Green is the New Gray in Denver

 

Adventures in Green Dining from the Mile High City

These are interesting times we’re dining in, particularly fun for cynics and critics. Sometimes looking for “green” leads to some decidedly gray areas. Here are some lessons learned and some recommendations.

Writing a piece on green dining options in Denver seemed a perfect idea since I had heard this is something Denver is known for. The IACP conference that would bring me to Denver was entitled "Pioneering a Sustainable World". Surely Denver was chosen for this conference because it exemplified the principles we were gathering to discuss. One might expect they’d be rolling out the Green carpet for the hundreds upon hundreds of food writers, cookbook authors, editors and publishers visiting that week.

Like any writer worth her salt, I began my research before I left. I found one or two restaurants and a promising new site called “Ecovian” which aims to rate all sorts of businesses on their “green-ness”. To test the concept, I plugged into the Boston page and the first restaurant I found says it’s green and sustainable but actually serves three fishes that are on the watch list “red” or “avoid” list for every conservation group I know. So much for trusting Ecovian.

This leads me to lesson number 1: Do your homework.

You must undertake to educate yourself if you want to travel and be green. Kermit was right, it isn't easy being green. You cannot rely on anyone else’s ratings or proclamations. Get your info from many sources. This article will help you separate the green from the greenwashing.

Lesson number 2: The official visitor’s guide is not always the best source, either.

Thinking I could get a little inside scoop, I emailed the visitors bureau. The Denver Visitor’s Guide says they “want to hear from me”, so I wrote them thinking I might get a  hot tip on a new sustainable or locavore dining. Or maybe a new chef that isn’t yet known but is doing great seasonal things.

Their response? “Try a Google search.” Seriously.

I replied, thanking them for the advice and letting them know that I had, in my years as a freelancer, “discovered” that source. I added that I had not only already Googled “Denver green dining”, but I also know to look both ways when crossing the street. I’ve even been known to come in out of the rain. Sometimes.

Lesson number 3: Some times the best meal is a drink. Try Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.

Stranahan’s may be Denver’s best kept secret. Well, at least outside of Denver. This small-batch (six barrels a week!) whiskey is fantastic. Perhaps it’s fitting that my greenest meal was a whiskey. After all, Denver was cobbled together from three separate towns in 1859. The deal was sealed over a barrel of whiskey. Denver’s first permanent structure was also a saloon.

 

Giant Dustpan Sculpture - Denver Art Museum (J.Church)

Adventures in Green Dining from the Mile High City

These are interesting times we’re dining in, particularly fun for cynics and critics. Sometimes looking for “green” leads to some decidedly gray areas. Here are some lessons learned and some recommendations.

Writing a piece on green dining options in Denver seemed a perfect idea since I had heard this is something Denver is known for. The IACP conference that would bring me to Denver was entitled "Pioneering a Sustainable World". Surely Denver was chosen for this conference because it exemplified the principles we were gathering to discuss. One might expect they’d be rolling out the Green carpet for the hundreds upon hundreds of food writers, cookbook authors, editors and publishers visiting that week.

Like any writer worth her salt, I began my research before I left. I found one or two restaurants and a promising new site called “Ecovian” which aims to rate all sorts of businesses on their “green-ness”. To test the concept, I plugged into the Boston page and the first restaurant I found says it’s green and sustainable but actually serves three fishes that are on the watch list “red” or “avoid” list for every conservation group I know. So much for trusting Ecovian.

This leads me to lesson number 1: Do your homework.

Kermit was right, it isn't easy being green. You must undertake to educate yourself if you want to travel and be green. You cannot rely on anyone else’s ratings or proclamations. Get your info from many sources. This article will help you separate the green from the greenwashing.

Lesson number 2: The official visitor’s guide is not always the best source, either.

Thinking I could get a little inside scoop, I emailed the visitors bureau. The Denver Visitor’s Guide says they “want to hear from me”, so I wrote them thinking I might get a  hot tip on a new sustainable or locavore dining. Or maybe a new chef that isn’t yet known but is doing great seasonal things.

Their response? “Try a Google search.” Seriously.

I replied, thanking them for the advice and letting them know that I had, in my years as a freelancer, “discovered” that source. I added that I had not only already Googled “Denver green dining”, but I also know to look both ways when crossing the street. I’ve even been known to come in out of the rain. Sometimes.

Lesson number 3: Some times the best meal is a drink. Try Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.

