An Artisanal Taste Of Denver, Colorado

wine While it’s easy to find big-name chain restaurants and mass-produced foods, it’s always nice to get a more local experience. One city with excellent quality and craft tastes is Denver, Colorado. To help you navigate the artisanal flavors of the area, here are my top picks.

Wine: D’Vine Wines
1660 Champa Street

The only winery in downtown Colorado, D’Vine Wines, also known as the Wild Women Winery, imports grapes from California then ferments them and puts their own unique spin on the blends. It’s a boutique winery with a cozy and inviting atmosphere, as well as a friendly and knowledgeable staff who will help you learn about the art of wine tasting. For example, I learned that to aerate the wine you don’t softly move the glass around, but fervently spin it in quick circles while pushing the base of the glass down onto the table. Likewise, the drier the wine, the higher the alcohol content because it has only a small amount of residual sugar. You can do tastings for three for $5, seven for $10 or four for $12 with a souvenir wine glass. Some of the best wines I tasted included:

  • Sangiovese- Made with the grape used to create Chianti, it has a silky finish with flavors of strawberry and plum.
  • Zinfandel and Syrah Blend- While these two aggressively flavored grapes are not usually combined, the Zinfandel is so light it tastes better blended than alone. Together the two compose a spicy wine with a smooth fruit finish.
  • Green Apple Riesling- This wine tastes just like a sour apple Jolly Rancher, and smells like one, too. It’s a tart yet refreshing sweet white wine.
  • Chocolate Port- A unique desert wine, it is fermented to a higher alcohol content while using less brandy than most port wines. It’s smooth and sweet, with a dark chocolate finish.

A fun aspect of the wines is each variety has its own special bottle, complete with a sexy female character and story. You’ll get to know ladies like Miss Booty, Dusty Twilight and Royal Ruby, and how they relate to these delicious and rare wines. Moreover, the winery allows visitors to make their own wine with help from qualified vintners.

cheese Cheese And Meat: The Truffle Cheese Shop
2906 E. 6th Avenue

As soon as you walk into this gourmet cheese shop your nose will be in heaven. The Truffle Cheese Shop features hard to find specialty items and rare cheeses. They work under a sustainable philosophy, creating organic, free-range and all-natural products. What’s really great about the shop is they offer free cheese and meat tastings. Some of the best things I sampled include:

  • Memoire Truffle- This Dutch Gouda cheese is made with heady Italian truffles and packs an Earthy punch.
  • Goat Cheddar- This blended cheese has a sweet, mild flavor. It’s less aggressive than goat cheese, but still gives you that interesting flavor.
  • Charloe- This raw cow’s milk cheese has a delicate aroma, and a hint of roasted nuts.

This is the perfect place to plan for a picnic, as the shop also offers sweets, crackers, pickles, olive tapenades, hot sauces, jams, olive oils, vinegars and unique cured meats like venison and duck salami and traditional Spanish chorizo. Additionally, on weekends and certain weekdays, The Truffle Cheese Shop offers cheese classes and events.

olive oil Olive Oil And Balsamic: EVOO Marketplace
1338 15th Street

EVOO Marketplace is a truly one-of-a-kind shop, as it’s essentially a giant tasting bar of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was the first of its kind in Colorado, and is still family-owned and operated. The shop features over 50 products to sample in unique flavors. Moreover, you can basically travel without leaving the store, as the oils and balsamic vinegars come from all over the world like Italy, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, California and Tunisia.

