We've got a brand-new plantain-heavy menu on the Watch List this week, plus a whole selection of new items from established eateries. There's the return of brunch to one RiNo restaurant, a Japanese lunch special at another. And sandwiches on fresh-baked bread are worth a lunchtime stop at two separate spots, while a sophisticated octopus arrangement awaits at a downtown destination. Here's our Watch List for six hot bites to eat this weekend.
Candela Latin Kitchen
1691 Central Street
Plantains are nearly as versatile as potatoes when it comes to culinary preparations. Used green, the hard, starchy fruit fries up into crunchy snacks with a bright flavor that counters spicy accompaniments. A little riper and they can be cooked and mashed into the Puerto Rican specialty called mofongo. Again, the fruity taste matches well with pork, a common ingredient in the dish. And left until the skin is almost black, plantains become sweet and luscious, acting as a foil for bold Caribbean spices. You can find all three styles at Candela, the new pan-Latin American eatery in LoHi. Candela fries up plantain chips that are served with El Gran Combo, a heaping bowl of guacamole topped with orange supremes, pistachios and a smoky guajillo mojo. Or you can get a garlicky mofongo that's sturdy and satisfying like rustic mashers. For a sweet-savory combo, ripe plaintain tacos with poblanos, queso fresco and chipotle-maple are a novel use of the fruit, and a traditional Puerto Rican dish called Pastelón resembles lasagna, only with strips of sweet plantain standing in for the pasta. Go with friends and go bananas with a selection of all of these.
Carmine's on Penn and Little Carmine's
92 and 84 South Pennsylvania Street
Carmine's has been a neighborhood favorite since it opened in 1994, and like the neighborhood around it, the family-style Italian eatery has evolved and adapted slowly and cautiously despite the dizzying pace of the rest of Denver's growth. In 2013, Little Carmine's Italian Sandwiches was added next door, and more recently the menu was updated to include smaller servings sized for modern dining preferences. And this month Carmine's welcomes a new head chef, Eric Seabolt, a recent arrival from Cincinnati. That's exciting news for the dinner crowd, but lunchtime customers have something new to look forward to as well. Owner Brad Ritter just unveiled four new sandwiches that offer a range of regional flavors from the Italian-American canon: the Jersey Hoagie, the NOLA Muffaletta, the Chicago Beef, and the Pickled Veggie Hoagie. They're all made on fresh-baked bread from Carmine's and are available in half and whole sizes Tuesday through Sunday.
4850 East 39th Avenue
If you run a bakery, you're never short of fresh bread. John Hinman is putting his baguettes and buns to good use by selling burgers and hot sandwiches straight from the grill in front of his Park Hill business Tuesday through Friday during lunch. One of the best bets is the 5280 cheesesteak — a piping hot mound of beef, cheese and grilled onions piled onto a slightly chewy baguette. Eight bucks will get you that and a bag of chips, but bring a couple of extra bucks for a cookie or one of Hinman's many other sweet treats.
1100 14th Street
Russell Stippich has been with the Nickel since 2015, and before that he helped open Acorn and did a three-year stay at Frasca Food & Wine. Along the way, he's appeared on an episode of the Food Network's Chopped and has risen through the ranks at the Nickel. He recently earned the position of chef de cuisine and is rolling out a new menu packed with summer flavors. Among the heirloom tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and gem-like beets, an octopus-and-potato plate lurks, offering a respite from the trendy charring found in many other hot restaurants. Stippich uses an age-old technique of slow-cooking the octopus in salty water (fishermen once used seawater, but that's not readily available in downtown Denver). The result is toothsome and briny and matches the texture of the firm-cooked potatoes exactly. Served with a translucent tomato-water broth intended as cioppino's light summer cousin, the dish just feels like an August vacation on the shore.
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3040 Blake Street
The open, sunny dining room and market space at the Preservery seems almost built for brunch, and for a time the weekend mid-morning meal was part of the RiNo restaurant's program. And now Sunday brunch is back, bringing housemade pasties and other egg-cellent dishes. How do these sound: Hazel Dell mushroom omelettes, breakfast potato croquettes with candied bacon and pickled-pepper aioli, or steamy raspberry muffins? And it wouldn't be brunch without bottomless mimosas, here flavored with the likes of raspberry and ginger syrups, and Bloody Marys, courtesy of the Real Dill. Service runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and owners Whitney and Obe Ariss hope to soon add Saturdays and brunch-time DJs.
Stowaway Coffee + Kitchen
2528 Walnut Street
Lunch is always special — and usually internationally inspired — at Stowaway, but on Fridays only, the flavors of Japan come to the breezy coffeehouse. Take this tray of onigiri, for example: perfect ovoid rice cakes stuffed with salmon and wrapped in nori. A bowl of miso soup, a pickled salad and some marinated broccoli prove filling but not heavy. It's an exercise in Zen lunch where you can forget the outside world for a few minutes (right after you Intsagram a gorgeous shot to your friends). If you're in the mood for something a little more substantial but equally Japanese, kaarage fried-chicken sandwiches are on the menu every day.