We're going to have a tough time calling Mile High Stadium by its new name, Empower Field at Mile High, but that's not the only change in the air for the fall football season. If you've got tickets to the September 15 Denver Broncos game against the Chicago Bears, you might want to get to the stadium a little earlier than usual to visit some of the food and drink options installed by Aramark, which took over concessions this year. Here are some of the hits — and a few misses:
Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs
You'll find Denver's most famous wieners being served from a street-style cart at section 103, so if you're craving an ostrich dog, you can step up and order one (or something a little more standard), complete with Biker Jim's signature squiggle of cream cheese and Coca-Cola caramelized onions.
Chef/restaurateur Frank Bonanno has packaged a greatest-hits menu from Denver Milk Market, his multi-counter food hall downtown. Find Lou's fried-chicken sandwiches, pork-belly bao buns, a vegetarian Tuscan sandwich, tater tots and even hot or cold sake. (Who ever thought hoisin sauce would prevail over yellow mustard at a major sporting event?) Find the FB Concepts counter at section 119. "I can't think of anything that says community better than the Denver Broncos," Bonanno says. "Denver is among the top eight food cities in America, so it's only fitting that the 75,000 people who come to the stadium should be exposed to good food."
GQue Championship BBQ
One of Denver's best barbecue joints, with locations in Westminster and Lone Tree, GQue will be serving up down-home pulled-pork sandwiches and other smoky fare from its original menu. Founder Jason Ganahl says he'd been trying to get on board at Mile High since before Aramark took over, but his barbecue was so good that the new concessionaire was instantly convinced. Track down GQue in section 135, and you will be, too.
Tenders Love and Chicken
This option created by the Aramark team serves fried chicken tenders with an array of ten different sauces, all available at a pump-your-own station after you pay. More impressive than the breaded bird, though, is the row of touch screens that allow you to order and pay yourself, hopefully speeding up the lines. Grab your food, which could include ranch-dusted fries, fill your own drink at a high-tech soda station calibrated for the perfect pour, and stop for sauce before heading back to your seat. There are two TLC counters — the big one at section 122, and a smaller one at section 103 with traditional human cashiers in case you'd rather pay cash.
If you're strolling along the concourse on the north end of the stadium and see a liquor store inside the stadium, you're not dreaming. Drink MKT sells more than 75 canned alcoholic beverages (local craft beer, cider, seltzer and even Bartles & James wine coolers), another 25 non-alcoholic drinks, and thirteen wines by the bottle. Wait: Glass bottles at a football stadium? Drink MKT decants your choice into a plastic carafe so you can take it back to your seat; just remember that a full bottle is considered four drinks, so you'll need IDs from two people to purchase one. We even spotted the new aluminum can-bottle from Denver winery Bigsby's Folly on the shelf. The market is mostly self-serve; grab your drinks from the glass-front coolers, pile your picks onto a futuristic pad that scans all your purchases at once, present your ID and credit card (sorry, no cash at this bodega), and be on your way. And in one of the first public-policy decisions that actually treats us like adults instead of children, Aramark is letting you keep the cap on your non-alcoholic drinks, trusting that you won't launch full bottles at the visiting team's sideline.
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505 Green Chile Chicken Nachos
Aramark has partnered with famous New Mexico condiment maker 505 Southwestern. We were a little dubious of the decision to go with Hatch green chiles over more local Pueblo chiles, but two things pushed these nachos onto the plus side. First, a team spokesman filled us in on the story behind the green chile: "The Denver Broncos are proud to partner with local companies. 505 Southwestern's parent company Flagship Food Group is a Greenwood Village, Colorado-based company and provides many jobs to people in the Denver metro area." Second, the nachos are tasty! 505 makes a good product, and a venue the size of Mile High probably wouldn't be able to source local green chiles from the small Pueblo farms we love. Eat your fill from counters in sections 103, 107, 503 and 539.
Aramark has streamlined many of the point-of-service stations, adding self-service options in multiple locations. The company has also listened to the community and is reducing waste by limiting the number of straws given out (many drink cups come capped with sippy lids) and serving more beverages in reusable containers. There will also be more card readers carried by vendors plying the stands, so you can pay without cash while staying in your seat.
A few of the new food items available at multiple counters seem driven more by marketing than by the reality of what Denver sports fans actually eat. There's a Federal Boulevard Burger that's a nod to the vibrant street outside the stadium, but it's served on a brioche bun (too fancy for our burger tastes) and comes topped with peach green chile chutney, which would get you ejected if you said the name of that foo-foo condiment out loud at a sports bar or burger joint anywhere in Broncos country. And while the vegetarian street tacos sound tasty, with a filling of chipotle-roasted cauliflower, ranchero black beans and pico de gallo, the tacos are made on flour instead of corn tortillas — which just isn't very street.