Dan and Michelle Landes, owners of WaterCourse Foods, describe their story on their website as "one of perseverance and patience." Flexibility has helped, too—when Dan was about to unlock the front door on opening day and Michelle saw that they’d forgotten to stock the register with money, she bolted home to empty their change jar.
Flexibility marks the kitchen as well, which aims to fill plates with so much homey flavor that even carnivores don’t notice there’s no room left for meat. The chefs accomplish this by way of boldly seasoned veggies such as sweet potatoes, smoky mushrooms, and fire-roasted corn, which star in some dishes and serve as accents to proteins including grilled tempeh and country-fried seitan in others. The sense of reveling in the earth’s bounty spills from the plates onto the dining-room walls, decorated with delicate murals of animals and woodland scenes that resemble the results of a collaboration between John James Audubon and Beatrix Potter.
In its journey from lunch-and-breakfast spot to full-blown restaurant complete with bakery and bar, WaterCourse Foods has won acclaim both locally as a neighborhood favorite and nationally as a must-see for vegetarian travelers passing through town. Fodor’s called the portobello Reuben and seitan-based buffalo wings “amazing,” and Westword named WaterCourse 2012’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant while noting that it still hasn’t reached its peak—the place “just keeps getting better” while it “caters to any palate.”
For WaterCourse Foods, resourcefulness means finding new ways to serve not only diners but also the environment. Old fryer oil is shipped off to be converted into biodiesel, to-go dishes come in biodegradable containers, and diners who roll up on bikes or drift in effortlessly on gusts of wind get a 10% discount. Practicing what they preach beyond the restaurant, the Landes family supports local and international causes through programs such as Nonprofit Mondays, giving up to 15% of their Monday sales to select organizations. When they leave work each evening, they go home to their urban organic permaculture farm, run largely on solar power.
When pressed for his motivations behind HBurgerCo, managing partner Pete Pflum told a reporter from Dining Out, "It's my favorite meal from childhood," before adding that the burger is "accepted as a meal unto itself—especially when you're using the best meat, baked goods, and fixings." Housed in a sleek but familiar space designed by Robin Smith Designs, the head chef conjures inventive burgers, while soda jerks also harness the combined power of local spirits and liquid nitrogen to craft inventive cocktails and milk shakes. Patties hand-formed from locally-sourced Angus beef, lamb, turkey, veggies, and buffalo arrive at tables crowned with eclectic toppings including fried eggs and asian slaw, complimented by a create-your-own-salad menu. Draft brews pour into glasses cooled with liquid nitrogen, which prevents libations from getting warm and snowmen from getting bartending gigs.
City, O' City is a community café serving vegetarian and vegan fare, much of it local, for friends and family around downtown Denver. Commence morning mealtime with a cup of Pablo's on 6th coffee and a fried banana-bread PB&J ($4.25), which, like a denim skort, incorporates two independently enticing entities into one awesome conglomeration. The appetizer menu features favorites such as meat-free seitan wings ($8) and a Mediterranean pesto plate, a hodge-podge of hummus, basil pesto, olives, pepperoncini, marinated eggplant, french fries, and flat bread ($12). City, O' City is lauded for its pizzas, which can be made gluten-free and vegan upon request. The Florentine ($10 for 10", $22 for 18") is a classic mixture of olive oil, spinach, mushrooms, roma tomatoes, fresh rosemary, and three cheeses and is so delicious that it may inspire diners to don their finest Dante mask and script an epic poem about the human soul struggling to ascend circle after circle of cheese and sauce.
If the owner's sommelier status doesn't assure you that Black Pearl Restaurant is serious about its wine, then its multiple Awards of Excellence from Wine Spectator will remove any lingering doubt. But for some, the wine list?impressive though it may be?is secondary to chef Justin Hall's menu of new American cuisine. Denver Westword mooned over its "eye-rollingly sultry duck p?t?" and bestowed Black Pearl with a Best Charcuterie Plate in Denver award in 2014. Eater praised the smoked blue-cheese souffl? as a sumptuous dish worthy of both vegetarians and meat-eaters. The weekend brunch menu keeps up the high bar set by the rest of the week with bottomless mimosas, espresso-custard French toast, and a duck-confit hash skillet.
Executive chef Justin Hall talked to us about developing a menu that both expresses his culinary style and preserves what regulars have come to love about Black Pearl.
On conscientious sourcing: ?We use nothing but locally sourced produce. Our mushrooms come from a company called Hunt & Gather?they?re all hand-foraged, straight from the source. We work with Mcdonald Family Farm, a well-known meat provider, to bring in our whole animals.?
On his current favorite dish: "Right now I'm excited about the burrata caprese salad [with house-made burrata, heirloom tomato, basil pesto, olives, arugula, and grilled ciabatta]. It?s combining a traditional Italian-style burrata with elements of the caprese salad, giving it a new twist.?
On charcuterie: ?One of the highlights of our restaurant is our charcuterie program... Everything is done in-house. We were recently recognized for Best of Denver for our charcuterie.?