To market, to market: Downtown denizens have long complained about the lack of grocery stores in the area, but now that they have one, they aren't exactly cheering. In fact, I'd heard so many negative comments about the Lemon Sisters Market, which opened last month at 1530 Blake Street (the old home of a Las Delicias), that I decided to check it out for myself.
"It's not very appealing," warned one woman who had jogged from her loft a few blocks away to buy a head of lettuce. "I think it has a long way to go, but I guess at least it's something. I just wish the prices were better." And another shopper wrote, "As one of the thousands of people who live downtown, I was very happy to see a small grocery/market open last month. However, after stopping there twice, I recognize what a ripoff the place is. This place is truly a lemon."
The most attractive thing about this smallish market is the sign out front. Because of the groovy Lemon Sisters name, which is not really shared by owners Claire Griffin and Shawn Crichton, I think people were expecting a groovier place. Instead, they get a modest market with a half-dozen shelf units that hold the basics -- baking powder, jelly, snack items -- and a small selection of fresh produce, much of which seems pretty heavily marked up by Safeway standards, but probably not by high-rent downtown standards. I was more concerned about the quality of the produce, which on one stop included some badly bruised pears and overripe avocados that were priced at $2.79 each.
A deli case in the back holds a decent assortment of precooked items, some of which were well-prepared. The Thai pumpkin soup ($2 a cup), for example, had a nice balance of sweetness and spiciness; the chicken noodle soup ($2), while filled with so many big, fat rotini noodles that it was more like a pasta dish with some broth, had a lot of chicken flavor. But other dishes were dismal: a bland, too-thick hummus ($3.50), the too-anchovy-salty tapenade ($3.50), and a dry, overpriced polenta mole casserole ($5 for a small square), with thick mole paste holding together undercooked beans beneath a layer of cornmeal. And while the gado gado ($5) -- an Indonesian sauce of peanuts and ginger served over rice with tomatoes, cucumbers, raisins and sunflower seeds -- might have been fine on Monday, when it was a special, by Wednesday it was a smooshy container of goo.
"This isn't what my wife and I expected," says John Brandon, a businessman I cornered outside the market who lives near Writer Square. "We thought it would be more hip, with really good takeout-type foods and a lot more of the stuff that you need on a daily basis, but it looks like we still have to leave town to get those."
For the moment, at least. But the farmer's market at the Market Street station starts up again Memorial Day weekend. And late last week, DeLorenzo's Specialty Shop opened in the Icehouse (1801 Wynkoop), brought to us by Bart DeLorenzo, who also owns the Sevilla restaurant/salsa nightclub downstairs. While the shelves still weren't stocked when I stopped by, construction workers let me take a peek at the snazzy interior: walls that are part yellow and part dark blue, with a big bunch of grapes painted on one side, plus low lighting and plenty of space between the display cases for people to shop comfortably. According to DeLorenzo, they'll be buying gourmet foodstuffs, with many of the ingredients imported from Chicago (what, we don't have ingredients here?). Still, depending on the prices, this could be what LoDo residents have been looking for.
DeLorenzo was looking for me after he returned from a recent trip and heard that that I'd dissed Sevilla's cast party in my March 30 Mouthing Off, when I noted the lack of late-night LoDo dining options. In point of fact, DeLorenzo yelled at me and demanded to know who my source had been. Since that disappointed partygoer is now safely out of the country and out of range of DeLorenzo's wrath, I revealed that he was none other than Thom Wise, now in South America after quitting his gig as restaurant critic for the Rocky Mountain News. (The Boulder Camera's John Lehndorf is set to take over that job on May 1.) "You should have talked to the people in the cast who were at the party," DeLorenzo says. "They all thought it was a great party."
Maybe they did, but I talked to four more revelers who thought the pizzas were weird and, like Wise, went looking for more substantial fare elsewhere. "Those aren't pizzas," DeLorenzo insists. "They're Spanish flatbreads. They might look like pizzas, but they're not."
Meanwhile, more market options are coming to LoDo. Jody's at Writer Square (1512 Larimer Street, in the former home of La Bonne Soupe), which will offer regular groceries as well as gourmet takeout, promises to open by the end of this month. And down the block, at the just-opened Del Mar Crab House (1453 Larimer Street, the old address of Mexicali Cafe), the chain eatery has put a fish market in the lobby. Although this might help convince would-be diners that the fish in the restaurant is spanking-fresh, it does conjure the amusing image of folks carrying paper-wrapped salmon steaks under their arms as they bar-hop through LoDo.
A more logical location for a seafood market is 550 Broadway, the new home of Fins, which will also have an eighty-seat eatery. The place was to be called Ocean Fresh Fish Market and Restaurant, but owner Anthony Barone changed the name when a partner backed out. (The one he settled on, Fins, was also the name of a very short-lived restaurant concept that occupied the space at 410 East Seventh Avenue, which is now Sacre Bleu; in the late '70s, there was also a Fins restaurant in Larimer Square.) Barone, who has owned the wholesale seafood business Reel Fresh Fish (204 Denargo Market) for the past two and a half years, hopes to open his market by the end of July. "When the thing fell through with my partner, which was a real mess, I wasn't sure it was going to happen," says Barone. "But the landlord has been so excited about the concept that they let us have the time to raise the money." Barone plans to offer forty varieties of fresh seafood in the market portion of Fins, including live lobsters and Dungeness crabs.
Down south, not too far from Tasteez (see review this issue), Cook's Fresh (8000 East Belleview Avenue in Englewood) opened last week. According to owners Ed and Kristin Janos, their concept is more like longtime Denver favorite Tony's Meats and Deli (which has stores at 151 West Mineral Avenue and 4991 Dry Creek Road, both in Littleton) than Tasteez. "We have a full-service meat counter and poultry and fish," says Ed, who with his wife traveled across the country for several years looking for a place to open a store. "I owned restaurants in Michigan for years, but we fell in love with Colorado, and we wanted to do both the regular grocery and the gourmet market, too."
Sounds like that idea's catching on.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.