This weekend’s Westword Dish marked its 22nd year of bringing bites and booze from across the Denver area to foodie fans. The Dish was again sponsored by Stella Artois in the Performing Arts Center’s Sculpture Park on Speer Blvd. Westword’s Dish publication explains how much has changed on the food front since its first Dish back in 1995, “Denver has witnessed a restaurant boom in recent years that has presented diners with more options than ever before. The rich dining tradition and burgeoning new scene bolstered by recent transplants have helped this list grow.”
We had a couple of tickets to the event we also got to attend last year and were excited to see who would be serving up tasty bites and libations. Most of the time events where there are multiple restaurants vying to sample to patrons attract newer restaurants hoping to market and introduce themselves to the foodie scene. What makes the Dish a bit different however, is the eateries invited are comprised of Westword staff and reader’s favorites from the year. Thus, every year there’s a great selection of restaurants to try, many of which are newer, which gives guests the unique experience to try out different places they've likely heard of and probably planned to go, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet.
The newbies ranged from good, ole' American BBQ, which was the “special section” this year serving up brisket, pork, lamb and sausages, to Thai, Sushi, comfort food, and tacos, which we feel is the ultimate comfort food. As for those we saw at last year’s Dish, (we’re not sure if they are favorites of the staff because of their food/booze or more for their business partnerships) but they included Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, The Nickle, Golden Moon Speakeasy, Stranahan's Whiskey, Little Man Ice Cream, and Milk & Cake.
We made the rounds, starting at the beginning with the special BBQ booths which were all hearty, saucy goodness. From there the restaurants seemed to be randomly lined up, with palettes and offerings all across the board, with booze booths thoughtfully placed every 5 or so booths, until the end where the desserts were grouped together. Some of the more memorable dishes we tried were the Tuna poke bowl from Ohana Island Kitchen, a Croque Monsieur from the equally fancy Art Hotel’s Fire restaurant, Gorgonzola topped oysters from Angelo’s Taverna, deep dish at Patxi’s Pizza, beef brisket tacos with BBQ and chimichurri sauce from R Tacos and pulled chicken tacos with red chilies from Degree Metropolitan Food+Drink. And all of the desserts were delicious but seemed to run out first, funny how that works.
These food events are always fun and flavorful, but they can also be tough and not always worth the price if you don’t know how to play it right. For example, first timers will find if they skip or miss a booth and try to go back later, the booth will be empty except for business cards in place of delicious food. The ultimate disappointment after spending a pretty penny to rush around. Many guests choose to divide and conquer or forgo sitting down or setting up at a table until they know they’ve tried it all. It is common to see friends separated, standing in lines alone, or ending conversations early in order to get the goods before they run out. However, this event lasted a bit longer than some of the other ones we recently attended and we were grateful.
Because of these common food festival snags, there is always an incentive to go the VIP route. VIP tickets generally offer early entry, additional alcoholic options and booths, and at the Dish, Stella Artois passes out the beautiful glass goblets as seen in Stella’s advertisements to drink your full size VIP beers in. VIP guests are also able to relax in their own shaded area with lots of tables and seating. One improvement I noticed this year was even the GA area had many more high-tops and picnic tables, some with umbrella coverings so guests weren’t forced to stand in the sun while juggling their drink and samples. Another great thing was water coolers and a couple of soda booths so GA guests could keep hydrated and sober if they chose. Oh and Mile High Soul Club played the perfect mix of sunny, Sunday afternoon tunes!
While we and most of our readers are patrons, we don’t often think about the other side of the event, the vendor’s experience. In a sea of new concepts, restaurants, and fusions, it is one of the few ways for vendors/restaurants to set themselves apart and literally introduce themselves to Denver diners. That being said, we notice some do it better than others. Sometimes you go to booths that hire a promotional team and their lack of knowledge or care seeps its way out to the guests through experience or even the food. Other booths know this is their opportunity to convince us to make our way to suburbia for bomb BBQ or book that expensive reservation for our next date night. These booths are full of enthusiasm, offer out their menus, dish out details, offer coupons, and invite guests to happy hour.
So where can you expect to catch us in the near future? GQUE BBQ won us with their BBQ sauce and smothered beans and Piggin’ Out Smoke House with their selection of meats with Kale citrus salad and a buy one, get one coupon. Churn & Burn BBQ Truck was also a top pick because they offered beef brisket with jalapeno chimichurri atop baked mac & cheese and a corn bread waffle chip. Now that was a great way to be greeted upon entering the Dish! Beyond BBQ, we mentioned Ohana Island Kitchen satisfied our sushi cravings and gave us a coupon to use on delivery. Angelo's, a classic Italian Denver staple, offers oysters for $1 on happy hour along with other apps and cheap drinks. The two tacos we had were not only satisfying but substantial in size. And lastly, Little Man Ice Cream sampled their Mexican Chocolate and a Blueberry Marshmallow ice cream, that surprised us, but yet didn’t as they are always coming up with magical mixtures. After we had come full crescent (that was the layout) we were back at the beginning and ready for a Stella and a seat in the shade.