Cook’s Fresh Market is Back!

When I was researching Culinary Colorado, Cook’s Fresh Market was a bright spot in and near the Denver Tech Center. It was all things to all foodies: a gourmet grocer, produce market, cheese shop, butcher and fish purveyor; a place where hungry people could go for house-made soup, good sandwiches and more to eat in or take out; an on-the-way-home stop for high-quality prepared foods; caterer, and even a place for cooking classes. Then, landlord problems caused owners Ed and Kristi Janos to close the doors. The couple said they would reopen elsewhere, and Denver foodies held their collective breath. They can breathe again, though the Tech Center’s loss is downtown Denver’s gain.

Cook’s Fresh Market has reopened at 16th and Glenarm in the heart of downtown. If and when you are in Denver, stop in and take a look — and a taste. I never walked out of their old store empty-heanded, and I’ll bet the same will be true at the new location. Ed and Kristi are both graduates of the legendary Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, he in 1977 and she 15 years later. In 1993, Ed passed the grueling 10-day Certified Master Chef (CMC) exam, becoming one of only 68 such high-level culinarians in the United States.

In another unrelated development on the Denver gourmet retail scene, David and Kate Kaufman have sold The Truffle, a cheese and fine specialty foods shop at 2906 East Sixth Avenue, to Rob and Karin Lawler, well-credentialed on the Denver food scene. Rob is a chef and Karin has been a server and wine buyer. The Lawlers plan to shut down for a couple of weeks after the first of the year and reopen with a slightly broader selection of fine foods. Meanwhile, another local culinary couple, Pete Marczyk and Barbara MacFarlane, are still at the helm of Marczyk’s Fine Foods, their upscale grocery story and more at 770 East 17th Avenue.

What’s "Chile" in this Blog?

In the U.S., there is considerable confusion over whether the hot peppers in the capsicum genus of produce and/or the hot stew of Southwestern, Tex-Mex and border style of cooking are spelled “chili” or “chile.” There’s no confusion about the spelling of the country, however, which is always Chile. In the ‘Labels’ list of topics covered in this blog, Chile refers to the country, not to the food.

Pre-Theater Bites in Denver

Patrons of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts don’t exactly have a vast choice of places to grab a bite before a show. There are full-service restaurants as far afield as the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square, and I’ve written about a number of them on the “Dining Diary” portion of my website, but quick-bite places right there? There haven’t been too many, but now there are three.

Today, Backstage Coffee opened in street-level space on 14th Street, just beside the steps that go up to the complex’s arcade. It has good pastries, coffee drinks, ice cream, burritos, soft drinks, wines by the glass and more to come. We grabbed to-go fare on the way to a 6:30 curtain — a ham and cheese croissant for my husband and a burrito for me. It’s the first coffee-teria in the complex since funky, spacious Pablo’s closed months ago to make room for a real estate sales office.

In the arcade is the Theatre Deli — hard to find because it’s tucked in behind the parking garage elevators. We’ve only bought stuff there once and were underwhelmed by the sandwiches. A better bet is the Hot Ticket Cafe in the lobby of the Helen Bonfils multi-stage building. It offers a limited menu of quality items, operated by the owner of Jay’s Patio Cafe in the Highlands East neighborhood.

It isn’t always practical to have a full dinner before a show, but I’m grateful when rumbling stomachs don’t compete with the actors.

Rediscovering Chowhound

Once again, an article in the New York Times ignited, or in this case reignited, an interest. Sometime ago, someone put me on to a website at http://www.chowhound.com/. Run by a guy named Jim Neff from New York, it was a jumble of food explorations and discoveries, including exotic offerings at ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants and even food carts at an intersection somewhere. Some really big names in the food world were on Neff’s bulletin board, sometimes taking issue with him and sometimes even with each other. Keeping up was so time-consuming that I eventually stopped visiting the site and then frankly forgot about it.

While I wasn’t paying attention, CNET Networks purchased Chowhound, according to the Times, and now Neff is a salaried employee who roams around eating wherever his instincts, curiosity and thousands of foodie tipsters throughout the land and abroad point him too. Someone else maintains the site, so it’s now easier to navigate than it was when I used to visit. The time is currently six in the morning, and I’ve been back to Chowhound for the first time in eons. I might not get anything else done today.

5.8 Million Calories — But Who’s Counting?

Keystone has long been one of Colorado’s most food-oriented mountain resorts. The Chocolate Village crafted annually by chef Ned Archibald takes 10 months to create and assemble. This year, Keystone celebrates its 36th anniversary with 36 Days of Chocolate, culminating with the unveiling of the 2006 Chocolate Village on December 15 in the lobby of the Keystone Lodge. That’s 5.8 million calories! Not surprising considering that it includes an enormous chocolate mountain with a working chocolate gondola, a cascading chocolate waterfall and a tall white-chocolate Christmas tree with spun-sugar ornaments. The village will be on display through January 2, so don’t miss seeing it if you ski Keystone between now and the end of the holidays.

