There's no limit to our love for salted and cured meat, so we're as happy as pigs at the feeding trough that some variation of the charcuterie plate has worked its way onto just about every menu in this town. But as more and more restaurants fill out their menu with piles of salami and ham, some spots have really taken their obsession with cured meat to the next level, thereby becoming objects of our undying affection.
Here, in no particular order, are the ten best plates of charcuterie in Denver.
Il Posto (2011 East 17th Avenue) With its ever-changing chalkboard menu and open kitchen, Il Posto is a breezy neighborhood joint that seems to always have good energy -- the exact type of spot you could easily while away several hours without even realizing it, especially if you're sharing plates and a bottle or two of wine. And dinner here should always, always kick off with tagliere, a rotating selection of meats and cheeses. Chef Andrea Frizzi likes to bring his favorite parts of his home country stateside, and these selections, spanning coppa, lonzo, mortadella and finnochiono, also include a wide array of craft cheeses culled from all over Italy.
Table 6 (609 Corona Street) Order the charcuterie plate at Table 6 and you'll find it captures the whimsy and spirit of the rest of the quirky New American menu. No odes to France or Italy here; instead you'll get porky sausages, smoked and cured duck that resembles ham, lamb belly turned into housemade lamb bacon and tasso, that peppery smoked pork that comes from the Cajun culinary canon. It's best, we find, when paired with some equally odd selection from sommelier and owner Aaron Forman.
Crimson Canary (141 South Broadway) Making a meal out of cured meat and cheese is an especially tempting prospect at Crimson Canary, the subject of this week's review. The salumi plate is one of the best deals in town (especially at happy hour, when the price drops even further). Select from a variety of domestic and imported meats and cheeses, which are then portioned generously and accompanied by caperberries and olives. We like to toss in a bread basket and a glass of cheap negroamaro red wine.
Frasca Food and Wine or Pizzeria Locale (1738 Pearl Street, Boulder) Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson do not screw around when it comes to cutting cured pork: the partners installed Berkels and a V.D.F. slicer, high-performance meat-slicing machines, each of which costs as much as a Honda Civic. They take those blades to the finest imported and domestic products, serving translucent, velvety slices of coppa, prosciutto and speck with a racy horseradish creme-fraiche and thin, crisp breadsticks. Toss in a glass of fizzy, dry Lambrusco, and we could call it a night.
Panzano (909 17th Street) Chef Elise Wiggins's fattoria piatto at Panzano, one of our favorite Italian restaurants in the city, combines what might be the best of all possible worlds when it comes to compiling a thoughtful plate of charcuterie. There's a soft housemade duck mousse paired to a homemade cranberry orange compote that's equal parts bitter, sweet and tart. There's exquisite prosciutto from Parma, and Pecorino Gran Cru from Sardinia. Supplemented with local goat cheese, festooned with olives and slices of pear and served with lightly charred crostini, it embraces tradition, authenticity and local sources, all on one plate.
Z Cuisine or A' Côté Bar à Absinthe (2239 West 30th Avenue) Both Z Cuisine and A Cote channel the charm of a cozy French bistro, and the little neighborhood spots, located in the same building, have impeccable menus to boot. That includes the house charcuterie, a display of house made pork rillettes and country pate, dry sausage straight from France, changing selections of cheeses plus accoutrements that include chutneys, candied nuts and crisp, sour cornichons. When we can nab a table at tiny Z, we'll start a meal this way. But we're also happy to post up in A Cote with a glass of wine and a friend, nibbling at the board all night.
Bittersweet (500 East Alameda Avenue) Chef-owner Olav Peterson has a thing for hyperlocal ingredients, and his menu at Bittersweet is built from what he can grow in his garden and what he can source from nearby purveyors. His charcuterie board shows the same dichotomy: it's probably not surprising that he does a lot of curing in-house, making his own mortadella, lomo, duck prosciutto, gravlax and guanciale, for example. He plates bits of whatever he has ready plus varied sausages and piggy parts from Il Mondo Vecchio.
Osteria Marco (1453 Larimer Street) A pig hangs above the door of Osteria Marco, an omen that a shrine to pork awaits across the threshold. Frank Bonanno's Larimer Square joint cures its own lonza, bresaola and ciccioli, crafts ricotta, mozzarella, blue cheese and an insane burrata, and supplements its own work with top-notch selections from stellar salumerias in New York City and suppliers from Italy. The result? We over-order on the meat and cheese every single time, especially when we can sit on the patio with a spritz or some sort of sparkling beverage in hand.
Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar (1512 Curtis Street) Before Argyll packed up its Cherry Creek digs in anticipation of relocation, it nabbed our Best Charcuterie Plate award in Best of Denver 2011. But when the spot closed in mid-July, we worried we'd go into withdrawal without chef Sergio Romero's silky foie gras mousse, Pernod-cured gravlax or fat-ribboned duck prosciutto. Luckily, though, Romero transported the program over to Le Grand, where it's a delightful start to any meal -- and a reason to post up at the bar with a cocktail or glass of bubbly by way of a pairing.
Colt & Gray (1553 Platte Street) We're not sure we've ever left a meal at Colt & Gray without ordering at least one selection of charcuterie. We can't help ourselves. We'll spy duck bresaola, bass belly, braun or fennel-cured boar on the menu, and suddenly we're asking for a round -- even if we've already finished dinner. From dry sausages to creamy pates, from fat-oozing rillettes to wispy bresaola, chef-owner Nelson Perkins and his kitchen staff always turn out boards of meats that are both excellent and interesting. We expect that to expand this summer, when Perkins finishes building a charcuterie kitchen underneath the restaurant.
Have another favorite? Tell us about it below.
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