This was a year of big changes. I went from writing a weekly blog post about Federal Boulevard to covering the Denver food scene every day as a full-time job -- and there has been plenty to cover. I was lucky enough to land the gig in the middle of one of the most dynamic summers in Denver dining history, moving right from the debut of the renovated Union Station to an August that saw more than forty bars and eateries open. Things haven't slowed down much, either: Big-name openings continued all fall. Some places even served their first guests Thanksgiving week, traditionally a dead time for new openings.
The biggest local food story in 2014 was the opening of Union Station, which almost immediately became one of the city's top dining destinations. Stoic & Genuine, a raw bar and seafood restaurant from Rioja owners Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, was the first spot to open there, beating even the station itself in early July. But other restaurants soon followed, including new outposts of Snooze and the Kitchen Next Door, the posh Cooper Lounge and vintage-themed Terminal Bar, and Fruition chef/owner Alex Seidel's second restaurant, Mercantile Dining & Provision. All told, ten food-service spots (including specialists in ice cream, coffee, burgers and salads/sandwiches) opened inside Union Station, with several more in the new office and retail buildings flanking the renovated train station. The River North neighborhood also continued to attract new businesses. At 2500 Larimer, a multi-use project constructed from reclaimed shipping containers, Huckleberry Roasters, Work & Class and Cart-Driver all opened in 2014. Nearby, the development at 2601 Walnut Street introduced several new spots, including Zephyr Brewing Co. and Biju's Little Curry Shop; the openings of another Park Burger and Osaka Ramen, Jeff Osaka's much-anticipated noodle house, have been pushed to January. (Look for Osaka's other new joint -- a conveyer-belt sushi bar called Sushi-Rama -- to open early next year just a block away.) A little farther north, Will Call -- featuring Venezuelan arepas -- and the minimalist ramen bar Tengu opened in the new Industry building on Brighton Boulevard. The Berkeley neighborhood has been sizzling hot all year, too, with Berkeley Untapped and Brazen opening this summer/early fall, and Block & Larder, the Denver Cat Company and the Royal all opening in the last few weeks of 2014. And while Big Hoss BBQ shut down, it was quickly replaced by Tennyson Street BBQ. Denver's top restaurateurs continued to expand their offerings this year. Troy Guard added glitzy steakhouse Guard and Grace and neighborhood hangout Sunnyside Burger Bar (in partnership with Larimer Associates) to his roster, while Frank Bonanno went back to his New Jersey roots with the Salt & Grinder deli in the Highland neighborhood -- balancing out the closure of Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria in Park Meadows. The Big Red F empire, with Dave Query at the helm, extended north, with the Post Brewing Co. serving up fried chicken and home-style pies in Lafayette. Big Red F also opened a Jax Fish House in Kansas City, while Robert Thompson's Punch Bowl Social expanded into Austin and Detroit, and the Kitchen crew opened a restaurant in Chicago.
Keep reading for more 2014 Denver restaurant opening trends.
Restaurants with markets were another big trend this year: Blackbelly Market (from Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg), Olive & Finch, Sarto's, Butcher's Bistro, Mercantile Dining & Provision and D Bar all feature separate butcher counters or cases with housemade artisan treats. Denver continues to be one of the country's top fast-casual incubators, attracting outside ventures like burger-flipping Texas transplant Hopdoddy and Bruxie, which puts everything from ham and pesto to bananas and Nutella on thin, crispy waffles. And local efforts keep popping up. At Chop Shop, Clint Wangsnes offers upscale dishes -- like a 48-hour short rib -- in a casual atmosphere. Troy Guard's other new venture, Bubu, features healthy bowls of Pacific Rim-inspired ingredients, all served from a point-and-order menu. In Boulder, the owners of Hapa Sushi opened a quick-service concept called Motomaki, which specializes in oversized nori-wrapped rice rolls with Japanese flavors.
Old favorites continued to expand, too: Mad Greens celebrated its tenth anniversary and added a new Centennial store, Noodles & Company added its 56th Colorado location, ModMarket moved into Denver International Airport and Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill opened its first downtown dining room, continuing to grow despite the departure of founder Alon Mor. And that relative newcomer, Pizzeria Locale, added a second fast-casual location, where it introduced its own stone-ground wheat flour that it plans to roll out in all the locations to follow.
Moving out of restaurants, Denver finally got the Trader Joe's it's been clamoring for for years. In fact, three Trader Joe's markets opened in February alone, with the location at Eighth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard getting the most attention (and traffic) because it's the only one in town with Two Buck Chuck. A fourth Joe's quietly opened on Seventh Avenue later in the year.
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My year in restaurants went from a casual weekly pace to a frenetic scramble to keep up with all the innovative dishes and new dining rooms appearing around town. And the breakneck pace doesn't show any signs of slowing, which means there will be plenty of good food to work my way through in the coming year.