On Wednesday, October 7 Junction Food and Drink opened in the Colorado Center near the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and I-25. The hotly anticipated food hall brings together a range of chef-driven concepts from Denver and beyond. Originally slated for April, Junction has finally arrived, complete with eight acting concepts, socially-distanced seating, contactless ordering and payment and auxiliary staff responsible for militant sanitation. Currently, the 12,000 square foot space sits 59 inside, with 120 safely-spaced patio seats joining along the edges. “We’ve got about 20 heaters on the way,” said general manager Neill Blackwood. Initially planned to hold 12 individual stalls, Junction has delayed the rollout, with the additional four still signed on to open as the landscape becomes more favorable. “We wanna make sure we support our current operators,” said Blackwood.
While Denver certainly has no shortage of food halls, Junction has done a good job of setting up shop on relatively unattended turf. “Really if you go down this strip it’s all chains,” said Blackwood — who previously helped to open Broadway Market in 2019. The obvious traffic from the spot’s major chokepoint, along with RTD’s Park and Ride, Cigna, The Colorado Center’s plethora of office space and the neighboring University of Denver all nicely converge — with the hall hoping to provide more exceptional fare for the previously underserved area. “That’s why we called it Junction,” smiled Blackwood.
While Blackwood says he admires the plasticity of the incubator model of a place like Avanti Denver, Junction favors stability and sports a lineup built for consistency. “The goal is for people to stay and prosper,” he said.
The hall certainly has no scarcity of local talent, with many of the locations coming from other states acting as a continuation of successful mini-franchises or groups. Troy Guard and former Sushi Den head chef Soon Choi are on the roster, as are Chase and Melissa Devitt of Mr. Miner’s Meat and Cheese and the recently-opened Boychik. On top of opening Big Wave Taco, Troy and Nikki Guard were tapped to consult on the opening bar menu. “When we originally put out the call for restaurants we got about 100 inquiries,” said Blackwood. “We wanted seasoned chefs and restaurateurs.”
Junction marks the third endeavor from National Food Hall Solutions CEO Pat Garza, who previously opened Legacy Hall in Plano, Texas and Crave Food and Bar on the Purdue campus. Several of the stalls have already been tested at the other locations, with Shawarma Shack and the yet-to-be-opened Bird on a Wire and Grind and Grill Burgers having had tenures at Crave. Additional concepts include Pete’s-A-Pie — a DC family group serving New Haven-style pizza — Paciugo Gelato Caffe and Sonder’s Coffee and Tea. Lazo Empanadas and another outpost of Smok Barbecue will remain deliberately on ice until all the involved parties see fit to open.
The menus are all wittingly short and sweet, with each list generally favoring two major focal points and some sides. Choi’s Ebisu Ramen and Sushi is exactly that, with a range of original rolls and sashimi being joined by several impressive ramens befitting the chef’s previous residence. The rolls are reasonably ornate, with the tuna and triple crunch roll ($15) coming complete with spicy tuna, avocado, microgreens, rice crunch, crunch mix and triple sauce — a delightful combination of sweet soy sauce, green garlic aioli and spicy aioli. The kimchi tonkotsu ramen ($10.50/$14.50) comes with braised pork belly, soft boiled egg, kimchi, wood ear mushroom, chives, green onion, bean sprouts, crunch mix all drenched in a riveting spicy tonkotsu broth, black garlic oil and chili oil.
Big Wave Taco comes as a natural, pared-down extension of Guard’s ongoing empire. “It’s like Los Chingones but a little more coastal,” rightly noted Blackwood. Fresh cabbage and pickled red onion lend appropriate brightness to much of the succinct taco menu. The pescado ($4.95) comes with beer battered ﬁlet, cabbage, cilantro and chipotle aioli, with the al pastor ($4.35) seeing a plentiful helping of spit-roasted pork shoulder, grilled pineapple, onion and cilantro. Bowls and quesadillas are also available with any of the available proteins. While none of the offerings are particularly gripping on paper, everything arrives with the kind of exuberance that has become synonymous with anything TAG affiliated.
Mr. Miner’s Meat and Cheese is seeing its second iteration, the first having opened in Tributary in 2019. Chefs Chase and Melissa Devitt approach sandwiches and salads with great zeal, the prosciutto sandwich ($13) — with brie, apple, mustard and arugula — acting as one of the hall’s most exciting bites, simplicity and all. Elegantly-plated cheese and charcuterie boards ($13/$25 are available for anyone hoping to luxuriate across the hall’s sweeping interior.
Of the heretofore unfamiliar concepts, Shawarma Shack and Pete’s-A-Pie both provide distinct and delicious lanes. The shack specializes in wraps and bowls generously stacked with the usual suspects of lamb, chicken, gyro and falafel. However, it’s the loaded fries with either lamb ($8.95) or chicken ($7.95) and sumac onions, tabbouleh, olives, tzatziki and feta cheese, that explains the stall’s successful proliferation to 14 locations across Kentucky. Pete’s favors whole pies, with more traditional choices being joined by locally-inspired pies like the LODO ($19) — with broccolini, sausage, Milano Salami, olive oil and parmesan — and the Aspen ($19) — with meatballs, sausage, peppers, red onion, wild mushrooms and kalamata olives.
Even with the obvious pivots, Junction succeeds in its decidedly balanced curation. With five savory options, coffee, hooch and dessert the hall is well-equipped for its goal of providing the district with the kind of sophistication much of the rest of the city has previously enjoyed.
Junction Food and Drink is located at 2000 South Colorado Blvd., Denver. Sonder Coffee and Tea is open Wednesday – Sunday from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., with the remainder of the stalls being open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.