The chocolate fest actually kicked off on November 17, but I was too busy eating at First Bite Boulder restaurants to notice. But there are still several weeks of chocolohia during which Keystone restaurants feature signature dishes, appetizers, desserts, drinks and even salads with a sweet chocolate twist. Examples: The Edgewater Café‘s chocolate raspberry pancakes at breakfast, Ski Tip Lodge’s chocolate bread and Der Fondue Chessel’s rich pumpkin-spiced chocolate fondue. The resort also is giving a complimentary tin of chocolate cookies to each dinner sleigh ride guest, and the Keystone Lodge and Spa introduces a sublime Wake Up and Smell the Chocolate Package through December 23.

Think snow. Think chocolate.

Go, Joe!

tokyojoes-logo-jgThere is not much I like about chain eating places — most of which don’t deserve the name “restaurant.” But yesterday evening, despite my skepticism and principles, I ate at the rare Colorado-spawned and -owned, healthy, reasonably priced example of the species. A shopping area called The Village distributes a coupon book that included a two-entrees-for-the-price-of-one voucher for Tokyo Joe’s — and there is a Tokyo Joe’s just a few blocks from the theater where my husband and I were planning to see a movie.

I ordered a small salad and a noodle bowl that came piping hot and filled with chicken breast and a load of vegetables in a just-right spicy sauce atop well-cooked noodles. I didn’t know that there would be so many vegetables, which is the reason I had ordered a small salad to start. My husband asked for yakitori chicken with rice. Including a big iced tea, with the two-fer coupon dicount and Joe’s no-tipping policy, we spent less than 10 bucks on fast, tasty dinner for two. It’s no substitute for home-cooked and especially not for chef-prepared, but I had no complaints.

When we sat down a little before 6:00, only three tables were occupied. When we left, 15 were taken, and there was a fast-moving line. The service was efficient. We put in our order, paid, took a number to our table and waited just a little bit for a freshly prepared meal to be brought to us. We even got to the theater early, and that rarely happens. I won’t pretend that this positive experience has converted me to the chain way of eating, but this one brand is far superior to most — those that I’ve forced myself to try, anyway.

I did a little research about Tokyo Joe’s and found that it was started a decade ago by a man named Larry Leith. Although he launched the first one in ultra-suburban Centennial, Leith is a Boulder-type guy, who was convinced that cyclists, mountain bikers and skiers like himself would be receptive to a place serving fast, healthy food inspired by Japanese dishes. He was right.

Tokyo Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cornbelt or Winebelt — and Colorado Too

I was intrigued by a piece in today’s New York Times about the small, but mushrooming, wine industry in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest. Intriguingly titled “Iowa Finds Itself Deep in the Heart of Wine Country,” it reported on Iowa and other mid-country farmers who have discovered the pleasure and profits in growing grapes and making wine.

The lead reads:
“Stan Olson used to grow corn and soybeans on hundreds of acres here on the Raccoon River west of Des Moines, but no more. These days, Mr. Olson’s empty grain silo is useful only as a rustic image to promote his new vineyard and tasting room.

“Mr. Olson’s Penoach Winery is a tiny operation in a red barn behind his family’s farmhouse, next to a small grape nursery. It does not have much of a customer base yet or any vintages that go beyond last year, but Mr. Olson is thrilled nonetheless.

“ ‘I will make as much selling grape plants off of two acres this year as I did many years on 1,000 acres of corn and raising 3,000 head of hogs,’ ” said Mr. Olson, who makes much of his money selling cuttings to other aspiring vintners.”

In the wine business, production from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa is collectively known as “New World Wines.” Iowa and neighboring states might have the newest of the new, but they are not all that far behind Colorado’s burgeoning wine industry. When I moved here in 1988, the first vineyard had just planted its first grapes. Now, according to the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, there are upwards of 60 wineries here.

As in the Midwest, Colorado vineyards have planted hybrid grapes that can take cold weather. Most of Colorado’s vineyards are in the Grand Junction area, with wineries scattered throughout the state. BookCliff, for instance, has its vineyard near Palisade, just east of Grand Junction, but its winery and tasting room are in Boulder. The beautiful Winery at Holy Cross Abbey grows some grapes on the grounds of the former Benedictine monastery in Canon City, west of Pueblo, where the winery is located and also buys grapes from other growers. Due to a change in state law, multi-winery tasting rooms are now legal. When you come across one while traveling through Colorado, stop in and sample some of the state’s wines. You might be surprised at their quality.

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.