I found my guide, Lesia M. Bankston, outside our first restaurant of the afternoon, LOW Country Kitchen. She gathered our small group and ushered us inside to a reserved table. Bankston, a former chef instructor turned food, wine and fashion enthusiast, addressed the five of us with a natural smile.
“We’ll be visiting five places today,” she said, “and I never tell you where we’re going next till we’re there. I like surprises.”
I had put my afternoon in the hands of Local Table Tours, a Front Range outfit that offers themed culinary walking tours of Boulder, Fort Collins and Denver. Their tours focus on cocktails, coffee, chocolate, donuts, pub crawls, culinary or farmer’s markets.
On this afternoon, we had embarked on a three-hour culinary-cocktail combo, beginning with Southern fried chicken.
LOW Country Kitchen started in Steamboat and opened this Denver location on Boulder Street about 18 months ago. It started us off with a pickle-accented whiskey sour and a sampling of its signature chicken, brined for 24 hours, then breaded with buttermilk and hot sauce. Served with collard greens and fancy mac ‘n cheese, it was delicious — and a solid, carb-enforced base for what was to come.
Bankston led us out the door, over a bridge and onto North Platte Street, where we ducked into Savory Spice Shop to lick infused sugars and salts off our palms; exotic hints of whiskey, ghost pepper and vanilla played on our palates as we moved on again.
Local Table Tours started in 2010 in Boulder and quickly expanded into other Front Range cities. Owner Megan Bucholz said, “It’s been incredible to watch the Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins food scenes emerge, develop, grow and really become something worth food touring.”
The tours, she continues, are all different and celebrate the various food scenes of each city. While Boulder was a natural foodie paradise from the beginning, Bucholz said — “anchored by Frasca on one end and Piece, Love and Chocolate on the other end” — Denver’s ever-evolving and expanding scene is more challenging to define, and more dispersed across the city. As for Fort Collins, she said, it “has the largest bean-to-bar selection of chocolate in the United States by master chocolatier Toby Gadd at Nuance. Our lead guide up there is Iver Marjerison, the Fort Collins foodist. He published a book with that title and has his finger on the pulse of that scene like no one I’ve ever known.”
On this day in Denver, our guide was focusing on some of the women-owned restaurants in the Highlands. In the Dead Battery Club, founded and owned by native Denverite Lisa Ruskaup, we ate fresh baked and stuff buns, including one drowned in beef green chili and an egg. I’d thought this tour would feel rushed, but it didn’t, especially in the relaxed, narrow space of DBC, which also serves Mediterranean-inspired small plates and an extensive beverage menu. Being able to sit back, enjoy so many flavors and smells, and let someone else guide me was a treat.
I liked how Bankston used the element of the unknown; it somehow added to the whole food experience. “You never know what will happen when you’re eating and drinking together,” she said.
Indeed, I certainly didn’t expect our final two stops: Carbon Coffee and Habit Doughnut Dispensary (also founded and owned by Ruskaup), where we ordered booze-injected glazed donuts, then carried them to a sunny outdoor patio and washed them down with Italian prosecco and a savory charcuterie. Bankston chided us for not being patient enough to save our dessert for last, saying we were the first group to not do so, but secretly, I bet she appreciated our passion — and our ability to surprise her.
If You Go