Cooks prepare food at Acorn as patrons dine at the chef’s table on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Many restaurants around Denver are opting for chef’s bars or tables, which give diners an opportunity to watch food preparation as well as giving them access to chefs to ask questions about food preparation.
Once upon a time, there was a city — let’s call it Benver. Benver was a decent size — not too big; not too small, had an enviable spot situated near the mountains and was an all-around good-natured, unassuming sort of town, full of activities and entertainment. But there was one thing fair Benver did not possess — a modern-day food hall. Nope, not a single one.
It was the dark ages, indeed, for Benver. Imagine having to drive to multiple locations to secure your beef cheeks, morning coffee and black lava salt. Benverites could not even — and I shudder at the mere thought of the inconvenience — buy artisanal, charred country bread and wagyu beef tartare toast under the same roof.
Friends, in case you’ve already guessed in spite of my ultra-clever pseudonym, Benver is actually –gasp! — Denver, and this dystopian reality I speak of is actually as near a memory as summer 2013. That’s when The Source was born, changing our food and restaurant scene — and spawning clones, rivals and copycats –forevermore.
The Source was modeled after the urban markets popping up all over the country. Zeppelin Development, its creator, saw a 20,000-square-foot brick foundry from the 1880s and exclaimed (or at least I imagine they exclaimed) “Eureka!”
And with that, Brighton Boulevard in the River North neighborhood, long a part of town better known for its, let’s just say, great personality rather than its looks, officially became The Place to Be.
It must have felt strange for this long-abandoned warehouse to all of a sudden be the subject of Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram pictures. If it could form judgments like the rest of us so love to do, it must have wondered why there was so much hullabaloo over kale salad. And certainly the 19th century building would feel confusion over the proliferation of thick-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans.
But now it had purpose! That Brighton Boulevard warehouse went from zero to 60 on hipsters’ radar overnight and now housed 15 food-related merchants (or not; there’s a bank in there, for goodness’ sake) for one-stop fancy food shopping and dining.
The first tenant to sign on was Rayme Rossello, owner of Comida. Comida began as a little pink taco truck in 2010 and has grown into three brick-and-mortar locations, including the newest inside another food hall, the Stanley Marketplace. Clearly, Rossello is a fan of culinary camaraderie.
“Being a part of a community is rad,” Rossello said of sharing space in food halls. “You’re not in it by yourself. Sometimes that’s really great. If you’re a person who plays well in the sandbox with others, it works.”
Others she’s hanging with in the sandbox include Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Mondo Market (also a fellow Stanley tenant), Western Daughters butcher/flower shop (a combination that’s almost poetic), Babette’s Artisan Breads, RiNo Yacht Club bar and the highly acclaimed Acorn restaurant.
Mondo is the main market inside The Source, an extension of mondofood.com, a website devoted to hard-to-find (OK, let’s just call it what it is: expensive) foods. It’s good food, though. Really good food. Spices and chiles, pastas and produce, European chocolate and a cured meat selection that could bring a tear to a vegetarian’s eye.
It’s the cheese selection that does it, though; a real fromage-lover’s castle in the sky. Aged Mimolette, Pecorino Re Nero, Brillat-Savarin, Raspberry BellaVitano, Reypenaer Gouda … . You could pay your rent, or you could buy some cheese — your choice.
Babette’s is a destination-worthy bakery for bread enthusiasts. Some people say the crust of Steve Scott’s loaves are too charred; some people also paid real money to go see “Baywatch” in a theater. Forget them. The custardy insides and caramelized crisp crust are perfect, no matter what the haters say. The fall-apart-flaky croissants are worth a grab, too.
What might be most singularly responsible for The Source’s success, though, is Acorn. The second anchor restaurant (Comida was the first), has made many best-in-Denver lists, and chef Steve Redzikowski was a 2017 James Beard finalist for Best Chef: Southwest.
Acorn’s menu is an ever-changing rotation of small plates, a mixture of the predictable (Crudo! Meatballs! Pork belly!), the unpredictable (Kung pao wax beans? Dashi panna cotta?) and the flat-out what-is-this-doing-on-a-restaurant-of-this-caliber’s-menu? (Pretzels, fried pickles). It’s all tasty, though, and the price point — $5.50 for those pickles to $16.50 for oven-roasted bone marrow — is fairly accessible.
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Let’s come back to Benver, though. Benver didn’t have a food hall. Which means that Benver also didn’t have the soul-crushing, blood-pressure-raising, construction-induced traffic along Brighton Boulevard that The Source created. You see, before The Source, driving this section of Benver did not cause you to want to gouge out your own eyes. There was no The Source hotel being built (opening winter 2017), no Industry Denver development, no slew of other projects that have lanes shut down and cranes dotting the sky.
Such is the cost of civilization, I guess.
“It has certainly affected the flow of business, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Rossello said of how construction has affected her restaurant’s traffic. “We’re not going to be open for just another year. We’re hoping to be open for another 20 years there. It hasn’t been cricket-ville, but traffic has been different.”
The construction-plagued neighborhood and increased urban food hall competition may be taking a toll on The Source right now, but the warehouse-cum-foodie destination is determined to weather the storm. It might even emerge from the construction dust stronger and more in-demand than ever. I wouldn’t put it past The Source.
It’s what brought Benver into the age of food hall enlightenment, after all.
The Source: 3350 Brighton Blvd., Denver, 720-443-1135; thesourcedenver.com; Sun.-Sat. 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series on Denver-area food halls and marketplaces. We are also looking at the Stanley Marketplace, Avanti Food and Beverage and the Denver Central Market.