The story: In an effort to know more about where his food came from, Chef Alex Seidel purchased a farm in 2009 outside Denver and started raising Heritage breed hogs and honey bees, and growing fruits and vegetables. His Fruition Farms supplies much of the ingredients in his latest venture, Mercantile Dining and Provisions inside the renovated Union Station in the city’s LoDo neighborhood. The sleek restaurant and market – opened last September – personify the farm-to-table manifesto to the nth degree.
Why I went: I’d heard some buzz about Mercantile while planning my trip to Denver, and earlier in the week when visiting the Union Station, I walked through the restaurant, glancing over the charming “provisions” stand selling preserves and pickles. My family and I ended up coming here on our last night in Denver before we all headed home.
The vibe: During the day, the restaurant has a charming French country café feel in the bright and airy space, but at night the lights are dimmed and it becomes a chic almost-wine-bar like dining room with a bustling crowd of fashionable Denverites.
The menu: The large menu is typical of farm-to-table restaurant menus with sourcing included in the names of the ingredients, and Chef Seidel has developed a menu that clearly highlights some of the more approachable ingredients these days, including short ribs, diver scallops, branzino, and sea bass. But they’re all elevated both in the way the dishes are composed and presented, from the rustic toasted farro carbonara ($13) with a 61 degree farmhouse egg and guanciale, to the elegant Spanish octopus ala plancha ($26) with fingerling potato bravas and saffron tomato broth (this was my main dish). The Market Provisions platter ($21) gives you a nice overview of the rustic approach with some home-made cured meats, cheese, and pickles. For the main courses, there are typically three “family dinner” options where you pick a main course that comes with sides of confit fingerling potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and arugula and fennel salad. My family dove into the bone-in dry-aged 36 oz. ribeye ($98) with marbled fat, served with truffled sea salt, roasted garlic gastrique and veal reduction.
The booze: The center bar produces several specialty cocktails ($11 each) and the wine list is quite extensive, with several by-the-glass options and wine from California to Italy.
My favorite dish: It was my main course of Spanish octopus, which was cooked to the right tenderness that made it meaty but not chewy, and the light saffron tomato broth made the entire dish elegant but unique with the bit of garlic aioli covering the potato bravas.
Insider tip: If you’re dining alone or as a couple, request a seat at the chef’s counter. There’s about five or six stools facing the large open kitchen, which always seems to be bustling with action. If you can’t get a seat up front, the bar also has a clear shot of the kitchen.
The last bite: While many farm-to-table restaurants might lean toward the simple and rustic approach to serving a meal, Mercantile raises the bar and makes locally sourced plates a celebration of the food at the table, presented in grand style with service to match. Some might write off Mercantile as a tourist spot because of its location, but the large number of locals dining on the night I was there shows that they know a true local institution when they see one.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Mercantile, 1701 Wynkoop St., Suite 155 (north end of Union Station), Denver. PH: 720.460.3733. Open daily for breakfast, 7 to 11 a.m.; and lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Major credit cards, reservations accepted. mercantiledenver.com
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