Between celebrating the city’s seven James Beard semifinalist nominations and gearing up for Restaurant Week, February was a busy month in Denver. However, in between assignments, the 303 Food + Booze Staff managed to indulge and imbibe. From fresh greens at an old favorite, to meatball pastries at a new iteration of an old favorite, here’s what the 303 staff ate and drank in February.

Cody Gabbard

As one who typically eschews desserts for a post-dinner libation, The Squeaky Bean’s Brillat Savarin Cheesecake will certainly make me rethink that instinct. The base, a triple cream brie, is much lighter than standard, dense iterations, but no less rich. The saccharin aspects are also more muted than standard versions, owing to an earthy quality from the cheese. A tart sweetness from kumquat jam provides the necessary balance, for a truly decadent and innovate dessert.

Brittany Werges

Squeaky Bean, where to eat in Denver

Bean Acres Baby Greens & Herbs. Photo by Brittany Werges.

If there’s one thing I definitely don’t get enough of during the winter months in Colorado, it’s bright, fresh greens. Usually I swap out my summer salads for comforting oven-roasted veggies and vegetable hashes while the outside temperatures are low. It’s partially because there’s just not as much fresh produce available, and if there is, the out-of-season crops can be lack-luster.
That’s definitely not true at Squeaky Bean. With their own farm (aptly named Bean Acres) located in Lakewood, the Bean has an impressive abundance of fresh produce that keeps its menu looking like spring time even in the dead of winter. The Bean Acres Baby Greens & Herbs ($11) is a great example and comes with burrata and a garden of greens grown at Bean Acres. The presentation made it almost too pretty to eat, but truthfully I ate the whole thing. Also on the menu are other great veggie dishes like the crispy cauliflower ($10) that beckons back to my standard winter fare. Both are incredibly delicious and a good way to eat a bit more healthy, even during these cold, comfort-craving months.

Justin De La Rosa

Huevos rancheros at Root Down. Photo by Justin De La Rosa.

Huevos rancheros at Root Down. Photo by Justin De La Rosa.

On the morning of Super Bowl 50, I woke up with two things on my mind: Broncos and brunch. After sufficiently donning my Broncos gear, I went to grab brunch before the big game at the ever-popular Root Down. At this point, I should let you know I am actually not a huge fan of the meal, but chef-owner Justin Cucci’s Highland outpost has never done me wrong.

My brunch on this visit featured a plate of huevos rancheros (and my fair share of blood orange mimosas). As a New Mexican native, I’m used to a different style of this dish, but I love to see and taste different adaptations. Root Down’s variation brings Tender Belly pork belly, black beans, roasted poblanos, Cotija, and crispy tortilla strips together with a mole verde. The Mexican-inspired dish was complemented with a medley of crispy potatoes and a simple arugula salad. Aside from the rainbow of colors on the plate, this dish was vibrant and diverse in its flavors. You can bet that the next time you find me out at brunch, it will be at Root Down.

Trenton Reed

Jennifer Jasinski, Rioja Denver

Executive Chef/Owner Jennifer Jasinski. Image courtesy of Rioja.

Given Jennifer Jasinski’s recent James Beard semifinalist nomination, I figured it was an appropriate time to visit Rioja (never mind the fact that I had felt like a bad food writer, and Denverite, for having never visited). So on a recent Sunday, I made a reservation at her acclaimed Larimer Square spot.

While my wine recommendation was spot-on (a jammy, yet balanced Spanish red that complimented chef de cuisine Tim Kuklinski’s menu), and my entree was divine (I implore everyone to sample the grilled lamb loin), a small appetizer captured my attention that night: fresh bacon. This deceptively simple dish featured a sizable chunk of grilled pork belly swimming in a curried garbanzo bean puree. As a lover all things pig, I was initially drawn to the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of the pork. However, the complexity of the puree, with its notes of cardamom and Madras curry, had my date and I shamelessly using our spoons to savor every last bite.

Matthew Hedgpeth

In the closing paragraphs of a short essay that ran in the New Yorker, Calvin Trillin addressed the contentious origins of the buffalo chicken wing as delicacy. In 1980, the then 16-year-old finger food was still slowly making its way around the country as the sort of thing you’d find only in bars. Take a look around today, however, and pretty much everybody and their uncle with a restaurant has added chicken wings to the menu. Ubiquitous and ever-popular, the wing has given rise to more than a few franchises or, at the very least, has its own day of the week deal at many restaurants. Considering that the wing was once seen as a cut to be thrown away, it’s rather astounding to see how variable the competing methodologies for wing preparation are, and that, in some cases, the classic “buffalo” Frank’s RedHot flavor pales in comparison to countless other sauce options.

I crave wings and cold beer as much as the next guy, and probably consume more of both than I should. Oh well. Three of my newfound favorites from the past couple months are the Limoncello from Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana, Onefold’s salt and pepper variety and Cho77’s Vietnamese caramel wings. 

Nora Philbin

Triple Italian Meatball at Humble Pie. Photo by Noah Berg.

Triple Italian Meatball at Humble Pie. Photo by Noah Berg.

Only having moved to Colorado at the end of the summer, I hadn’t heard of Humble Pie in its first incarnation. I had the good fortune to visit its brand new spot on Colfax, and I have to say: it’s inspired. The Triple Italian Meatball is made from veal, beef, and pork. The sweet pastry dough that the meatball is nestled in is balanced perfectly by the spices in the meat; plus, the side of marinara means that the dish doesn’t dry out. Unlike the pies, the meatball only comes in one size. Though, as the weather starts to get warmer and hemlines get shorter, that’s probably for the best. If you stop in for pie, I recommend you do more than take-out. The pies will bring you in, and the cocktails will keep you there all night.
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