This winter doesn't seem to want to leave, bringing the last few storms before breaking into full spring. I've emptied my freezer of the soups and stews made from the bounty of my '09 garden and my taste buds are bursting for the seasonal delights yet to come. Spring fever hits us all in different ways and as the days warm up in Colorado, more bikes roll out, the strollers, the walkers and the joggers in Wash Park. April is a blend of warm days and cool, light showers or perhaps a flash of snow, but the sunny ones create a perfect storm. I had the opportunity to stroll through a sunny afternoon with virtuoso chef and Foodswings owner, Brian T. Jacobson.
Our neighborhood, Lodo, first stop Paris on the Platte. I'm uncharacteristically early, as Brian comes swinging in with an energy as fresh and delicious as the food he cooks. Dipping biscotti into our double espresso, we talk food, spices and a few essentials I must have in my kitchen to turn my moderate scullery skills from peasant to princess. Brian leads me down the spice trade routes and into my very own culinary Age of Discovery. We speak of the Dutch West Indies Trading Company, talk of blends, balance and the culture of cardamom. Trading the secrets of pepper and infusion I hang on his every word until we're both restless to sojourn in the sunshine.
With my vintage parasol popped open, under the umbrella of its turquoise floral print, I link my arm in Brian's and we saunter up Little Raven to the Savory Spice Shop.
Savory is the love child of Mike and Janet Johnston, who in 2004, opened their hearts and their spice cabinet to bring some big flavor to downtown Denver. The aromas abound with more than 140 original recipe seasonings, small-batch-blended on-site, bearing names like Pikes Peak Lemon Pepper and Lodo Red Adobo. Sidled up next to these loyal blends are rows of spices, both exotic and common, from around the world. Each is freshly ground and sold in large or small amounts, you can buy just what you need or as much as you like. It is the Mecca of the culinary kings of the Queen City and the good home cook looking for a bit more spice in her life.
Some of Brian's current favorites are the Berbere Ethiopian Style Seasoning and an Italian Black Truffle Sea Salt that smells of an earthy heaven. Whispering together about the mixes and the meats to rub them on, Brian leads me to a wall of infused sugars in flavors like lavender and vanilla bean. My mind was racing, my taste buds chasing after in a flush of excitement I rarely feel the urge to cook, and following that just got easier as Savory premieres their new Food Network TV show, this month. On advice from the chef, which is close to doctor's orders, I throw some Herbs de Provence with Sea Salt, Bohemian Forest European Style Rub and Cherry Creek Seafood Seasoning and Brian's favorites into my satchel. He grabs an obscenely large bag of dark Dutch cocoa; we pay the winsome clerk and breeze out the door.
Heading south on 15th Street toward Market and feeling oh-so-European, Brian stops mid-step in a brain-storm, cooking up ideas for the Biennial of the Americas. As a member of the cuisine committee for the July event, he's alive with ideas and menus for this month long celebration. Flavors from across the Western Hemisphere will descend on Denver with music, art, dance and an exciting exchange of ideas. More on this in the days to come.
When my friend and editor of Telluride Inside ... and Out, Susan Viebrock, first told me about Evoo Marketplace I was nonplussed. A store that just sells oil and vinegar? I couldn't wrap my head around it, until I walked through the doors. Located in one of Denver's oldest buildings at 15th and Market, the western light streams through the high, arched windows, bouncing off the polished steel canisters called "fusti." These rows of fusti hold some of the finest extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from across America and around the world. The concept, says owner Mick Major, is try before you buy. We made our way around the shop mixing flavor-infused oils with their complementary counterparts, the aged and flavored balsamic vinegars, dipping delicious bits of bread from The Denver Bread Company to taste our creations.
Each combo delivers excitement, both in flavor and the things you choose to blend. I particularly liked the Roasted Garlic oil with a Meyer Lemon balsamic, and the Blood Orange oil with Dark Chocolate vinegar. Mick is the definition of customer-centered, sharing his passion and hospitality with ease. I think the only words that came out of my mouth that half hour were "OMG".
The perfect finish to our lovely day was a stop at TAG Restaurant on Larimer Square for their Social Hour and Baja Tacos, Da Bomb Sliders and a Mojito of the Day. With the grill heating up and all of the fresh, summer produce headed your way, I'm thinking a trip around our Culinary Wonderland makes finding parking in Lodo well worth it!