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Falling for autumn dishes in Denver

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As someone who hails from the Midwest and has never lived in a place that didn't have seasons, I take seasonal food very seriously. Last year a friend visiting from southern California stared at me in bewilderment as I savored the first batch of strawberries from the farmers' market. While I reveled in the first sweet taste of summer, she couldn't comprehend my glee. Strawberries, you see, grow year round in her part of the country. To me this was akin to having Christmas every day; you'd think it'd be awesome, but after a while, it all becomes normal and you don't even notice it anymore. That would suck.

We're mighty lucky here in Denver. We have incredible seasons, plentiful markets, and -- regardless of what Anthony Bourdain and his meatstick have to say -- fantastic restaurants that serve up lovely seasonal foods. If you're in the mood for a fall treat in the city, check out some of these delicious dishes:

The Great Pumpkin (Olivea) "So the pumpkin martini isn't a sugary mess, right?" I was being that girl. I had asked my server some form of this question three times. I couldn't help it, I have a wariness of drink lists that derives from years of firmly believing that liquor should only be mixed with ice. But I have an obsession with pumpkin anything, so I was willing to leap out of my comfort zone (as long as said martini wouldn't give me diabetes by the time I finished it) and boy, am I glad I jumped. It's a martini shaken with housemade vanilla vodka, pumpkin puree and a splash of cream -- and it's wonderful. The flavors are simple and surprisingly appropriate for a martini, and it's perfectly spiced without being too sweet. Organic Colorado 4 Onion Risotto (Root Down) Fall food should strive to warm your belly and fatten you up for the winter, and Justin Cucci hits the nail on the head with this creamy, savory dish that can easily be turned into a hearty entrée by adding the Maple Leaf Farm's duck breast. It's a steaming plate of risotto served with braised plump cippolini onions, roasted pearls, sautéed sweet onions, fried red onion rings and then drizzled with huckleberry jus. The berries and the cippolinis add just the right amount of contrasting sweetness, and let's face it, folks: Risotto makes everything better. Crock Pot Veal Cheeks (Fruition) In a perfect world, those are four words that would always go together. Alex Siedel and his crew serve up two tenderly braised veal cheeks on a crispy celery root-potato rosti over rich butternut squash puree. The dish is finished with foraged mushroom veal jus and the flavors combine to cause a whirlwind of every autumnal memory I've ever had: leaves falling from trees, high school football games, busting out your big sweaters. It's chilly nights, Halloween costumes, and waiting for the mountain to open. It's a fireplace and your mother's cooking (maybe better), and it's damn good. The Caramel Apple Cupcake (Happy Cakes) These chicks are the jam. As three women seeking a more fulfilling path, they realized their calling in life was to own a cupcake bakery. They've done it, and they've done it well. Happy Cakes serves up seasonal cupcakes that change on a daily basis, and Thursday happens to be the day for the caramel apple cupcake. This cupcake gives you everything you've ever wanted from a caramel apple without the fear of losing your teeth. Moist and warmly spiced (think apple muffin), it's topped with caramel buttercream frosting and caramel sauce. And even better, they serve milk by the glass. Yes, please!

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