The city's dynamic dining scene may be young, but its resources are not
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler
What's the story behind this place?
Mercantile, from James Beard Award–winning chef-farmer Alex Seidel and his executive chef–partner Matthew Vawter, is the very definition of destination dining in Denver. This high-flying market and café by day and New American hot spot by night opened in Union Station in 2014 and has been buzzing ever since. Mornings, the space is light, airy, and cheerful beneath high ceilings with copper lamps, and an island counter and bar bustling with people ordering coffees and daily-baked pastries. Fast-forward to lunch, when crowds pour in for sandwiches, salads, and fresh juices, stopping to browse every last shelf, sideboard, and display case in search of pantry items like preserves and pickles, cheese and charcuterie, and cookies and crackers. In the relative lull of the mid-afternoon, couples gather at the bar for a drink in view of the open kitchen, which is now readying for dinner service. And as evening wears on, they all pour into the warmly glowing main dining room opposite the market, sparking a festive mood.
Who can you expect to see here?
By day, Mercantile draws a mix of businesspeople and commuters. Come dinnertime, you'll see folks celebrating something, be it an engagement, anniversary, birthday, or promotion. The crowd is vivacious but not raucous.
How are the drinks?
In a word: spectacular. Mercantile maintains one of the best wine lists in town, with hundreds of bottles to mark a special occasion. Dozens of grower Champagnes kick things off; from there, you can splurge a little less on an Old World Riesling or a little—or a lot—more on French and Italian standard-bearers, cult Napa Cabs like Bond and Hundred Acre, and exquisite dessert wines like a Rivesaltes from the 1940s. There’s not a low common denominator in the selection of 15 or so offerings by the glass, chosen for their charisma rather than their familiarity, and the same goes for the craft beer. As for spirits, whiskey takes center stage, with well over 100 labels from around the world, but the bar doesn’t play favorites when it comes to seasonal cocktails, instead making something for every palate.
What are some of the highlights on the menu?
Seidel’s Fruition Farms grows produce and makes cheese for the restaurant, and charcuterie is a focus at Mercantile, so start with anything that showcases those items. That includes the Market Provisions board, with rillettes, pâté, sausage, cheeses, grilled bread, and housemade pickles and condiments, plus at least one ricotta-stuffed pasta and some sublime dessert made with Shepherd’s Halo, an intensely creamy sheep’s milk cheese. Beyond that, Mercantile's signature blistered shishito peppers, set in a pool of sesame caramel and topped with chunks of fried pig’s ear, proves a winning, eye-opening study in contrasts. And entrées highlight the kitchen’s mastery of everything from comme il faut roast chicken to rabbit-shellfish paella served family style. That said, a simple pain au raisin or chicken salad on a towering, golden-brown croissant from the market is all you need to understand what Mercantile gets right: just about everything.
Can the wait staff help you navigate the menu?
Highly professional servers take pains to thoroughly explain every aspect of menu sourcing and preparation. Market service is a brisker, seat-yourself affair.
What's the best occasion for an outing to Mercantile?
Yes to big dates. Yes to client functions. Yes to meeting the in-laws. Yes, too, to mid-morning coffee breaks and afternoon pick-me-ups. The only occasions Mercantile isn’t appropriate for are likely better served by sports bars.
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