Five Mini-Trends That Brought Big Flavors to Denver Menus in 2016

Some food fads sweep the nation and make us wish we could just flip the "off" switch on the marketing machine; we still remember the 2000s as the decade of bacon, for example. But other trends gain just enough traction that we have fun hunting down great examples — usually executed by conscientious chefs or specialists hoping to claim new customers. Here are five examples of tasty waves made in Denver eateries in 2016; jump on the bandwagon now before restaurants get carried away in 2017.
1. Long Live the Kouign
What was once an unpronounceable side note in expert-level baking books is now one of the most sought-after pastries in the city. Kouign amann — say "queen a man" and you're close enough — originated in the Brittany region of France as a cousin of the more familiar croissant. Its rich, flaky layers come from copious amounts of butter and sugar rolled between sheets of slow-risen dough. Baked in rings or round tins, the result could easily be called a cro-fin or a muff-ant for marketing purposes (to push it toward becoming the next cro-nut) if it didn't already have a long tradition in its home country. Here in the Kouign City of the Plains, you can get your kouign amann at Izzio Artisan Bakery inside Denver Central Market, Babettes Artisan Breads inside the Source, and Moxie Bread Company in Louisville. For a doubly decadent treat, hit High Point Creamery (also at Denver Central Market) for an ice kouign sandwich made on one of Izzio's pastries.

2. Eat Your Veggies
Vegetable trends tend to come in waves, with seemingly every restaurant in town jumping on Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or beets at the same time. Luckily, chefs have been thinking beyond the kale on recent menus, bringing us a wonderful and varied bounty from local farms and exotic locales. Our inner cynic may think that veggies are a great fall-back for chefs because of the potential profit margin, but the food lover in us just enjoys the creativity coming from Denver kitchens. Some of our favorites this year: broccoli rabe with bagna cauda sauce at Dio Mio Handmade Pasta; hibiscus petals turned into a surprisingly meaty taco filling at Comal; artichoke hearts with shiitake mushrooms at Avelina; roasted turnips in a salad at Moxie Eatery; and yuca fries that offer the maximum of both fluffy and crunchy at Vital Root (and the ubiquitous beets don't exactly suck there, either).

3. Baguette Bliss
Up until recently, if you wanted a banh mi sandwich — the ultimate in Vietnamese-French fusion fast food — you'd have to head to Denver's west side for a lunchtime stop at New Saigon Bakery & Deli, Baker's Palace, Ba Le Sandwich or Vinh Xuong Bakery. The authentic taste of house-baked baguettes stuffed with barbecued pork belly, pâté, grilled chicken or other less common proteins mingled with marinated carrots and daikon, fresh cilantro and wedges of jalapeño was generally procured after a tour of the city's most potholed parking lots and rundown strip malls. But Vietnamese flavors and ingredients are going mainstream, with fast-casual startups like Nom Nom Asian Grill and the soon-to-open Broken Rice bringing banh mi to the masses. And in more upscale eateries, you can find the likes of banh mi tacos at Vital Root and pork-belly "bao mi" buns at Cho77.

4. Firebird
Nashville Hot Chicken was invented at Prince's Hot Chicken in Tennessee decades ago and popularized in its home town by a slew of imitators. Here in Denver, restaurateur Frank Bonanno was one of the first to add the incendiary fried-chicken dish to his menu at Lou's Food Bar — but now you can also Nashville-ize your poultry at the Post Chicken & Beer in Longmont for an extra 75 cents an order. If you don't live in one of Denver's northern suburbs, fear not, because the Post will be coming to 2200 South Broadway in Denver on January 16. And for a slightly different style of a good tongue-searing, check out the Korean hot fried-chicken sliders on ChoLon's happy-hour menu.

5. Wagyu Tale
Japanese beef can be a confusing topic, with words like kobe and wagyu tossed around by connoisseurs and PR firms alike. But in Colorado, a few ranches — like Emma Farms and 7X Beef — are raising cattle with well-marbled beef that compares favorably to the legendary Japanese original. For a juicy taste of Emma Farms meat, we loved the wagyu burger at Edge Restaurant & Bar downtown. The Preservery also had an excellent Emma Farms braised wagyu short rib on its menu earlier this year and features Colorado-raised wagyu and other beef cuts regularly. And 7X has been popping up on more and more menus around town, including a more-turf-than-surf dish of grilled wagyu coulotte and braised beef at Wild Standard; strips of raw wagyu served with a hot stone for tabletop grilling at 1515 Restaurant; and slow-cooked, shredded 7X atop polenta at Spuntino. Moooove over, bacon.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation