Over the summer, Zeppelin Station welcomed three new concepts from the FAM Hospitality Group. July saw the debut of Thai Kun and Soy Pinoy, with Graves Good Burger joining in September. The group — led by managing partner Johnny Hoang — currently oversees the three Zeppelin stalls, as well as another concept at Avanti Denver helmed by chef Nick Graves’ called Lea Jane’s Hot Chicken. The group is planning additional concepts for when the restaurant climate improves.
When Thai Kun and Soy Pinoy announced their opening, both faced a backlash for their relationship with chef Paul Qui — who is directly involved with Soy Pinoy and more tangentially associated with Denver’s iteration of Thai Kun, a project founded by Hoang, Qui and Austin-based Thai Changthong. As discussed in our previous coverage, the Zeppelin team has since backed the concepts, citing Qui’s ongoing attempts at restitution for a well-publicized incident of domestic abuse in 2016. “I’ve known Paul for a while and I know he is a person who does what he says he’s going to do both in and out of the kitchen. I support his efforts and success in this restitution,” said Hoang.
All three concepts are serving delicious, dramatically different takes on their cuisine. “We are so grateful to be a part of the Denver food community. Everyone in the industry is giving their all at this most difficult time, we want to do what we can to contribute and positively impact the community. We also want to thank our guests and want them to know that beyond rolling out great concepts, we are mindful that times are tight and we are looking forward to serving them in colder months without compromise,” said Hoang.
Below is a quick look at the food hall’s newest additions.
Graves Good Burger
The Lowdown: Graves Good Burger was born out of Graves and Hoang’s shared love for the kind of Southern-style burgers both grew up on. Designed to provide an exceptional take on the classic while intentionally eschewing excessive ornamentation, chef Graves has developed a simple menu that continues Lea Jane’s trend of using sophisticated techniques on more straightforward fare. “I took that first bite and knew we had to share it with the world,” said Hoang.
The Good Burger ($12) comes with American cheese, shaved onion, special sauce, pickle and the conspicuous option to make it a single. The fattier 70/30 blend of Lombardi Brothers beef is prepared smash-style, Graves’ fabulous execution making a mockery of ordering anything less than two patties. The Mushroom Swiss Burger ($13) is a masterpiece of sheer craftsmanship and a good reminder that Graves has spent much of his culinary career in fine dining kitchens. The five-ounce patty stands tall, combining shitakes and creminis with protein derived from leeks. It is then topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, roasted garlic mayo, mushroom ketchup and a “Velveeta swiss” — made by melting the swiss in sous vide until it reaches the consistency of its more processed counterpart. The house fries ($5) are thick-cut spuds, crisped to perfection. “We basically overcook the shit out of the wedges,” smiled Graves. Served with the house-made mushroom ketchup — an inspired combination of portabellas, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, molasses and spices — the fries are as worthy of investigation as the burgers.
The Lowdown: After opening in Austin in 2014, Thai Kun received quick accolades from Bon Appetit — listed in the Hot 10 for its “O.G. Thai” approach. After a six-month stint at Golden’s Tributary Food Hall, Thai Kun reopened for an extended stay at Zeppelin.
Thai Kun and Soy Pinoy currently share the same stall, though each serves distinct plates. “The commonalities between the concepts are really driven by fond memories of the food we grew up eating. There’s a strong connection of family, love, nourishment and familiar flavors. Comfort foods that bring people together,” said Hoang.
The Beef Panang Curry ($16) — with serrano peppers, kaffir lime leaf, basil and a fried egg — is the place’s signature dish, the panang’s uncompromising heat being matched by the enormity of the complementary flavors. The dish winds up balanced and has all the quality to justify its 2014 nod. The Crab Rice ($18) is a much milder affair, with plentiful jumbo lump crab, egg, green onion and wedges of lime. Despite shocking the senses much less than the rest of the menu, the rice is still a vivid reflection of the concept at large.
The Lowdown: Soy Pinoy is the new concept from Qui, serving a concise menu of Filipino staples. The Lechon Liempo ($15) is grilled Duroc pork belly, chili vinegar dipping sauce, annato glaze, cilantro and white rice. The charred preparation manages to reconfigure the belly’s consistency into one that will shock and delight even the most hog-savvy diner. The Vegan Kare Kare ($10) — with eggplant, cabbage, green beans and thick cuts of summer squash is doused in peanut butter curry and topped with crispy garlic, sliced peppers and basil. The Fried Chicken Adobo ($12) — with white rice, vinegar and spicy banana ketchup — is similar to the Lechon in its ability to deliver a crunch that will appear fresh to even the most hardened fried chicken aficionado.
Even with the exceptional menu, it’s impossible to discuss a Qui location without considering the moral implications. He will soon be introducing a series of Soy Pinoy Family Dinners — intimate, eight-person events that will donate all proceeds to Austin and Denver-based Asian mental health advocacy organizations. A scholarship program providing therapy for service industry members struggling with addiction and mental health issues is also in the works. These seem to be sincere attempts at making amends. Hopefully, they’ll act as the first steps in an ongoing process towards a legacy that will have to outshine the superb cooking he’s thus far used as validation. Qui supports an open-door policy, with his personal email being made available on his website.
Zeppelin Station is located at 3501 Wazee St. Suite #100, Denver. All three stalls are open Monday – Thursday from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.