Stranahan’s may be Denver’s best kept secret. Well, at least outside of Denver. This small-batch (six barrels a week!) whiskey is fantastic. Perhaps it’s fitting that my greenest meal was a whiskey. After all, Denver was cobbled together from three separate towns in 1859. The deal was sealed over a barrel of whiskey. Denver’s first permanent structure was also a saloon.

I first enjoyed Stranahan’s at the Denver Art Museum during our opening soiree. This gorgeous, stunning building is a must see and is thankfully, right in town. In fact, large sculptures dot the city and wide boulevards invite you to stroll. (Just be careful as the city seems to vary widely block to block in terms of demographics in a fairly unpredictable way.)

Back to whiskey. This is fantastic whiskey and they’re greening their operations, too:

  •  barrels from a managed forestry;
  •  stays from an independent company that recycles the barrels after Stranahan’s is done with them;
  •  their cooling system reduces pressure on the municipal water supply;
  •  they installed heat exchangers to reuse energy produced in distillation;
  •  spent grain is is recycled to a dairy farm, and;
  •  overall  BTUs are reduced by a solar “beer heater” system that pre-heats the lower level alcohol (called “distiller’s  beer”) before final distillation.

Stranahan’s is smooth and mild, drawing on the best attributes of both Bourbon and Scotch, appealing to a wider audience including those who enjoy both. Don’t take just my word for it: Stranahan’s won 2008 Best of Show at ADI (American Distilling Institute); Gold medal “Best in Class” (Small batch American Malt Whiskey) and more.
sun dappled Stranahan's Whiskey (J.Church)

Green Dining and Gray Areas

I was in search of “green” dining. Broadly speaking, I sought places that self-described as “green” “sustainable” “seasonal” and “local.” Sometimes I what I found was surprising. The carbon footprint of my many cab rides should also be noted.

Restaurants I experienced:

I had a fine price fixe lunch at Tamayo, including a corn soup with huitalacoche dumpling (umami explosion!), guacamole, Tacos Robalo (striped bass). While not sporting a “green or sustainable” label (indeed my fish was from Chile) - the local aspect should not be discounted. I had really well-prepared and delicious food, great service at the bar (Thanks Nathan!) and local specialties like a Cactus Pear Margarita. Mexican food is local to that area and this place is one I would recommend.

Black Pearl was an option I found through Ecovian (LINK below), and the fact that a fellow blogger had a connection to it made it an appealing choice. The $15 cab ride outside of downtown Denver dampened our enthusiasm. The restaurant describes itself as featuring “seasonal foods, grown locally” and “raised in a way that shows respect for nature”. When we inquired about where the beef was coming from, the chicken, the lamb: the answers were “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” And, “Colorado.” There was also farm-raised salmon (not sustainable, not respectful of nature) and oysters from Washington State. Local? Sustainable? The lamb burger was fantastic but this is something nearly every restaurant serves.

Fruition - Nationally acclaimed, elegant renditions of comfort food in the ambiance of a home. (Caution: the wine is stored in an overheated hallway. Indeed, our first bottle was turned. The second was fine, however.) The meal was wonderful. It’s not often that the vegetarian option is enticing enough to tempt meat-eaters into a change of selection. This one was and delivered on its promise. The cheese plate was fantastic, too. Again, this was another cab ride out of the city proper.

Duo - Another cab ride way out, but worth it. This restaurant accommodated our fluctuating party size (I think three reservations were made) with grace and served us several courses of fine seasonal food, local lamb, and many bottles of wine. Our group enjoying a somewhat raucous reunion of old friends, was handled with patience. Delicious experience beginning to end.

Buzz from other conference attendees on restaurants I did not get to:
1) Beatrice and Woodsley - transporting story book atmosphere and good food.
2) Jax Fish house cachet of Top Chef Hosea Rosenberg matched by wonderful but not sustainable seafood.
3) The BBQ shack on the corner of 16th and Lawrence. I saw it the first afternoon in town and should have followed my instincts.
4) Potager is one that came up a lot and is on most Denver dining lists. Diners I spoke with were underwhelmed.

In sum, “green dining” maybe a stretch but good dining is not hard to find. Seasonal fare is available and Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey may be the greenest treat on your “must-try” list.

Links:

Denver Food Blogs to know:

  • Culinary Colorado - Though I never found Claire at the conference (!) she was the first to heed the call for help when I posted about Maveric Ranch's devastating fire. Claire was also first to jump into the Teach a Man to Fish event last year. Both these things win her "good egg" status in my book.
  • From Argentina with Love - Rebecca Treon Caro's mostly food blog about mostly Argentinian cuisine is beautiful. She and I met for the first time at breakfast the first day and had fun all week.