Online shopping is killing an American classic: the shopping mall. And without big retail centers to draw the masses for conspicuous consumption, what will become of the accompanying food court? Fear not; Entrepreneurs have re-envisioned the fast-food agglomerations to suit current sensibilities. The modern food hall (or market hall, if you want to be even fancier) keeps the best parts of the food court — variety, convenience and social aspect — while ditching the national brands for homegrown eateries. And they're now freestanding, so you needn't enter through a big-box store or fight your way past bands of teenagers buying cheap sunglasses to grab a bite. Avanti Food & Beverage and Denver Central Market have capitalized on the model, while the Source and Stanley Marketplace have added boutique shops (for those who insist and just can't do virtual) as draws.
And now comes Denver's latest market hall: Zeppelin Station, which officially opens on Monday, March 12 (although you can sneak in for soft openings this weekend). Zeppelin Station (3501 Wazee Street) is brought to you by the folks behind the Source (and the impending Source Hotel) and is located at the foot of the new pedestrian bridge spanning the railroad tracks that have long divided the RiNo neighborhood. With the 38th/Blake light-rail station just footsteps away, the new edifice also includes office space and design and fashion retailers. The food and beverage comes from ten separate vendors offering international tastes from both local and national chefs; an anchor restaurant will also be added this summer. Here's a rundown of what you'll find.
Kiss + Ride
Upon entering the hall, you'll find a wide-open space that serves as Denver's equivalent of a European terminal bar, where commuters can stop for a drink before heading on. The slate is intended to be inexpensive, refreshing and light. Garage doors open onto a patio, and vaulted ceilings make for a bright, airy experience. Look down at the floors for color-coded stripes that lead to other destinations within the building; it's like standing on a public-transportation map on a giant scale.
How do you know when you're in Big Trouble? Just ascend the sweeping wooden staircase until you see a sign that reads "You're in Big Trouble." This mezzanine-level bar is Kiss + Ride's more upscale counterpart, boasting an Asian-alley theme and some almost futuristic drink options. The highball, for example, is served from a Suntory Japanese whisky tower that dispenses perfectly chilled sparking water and whisky over a chunky, rectangular ice cube that's so clear it all but vanishes once submerged. Neon signs and a DJ booth render a vibe somewhere between a 1980s HBO soft-core flick and a vibrant Tokyo streetcorner at night.
All of the food vendors are on the main floor, and the first space — located adjacent to Kiss + Tell — is a kitchen counter called No Vacancy, which will swap out food concepts quarterly. The first tenant is Comal, a branch of Comal Heritage Food Incubator located just across the Platte River in the TAXI development. Comal is a nonprofit eatery (run by Focus Points Family Resource Center) dedicated to giving women from the surrounding Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods training and opportunities to open their own food-service businesses. Silvia Hernandez was in the first training group when Comal opened in 2016, and she'll head the kitchen at this new outpost. Because of the organization's commitment to diversity, you'll find Mexican cuisine Tuesday through Thursday, Argentinian empanadas on Friday, and Syrian specialties (don't miss the hummus!) Saturday through Monday.
Injoi Korean Kitchen
A Korean-Southern mashup menu sounds like it could be a hot mess, but chef Bill Espiricueta (who's also opening Smok BBQ in the Source Hotel) makes it work — though the Korean fried chicken sandwich will be both hot and messy. After all, smoked brisket works pretty well in a bibimbop bowl (which also includes rice, housemade kimchi and a runny egg) and fried chicken is always a winner, whether from Kentucky or Korea. Espiricueta is an alum of Acorn and Oak at Fourteenth, so he knows his cooking, whether bulgogi, fried rice or noodle bowls.
Aloha Poke Co.
Hawaiian-style poke rode a wave of popularity in Denver last year, but this Chicago company has been doing it for a little longer and will now be serving glistening jewels of tuna and other seafood (or tofu) in several sizes and styles, with a big variety of toppings and sauces. If the options seem a little overwhelming, just go with the house Volcano bowl, which comes packed with seaweed, edamame, jalapeño, ginger and a generous dollop of colorful fish roe.
Vinh Xuong Bakery
Vinh Xuong Bakery (pronounced like "vin sung") has been one of Denver's go-to outlets for banh mi for decades, and brother and sister team Duc and Yen Huynh are bringing the family business to Zeppelin Station. The same fresh-baked baguettes you can find at the original in southwest Denver come stuffed with your choice of grilled or barbecued pork, Vietnamese meatballs, chicken, tofu, spicy avocado or the house cold-cut combo. Don't miss the blazing-hot chili oil also made from scratch, or the lightly pickled jalapeños, for something a touch milder.
Chef Cindhura Reddy has made a name for herself with her Italian cooking at Spuntino, which she runs with her husband, Elliot Strathmann. But Namkeen taps into her South Indian roots, offering a street-food lineup of spicy dishes not often found in Denver. A standout is the Chicken 65, a fire-engine red dish deep with heat and spices. For something portable, try a kathi roll — somewhat like a burrito, but with a housemade roti wrapper filled with your choice from several curries. Basmati bowls, a soothing mango lassi and some sweet treats round out the menu.
Chef Jared Leonard has built a small restaurant empire in Chicago, and for his Denver debut, he's chosen Montreal-style barbecue as the star of his Zeppelin Station menu. Beef brisket is cured and smoked to a pink, juicy and flavorful finish and served in sandwiches or over roasted vegetables. Wood-fired bagels and poutine continue the Canadian theme, and there's also a selection of house-cured meats and sausages.
Dandy Lion Coffee
This is Duc Huynh's other Zeppelin Station stall, offering espresso drinks, drip coffee and other hot and cold beverages, some with distinct Vietnamese influence and others with a modern, creative twist. So you can get a traditional Vietnamese coffee flavored with chicory and sweetened condensed milk or a lavender latte for something more unusual. If you're having lunch or dinner elsewhere, save room for a bright-green pandan waffle baked to order.
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This is the Denver branch of Bryce and Giulia Licht's Boulder gelato shop, Fior, rebranded for a more urban audience. The name comes from the nickname Bryce earned while hanging out at a gelato shop in Italy, hoping to spot Giulia, the woman who had stolen his heart and then vanished. (Of course, she eventually showed up again, and now they're married.) The usual cones and cups of the couple's rich, creamy gelato are available, but hold out for the signature Gelato Boy sandwich, made with your choice of gelato on a warm Vietnamese fried bread (almost like an un-glazed doughnut sprinkled with sesame seeds) courtesy of Vinh Xuong Bakery.
Zeppelin Station's various food vendors are open throughout the day, with coffee service beginning at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on the weekend) at Dandy Lion, lunch and dinner at all the counters served from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday), and the bar open at Big Trouble until midnight (2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). Visit the Zeppelin Station website for more details.