but hoping to go out to the mountains, maybe Fort Collins and maybe even national,” he said. MiJo has an 18-month lease with an option to renew for another six months.
Who: David Bravdica of Brava! a mobile, wood-fired pizzeria located next to Lannie’s Clocktower as well as several additional mobile kitchens.
What: Wood-fired pizzas as well as an expanded menu that includes antipasti, salads, desserts and a meatball slider served on a house-made focaccia. Brava will also have an espresso machine for those seeking a caffeine kick. Overall, the menu is characterized by its use of local ingredients while maintaining a low cost. On average, pizzas are $7 and made with artisan products such as Hazel Dell mushrooms and Colorado-grown and milled flour. “I don’t agree with paying $14 for a pizza margherita,” explained Bravdica.”It’s Naples’ peasant food, after all.”
Try: Brussels & bacon pie is worth the caloric splurge. It is made with garlic infused olive oil, thick dollops of goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, Brussels sprout leaves and bacon lardons. Also, the bacon pops are Bravas!’ take on bacon-wrapped dates and are definitely worth ordering with a group (the order comes with five).
After Avanti: “We want to be here in 4 years,” said Bravdica. But he also mentioned looking to simultaneously open a brick-and-mortar fast casual concept. Brava! has a 24-month lease with an option to renew for another two years.
Who: Kevin Morrison and his team from Pinche Taqueria —a nationally recognized taqueria and food truck known for its chef-driven street tacos.
What: Tortas with a “gringo” element. The traditional Mexican sandwiches come with a heavy serving of meats, such as a thick-sliced smoked ham, grilled steak, salsa verde pork loin, and even fried chicken. All sandwiches come with a side of fries and feature inventive sauces and spreads like a poblano béchamel or guajillo-honey mayo. The bread was previously planned to be made in house, but due to space restrictions it comes fresh daily from City Bakery. “We make everything else in house daily,” explained Pinche’s general manager, Andy Bustamante. “From the fries, to the bruschetta daily… everything is made to order.”
Try: The Paris 1910 is a huge, open-faced sandwich made with hand-sliced smoked ham, Swiss cheese, roasted poblano bechamel, dressed greens and two sunny side up eggs. It’s exactly what you’ll want post-hangover.
After Avanti: The Poco team explained they are hoping for a brick-and-mortar location, but said they will see how the concept is received at Avanti before moving forward. Poco has the shortest term at Avanti with a lease of only 12 months.
Who: Tim Payne, formerly of Z Cuisine—a French restaurant that was named one of the Best restaurants of 2012 by 5280 Magazine.
What: Farm-to-table, vegetable-forward menu that highlights local, sustainable and mostly organic produce. As a result, the menu will rotate frequently and will be built on what produce is available. “We’ll do 200 dishes a year,” said Payne. His goal is to break down the stigma of farm-to-table practices being only for fine dining. “You don’t have to drop $30 to eat a plate of local food,” he said.
Try: Peaches and Pork made with perfectly ripe peaches, cucumbers, fresh goat cheese, baby spicy greens, pork confit and a peach vinaigrette. The carrot pancake is surprisingly complex, but don’t expect it to be sweet, as it’s made with a carrot hummus and carrot top salsa verde. We highly recommend this concept for vegetarians.
After Avanti: “We’re keeping an open mind,” explained Payne. He elaborated that they could become brick and mortar but they are looking to, “practice the concept in a casual atmosphere,” with hopes that Farmer Girl will resonate with the Denver audience. Currently, Farmer Girl has a 24-month lease.
Who: Beckie and Igor Panasewicz, owners of Quiero Arepas food truck. In 2014, the truck was named one of the “Best Food Trucks in America” by Thrillist.
What: Venezuelan arepas. These naturally gluten-free South American “sandwiches” are made with a corn-based flatbread that is grilled and filled with ingredients such as avocado, plantains, black beans, and shredded pork. The menu also offers a side of fried plantains, an expanded fresh juice list and coconut ice cream from a local purveyor. According to Beckie, they hope to start a “Meatless Monday” offering for vegetarians.