In terms of olive oils, some of the unique flavors include Persian lime, wild mushroom and sage, black truffle, roasted almond, grape seed and arbequina. For the balsamic vinegars, visitors can sample blood orange, dark chocolate, blackberry-ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon pear and Vermont maple. Tip: Mix the blood orange balsamic with the dark chocolate. My friends and I were all in agreement that the blend was one of the best things we’d ever tasted.

beer Beer: Falling Rock Tap House
1919 Blake Street

While there are myriad breweries and brew pubs in Denver, the Falling Rock Tap House has something special about it. The boutique brewery just turned 15 years old, so they’re not new to the beer business. In fact, you can check out the wall of over 2,000 beer bottles lined up, most of which owner Chris Black drank himself. Additionally, they feature 88 beers on tap, making them one of the largest breweries in Denver. What I really love about this place, though, is how the bartenders are completely honest. For example, when I went to order a Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar, he answered, “I don’t think you should get that. It’s terrible.” He then suggested the Julian Apple Cider, which was delicious with a refreshing, crisp taste and a bit of tartness. I also sampled their Rockyard Hopyard, a lightly carbonated pale IPA that had a hoppy taste, with hints of oats and grain. Other popular choices on the menu include Dry Dock Double IPA, “Bull & Bush” Big Ben Brown, “Sandlot” Barmen and “Avery” White Rascal.

hot dogs Unique Delicacies: Biker Jim’s
2148 Larimer Street

Biker Jim’s is a unique hot dog eatery beloved by both locals and travelers. While they do serve beef, you’ll also find elk, rattlesnake, pheasant, reindeer, buffalo, wild boar and duck dogs. If you’re in the mood for something really juicy and fattening, their bat dog is made of bacon, and topped with bacon bits, avocado and tomato cream cheese. It’s also a great place to eat on a budget, as hot dogs start at $6 and cost $1.50 extra for unusual toppings like Harissa roasted cactus with Malaysian jam, scallions, cilantro and onions and cream cheese with caramelized onions. They’re open late on weekends, and also have a food cart across from the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall.

chocolate Chocolate: Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso
1734 E. Evans Avenue

Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso was opened in 1975 by a German man named Erich Dietrich. While growing up in Germany, he apprenticed under a master chocolatier, learning the craft of fine chocolate making. Walking into the shop, you’ll be amazed at the cases of flawless handmade chocolates. You can sample chocolates and truffles for $1.50 and up. Some interesting chocolate varieties include hot chili pepper, pomegranate truffle, French mint, blueberry pecan and creme brulee truffle. Additionally, the shop is the only place in Colorado where you can find chocolate made from the rare Peruvian cacao bean, Nacional. They also serve breakfast and lunch if you’re in the mood for food.

Where To Eat Exotic Meats In Denver, Colorado

hot dogs Located at 2148 Larimer Street, Biker Jim’s is an unassuming hot dog restaurant serving up a very unique menu. While the crowds of families, couples and groups of friends may look like they’re eating your average beef hot dog, they’re more likely eating elk, duck, pheasant, buffalo, rattlesnake, wild boar or possibly reindeer. They also have a bat burger topped with bacon, avocado and tomato cream cheese.

Hot dogs are $6, with additional costs for toppings. And, we’re not talking just ketchup. Cream cheese with caramelized onions, Malaysian jam and wasabi aioli with caramelized apple are just some of the unique choices you can top your dog with. My companion and I ordered the Alaskan reindeer and bat dog. While the reindeer was extremely plump and juicy with a very spicy flavor, the bat dog was a lot sweeter with a smoky essence.

If you’re in the mood to eat outside, Biker Jim’s also has an outdoor food cart. It’s located across from the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall. You can head over around 10:30 a.m. to get your fix, and they stay until around 3 or 4 p.m.

Best of all, they’re open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so you’ll be able to satiate your drunk munchies with some buffalo wrapped in bacon, or a combo dog of rattlesnake and pheasant.

Food poisoning! What to watch out for in 2012

food poisoningFor many people–myself included–one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is experiencing how other cultures eat. Even if you’re only traveling as far as the other end of the state, chances are there’s a regional specialty, street food, farmers market, or restaurant that’s a destination in its own right.

Sometimes, however, the pickings are slim, or no matter how delicious the food, the odds are just stacked against you. As Anthony Bourdain put it on a recent episode of his new series, The Layover, “…if there’s not a 50-percent chance of diarrhea, it’s not worth eating.”

