First Look Inside Milk Market – Denver’s Newest Food Hall

Lou’s Hot|Naked, photo by Brittni Bell Warshaw.

Food halls of all shapes and sizes continue to explode across Denver’s culinary food scene. Come Friday, June 1 at 7 a.m., the newest iteration will open its doors in LoDo. This one is a bit different, though. Instead of a collection of restaurants from several chefs, Milk Market is the product of one company: Bonanno Concepts. Led by Frank Bonanno, the long-time Denver chef and restaurateur, he is no stranger to openings. In fact, he loves them. Even with his newest beast — which include 15 (soon to be 16) concepts —building a new addition to his empire thrilled him.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had cooking,” said he in reference to opening Milk Market. Bonanno, who is consistently hands-on, explained he loved bouncing around from station to station — tinkering with recipes and learning how to craft each dish to his specification.

“I was super obsessive about the way they build the burger. Like I don’t want the cheese melted… because texturally when it melts, it gets really thin. It was just really important to me — finding the perfect potato roll and the butcher sauce,” he explained.

The Space

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Frank isn’t alone in his endeavor. His wife and partner Jacqueline, who’s designed the interiors of restaurants in the Bonanno empire, took the project to new heights. Constructed in part with Cynthia Steinbrecher of Davis Partnership Architects and the Bonanno team, they inserted personal touches in every inch of the 18,000-square-foot space. This includes approximately 30 different types of tile including a hand laid floor made of hundred of pennies at S&G Salumeria. The pennies serve a larger purpose — with each spot having a “good luck” in the form of some design element or object. Similarly, each food stall has a familial tie  — a long time tradition of the Bonnano’s who have named restaurants after their kids (for example Luca).

“Because each concept is rooted in a family member, a favorite trip or a dining experience, it was impossible to not approach the physical embodiment of each without a lot of love and care,” said Jacqueline. “The design is not only meant to be engaging and fun for the guest, but it is also a love note to every memory that each space represents.”

Two concepts including Albina by the Sea and Ruth’s Butchery are named after Frank and Jacqueline’s grandmothers — respectively.

“Albina was a Brooklynite in a penthouse and Ruth was a farmer in Upstate New York and here they are facing each other on this corner,” she said in reference to the two food stalls. ” I hope this is a legacy piece.”

Local artists also played a big role in the market, including pieces by friends of the Bonannos. Throughout the space, you’ll find art pieces big and small — like the huge Moo sign above the main cocktail bar by The Public Works or the lifesavers behind MoPoke by Jennifer Hendrick. On the alley of the space, you’ll find a painting of a milkman which harkens back to market’s history as Windsor Dairy — which opened in the same space 100 years ago in 1918.

“… just as Windsor Dairy nourished the community with its dairy products, we strive to do the same with a focus on family, community and a love of celebration within our doors,” said Frank.

The Food

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While the design features may be plentiful — food and drink can we found everywhere you turn. With 15 concepts open (the alley’s late night pizza place, Engine Room, opens mid-summer), the expansive space feels crammed with options. Inside you’ll find three bars — each dedicated to a different form of booze. There’s the Moo Bar that focuses on cocktails, the Stranded Pilgrim with beer and Cellar that offers wine by the bottle or the glass. On tap at Stranded Pilgrim, you can find taproom-only beers including a tomatillo sour from Odell and Frank’s Honey Blonde – which was brewed exclusively for Denver Milk Market by Great Divide Brewing Company. For the health conscious you can pick up bites from The Green Huntsman for salads, drinking vinegar and nitrogenized green tea or MoPoke for fresh poke bowls. If you’re there early, you can stop by Morning Jones, the coffee shop for pastries. Lou’s Hot and Naked (which is a remake of the old Lou’s Food Bar) will also have some brunch items including chicken and biscuits. Make sure to stick around for lunch and dinner though as Lou’s is churning out some serious sandwiches with its Nashville hot chicken (it was our favorite bite of the night).

If you want to make some stuff at home, the Milk Market has plenty of packaged goods to take with you. This includes fresh pasta and sauce from Mano Pastaria (which also serves dine-in pasta dishes), S&G Salumeria for deli meats, fresh mozzarella (along with huge sandwiches) and Ruth’s Butchery or Albina at the Sea for deli case items, as well as, hot sandwiches and fish-focused dishes — for dine-in meals (respectively).

If you’re still not full, you can head to Bao Chica Bao for ramen and bao buns, Fem for crepes or a whole pie at Bonanno Brothers Pizza. Then you can finish the night on a sweet note with boozy milkshakes, sundaes and gelato at Cornicello.

Falling in line with our increasingly option-filled lives, Milk Market caters to a wide range of appetites. It’ll be hard to find at least one thing you’re craving at the new LoDo hub — that is if you can even decide on where and what to eat in the first place. But as consumers of never-ending variety, today’s shopper is increasingly accustomed to making decisions — to the point that having this much choice might not only be comfortable but expected.

Milk Market is located at 1800 Wazee St., #100, Denver. It opens June 1 at 7 a.m. with normal hours from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily with Morning Jones at Lou’s opening at 7 a.m. and Moo Bar, Mano and Stranded Pilgrim open until 11 p.m. Milk Market will host a weekend-long opening celebration from Friday, June 1 through Sunday, June 3. Many of the events are free and open to the public. For a full list of events, visit Denver Milk Market’s Facebook page.

All photography by Brittni Bell Warshaw.

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