Sixty-five Denver based restaurants came together to host a gigantic mile high food showing in the Galeria at the Denver Performing Arts Center yesterday afternoon. The Big Eat initiates the kick off to Slow Food Nations with a party. Food fanatics are invited to celebrate the best in the Denver restaurant scene during a three-hour non-stop tasting hosted by some the most influential names in the Denver restaurant industry.
Bottomless craft cocktails, microbrews and groovy tunes propelled event-goers through tastings on either side of the atrium — down the stairs to the southwest open-aired patio overlooking Sculpture Park. Restaurants are grouped together by neighborhood to help guests make sense of the free-for-all food frenzy. LoHi, Cap Hill, RiNo, LoDo, Wash Park and Five Points even had cocktails created in their names — crafted to be sipped while sampling food from each respective neighborhood. Although only six neighborhoods made the cocktail list, the event hosts restaurants from neighboring greater Denver areas, some as far as Lafayette and Boulder.
The Big Eat hosts a variety of different vendors for this event — including some of the city’s more acclaimed, staple restaurants like Vesta, Coohills and Panzano — but the event also offers the opportunity to meet several of Denver’s adolescent concepts. Many event-goers took the opportunity to acquaint themselves with recent arrivals such as Ad Hominem, Citizen Rail, Bistro Georgette, Brightmarten and The Bindery — just to name a few.
Highlights from the tastings include Vesta’s endive gorgonzola salad, topped with sherry dijon vinaigrette, walnuts and finished with fig jam — a crunchy, savory-sweet creation which hardly resembled a salad. Citizen Rail put up an impressive smoked garlic mustard sausage complete with burnt apricot and scallion puree — a dish that speaks to the restaurants’ roots in woodfire and in-house butchering.
Vine Street Pub introduced us to “Batman & Ruben” — a pastrami rubbed beef brisket with brussel sprout kraut and Russian aioli. The Pig and Sprout at Union Station passed out Louisiana-style dry rubbed ribs accompanied with a roasted Elote. Most definitely worth waiting in line twice for to get second helpings. American Grind scooped Colorado Cherry-vanilla preserve ice cream — a great way to tie in seasonal fruit on a 90 degree summer day.
Cocktails — hosted by Molly’s Spirits — satisfy a need for a boozy hot weather sip. Each of the six offerings on the list showcases a different Colorado spirit. Some highlights from the bar included the ‘Five Points’ an interpretation on an Old Fashioned, made with Leopold Bros American Whiskey, as well as the ‘LoHi’ — a spin on a mojito — shaken with Family Jones ‘Mo Jones’ Rum, mint syrup, lime cordial and soda water. The ‘Wash Park’ cocktail appeared to be the crowd pleaser: Woody Creek Vodka, lemon juice, and lavender butterfly pea flower seltzer comes served over ice and is garnished with a fresh lemon twist. The drink pours bright violet and offers a bubbly fresh floral finish that cools as it washes down.
No matter the variety of cuisine, it will beckon a brew. The Big Eat was sure to deliver equally impressive creations from the keg to accompany the array of elevated food and the spirits from the bar. Spangalang Brewery poured a Salted Plum Table Beer. The draft pours a deep purple yet sips easy — it finishes malty-smooth and carries a gentle tannic mouthfeel of sun-drenched plum skins.
Ratio Beerworks tipped out a text-book lager alongside the beer to beat — ‘Major Nights’ — a spunky lime Gose. The addition of tropical citrus — in this case, lime — to a German-style fermentation results in a tart, summer-centric fizzer that packs enough acidic punch to stand up to a steak on the dinner table. Additional taps manned by Vine Street Pub, Stem Cider, Acreage Cider and Carboy Winery kept glasses full and cheeks pink as guests taste and re-taste their way through their favorite restaurants.
The Big Eat gathers some of the best from the Denver dining industry. No competition, no awards, no need for bragging rights or trophies — this is a mile-high food show, fueled by Colorado libations and love for local, sustainable small businesses. If you missed The Big Eat this time around you have plenty of opportunities to eat ahead of you. The Big Eat is the pre-party to kick off Slow Food Nations this upcoming weekend. The event will occupy several city blocks of lower downtown and offer dozens of tastings, classes, seminars and meet and greets — many of which come without a ticket price.
All photography by Heather Fairchild