Gross, perhaps, but gluttonous travelers know there’s truth in those words. Bourdain happened to be referring to a late-night drunk binge at one of Amsterdam‘s infamous FEBO fast food automats (above), so with that in mind, I present this photographic homage to the things we eat on the road, despite knowing better. Walk softly, and carry a big bottle of Imodium

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[Photo credit: Flickr user .waldec]

Amsterdam hot dog review: THE CHUBBY!

Sometimes a food’s name says everything you need to know about it. Tucked away in the museum part of Amsterdam, the Lunch Kiosk is a mobile operation intended to feed the tourists in need of some fast grub. I was in that spot on my visit earlier this month, and I do like to sample a hot dog wherever I go. It seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

At the Lunch Kiosk, the Chubby Hot Dog on the menu caught my attention immediately. How could it not? The big dog is wrapped in bacon and cheese, making it (what I thought would be) an artery-clogging delight. I had visions of Vancouver and Reykjavik, which made me salivate all the more. After waiting in line for what felt like an eternity, I placed my order and waited some more. I took this as a good sign, too. After all, immediate doesn’t usually equate to culinary quality (not even with hot dogs).

When my order was up, I snatched it with excitement and headed over to the ketchup and mustard. The latter was particularly interesting, as Amsterdam tends to do mustard well (I do suggest smearing some on any of the local cheeses).

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My first bite was nothing but … disappointment. The Chubby Hot Dog nailed the aesthetic, but it failed to deliver on taste. The dog was lukewarm at best, a risk inherent in eating hot dogs from vendors that have four wheels. It didn’t snap as much as hot dogs from the likes of Gray’s Papaya or even Banger Bros in London. And for flavor, it just held flat. At best, the Chubby tasted like lukewarm bologna. While I was able to tolerate the dog at first (I was incredibly hungry), I wound up abandoning it at the half-way mark.

Foreign hot dogs tend to be a role of the dice. Where East Anglia (England), Madrid and Amsterdam fell short, Stockholm, Reykjavik and Montreal came through in style. Though considered to be among the lowest forms of food, it’s nonetheless tough to master the hot dog. The Chubby just failed to execute on its delectable plan.

“A Connecticut Hog Dog Tour” documentary airs July 2, kicks off National Hot Dog Month

connecticut hot dogsThere’s a month for everything in America, it seems, even if it’s cancer. But as a nation, we can really get behind hot dogs. We love hot dogs; we’re obsessed with them. That’s why the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (for reals) has declared July National Hot Dog Month. Who knew?

Such obsession with pre-formed meat products can only lead to one thing: a search for the ultimate weiner. Filmmaker Mark Kotlinski took on the challenge and discovered that Connecticut is a veritable hot dog paradise. In his film, “A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour,” Kotlinski documents his road trip to some of Connecticut’s most interesting–and delicious–hot dog stands.

Whether steamed, grilled, or deep-fried, Connecticut’s got ‘dogs for days. Highlighting the history, house specialties, and local hot dog lore, “A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour” is Kotlinski’s tribute to an American favorite. In the film, he visits renown Connecticut hot dogs stands including:

Rawley’s Drive-In (Fairfield), for their famous bacon dog with “The Works”; Weiners on Water (East Haddam), a hot dog boat on the Connecticut River featuring chili cheese dogs with a view; Bobby’s Place (Old Lyme), located on the beach, for their monster dog; Capitol Lunch (New Britain) for a hot dog with the works and their famous meat sauce, and Top Dog Hot Dog (Portland), a hot dog-shaped trailer located on Route 66, to sample their spicy Cajun Dog.

Inspired by Kotlinski’s findings and in time for National Hot Dog Month, Connecticut will debut it’s very own, official Hot Dog Trail that maps out these hot dog hot spots (the state is already home to a Wine Trail, Ice Cream Trail, and Beer Trail…and hey–why is there no pizza trail leading to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven?). For Trails and tourism info, click here.

“A Connecticut Hot Dog Tour” will air on July 2, 8 p.m. ET/PT on the Documentary Channel (DOC).

[Photo credit: Flickr user Scout]

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