Try: The El Caribe made with smoked salmon, capers, queso enchilado and avocado. The smoked salmon paired with the cool avocado make a dreamy combination.
After Avanti: Currently, Quiero Arepas is not looking to expand. “I want to go in everyday and cook my own food,” explained Beckie. “But I couldn’t say no [to Avanti]… It was too good of an opportunity.” As of now, Quiero Arepas has a 24-month lease.
Who: Jon Robbins of Bistro Barbès, a new critically acclaimed restaurant in the Park Hill neighborhood.
What: Levantine-style shawarma pita wraps. Souk currently offers either beef or chicken with plans to develop a falafel option. Each item comes wrapped in a pita that is stuffed with fillings such as pickled cucumbers, saffron or a basmati rice, hummus, chermoula and carrot/harissa sauce. Unlike the typical European shawarma, also known as “doner,” Robbins expressed that his rendition will highlight the Middle Eastern flavors of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. ” When I was living in Europe, I spent a lot of my vacations in the Middle East,” he said. “When I came back to the states, anyone who was touching this style was doing it more in the doner, European style. I wanted to bring more of the Levantine [influences].”
Try: There are only two menu items—beef or chicken shawarma—so grab a friend and try both. However, one might be enough, as they are rather large.
After Avanti: Souk Shawarma is hoping to simultaneously develop a brick-and-mortar location. “Avanti will accelerate that process… The space here will be a recipe development center,” said Robbins. Currently, Souk has a 24 month lease.
Who: Marco Gonzales, known for his work in Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Le Calandre in Lyon, France.
What: Mediterranean-inspired small plates with a Mexican influence. These “bites” feature a range of specially sourced, high-end ingredients such as Spanish octopus, fresh Hawaiian shrimp and Berkshire pork belly. BiXO, unlike other Avanti concepts, is less focused on street food and, rather, creates elevated dishes one might find at a fine dining restaurant. Several plates even use molecular gastronomy to create unique textures including a pineapple-habanero foam and even a chorizo “sand.” In addition to these high-end plates, Gonzales explained they will serve a paella for lunch and more traditional Spanish tapas for happy hour and a late-night happy hour.
Try: Berkshire pork belly “pibil” made with a black bean sauce, corn crumble, red onion caviar, habanero & pineapple foam. Also, the lunch paella that will be made fresh daily is worth checking out.
After Avanti: BiXO plans to open a brick-and-mortar location that could either be a full-fledged fine dining experience with a 20-plate tasting menu or something more casual. “There’s so many ideas that could come out of this. It could be as casual as a tapas bar, or even tacos,” Gonzales explained. “We’re like play-dough…We just want to know what the client wants.” As of now, BiXO has a 15 month lease.
Fortunately, Avanti appears to have accomplished its plans thus far. The space has successfully transformed into an impressive example of modern design, and the tenants are a well-curated bunch. Each one, as we demonstrated above, has an impressive amount of accolades and a uniquely expressed vision. Better yet, they all compliment each other—not only in style, but colloquially as well. Speaking with each tenant resulted in an ardent exaltation for their neighbor. “I feel like I am going to be running upstairs after my shift, begging them [for food],” said Thomas Payne of Farmer Girl in reference to Soku Shawarma. Every chef had similarly kind things to say about their fellow renters, expressing feelings of gratitude that they share a space with comparably talented chefs. Their enthusiastic endorsements truly made it feel as if the concept of a “collective eatery” has been actualized. And while tenants will rotate out due to limited leases, this current crowd of impressive chefs—paired with a gorgeously curated space— does signal an excellent start. So, get ready Denver. This could be a game changer.
Avanti Food & Beverage is located at 3200 Pecos St., Denver, Colo. It opens July 13 at 11 a.m. with regular hours from 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Wednesday and 11- 2 a.m., Thursday through Saturday.
All photography by Kyle Cooper.