The farmers' market at Union Station (part of Boulder County Farmers' Markets) is officially over — for this year, anyway. But as one thing ends, another begins. In this case, it's a new restaurant at the station called Ultreia, the latest venue from Beth Gruitch and Jennifer Jasinski's Crafted Concepts (the team behind Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendôme), slated to open at the end of November. Chef Adam Branz will be in charge of the kitchen there, and he, along with sous chef Quinn Polsinelli, joined us for that last romp around the market stalls.
"I go straight to Josh," says the chef, talking about Josh Olsen of ACRES at Warren Tech. Branz has worked with Olsen for years, both when the latter was a partner at the Squeaky Bean and since he started the farm at the technical high school in Lakewood. "I also typically know what I am looking for by anticipating the season or getting information from one of the farmers."
Branz certainly had a plan for our shopping trip. He even had a clipboard with notes that he and Polsinelli checked off at each stop. The first, of course, was ACRES, and there the chefs scored dirty little butterball potatoes, baby onions, a bag of spicy greens, rosemary, "first frost" tarragon and fresh bay leaf.
Another of Branz's favorite places to get produce is the Denver Botanic Gardens. At that spot he picked up a mixture of russet and purple viking potatoes and bright green kohlrabi bulbs. We stopped at Serendipity Farm for some multicolored eggs, scored some garlic from Rocky Mountain Fresh and got Il Porcellino Salumi's 'nduja, a spicy pork sausage common in Italy. Cure Organic Farm had celery and some giant butternut and delicata squash that Branz wanted to turn into a fall salad. Mile High Fungi grew some huge oyster mushrooms called phoenix, which would also go in the fall salad; and Hinman's Bakery sold us some crusty loaves of ciabatta for a brandade as well as for the chef's personal snack stash.
As we wandered around the stalls, Branz talked about Ultreia and his plans to serve tapas inspired by Spain and Portugal. This concept is new to the restaurant group, but it's not the food that challenges Branz as much as the small kitchen and electric stove.
"You can't just make stock," he says. "It's making us think about production in a totally different way."
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That means more pressure-cooked foods and, for the first time in his career, Branz will make the microwave a major player in the kitchen. Broccoli cooked in a microwave can actually taste superior, he promises. The changes also led him to discover that octopus does wonderfully in a pressure cooker, better than in a sous-vide bath. So much better, in fact, that the tentacles at Rioja (where we went on to cook our farm-fresh finds since Ultreia isn't yet ready) are now prepared that way.
We had a taste of that octopus in the first dish Branz prepared, a take on papas arrugadas, an octopus appetizer with vinegar-poached butterball potatoes and 'nduja aioli. The two chefs also whipped up a brandade made with salt cod, potatoes, kohlrabi and herbs, and served it with ciabatta flavored with garlic and a dollop of tomato Dijon. Branz had a lot of other ideas he wanted to play with, but given our time frame, that's all we could accomplish. Each of these market-driven dishes also got served as a special that night at Rioja, as a gentle preview of what's to come at Ultreia. Many of the diners who enjoyed those plates probably didn't realize just how truly farm-to-table they were.
For more photos, see our slideshow from our last visit to the Union Station Farmers' Market.