Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mile High Vegan

I'm eating my way through Denver this week, so I thought I'd share with you some of the city's vegan and gluten-free highlights. When I think about Colorado cuisine, I think buffalo meat and rocky mountain oysters, but like most major cities, Denver has a respectable selection of plant-based (and testicle-free) fare.

After arriving in Denver, our first stop was WaterCourse Foods, a vegetarian restaurant with a vegan-friendly menu. The atmosphere was bright, casual, friendly, and young.

WaterCourse serves sandwiches and dinner entrées, but they are known for brunch, which is available until 5pm. Choices include vegan and vegetarian scrambles, omelets, pancakes, and pastries. All of the scrambles are gluten-free, and instead of deep-fried breakfast potatoes and toast, you can ask for brown rice and corn tortillas.

I had the Capri Scramble with tofu, Greek olives, tomatoes, grilled zucchini and carrots, and fresh basil (sheep's milk feta is optional). The flavors were good (you can't go wrong with green olives), but the scramble was wet and crumbly.

Portions were modest, so we had room after lunch for Sweet Action vanilla ice cream. It's coconut-based, which is a plus in my book, and the texture is perfectly smooth and creamy. WaterCourse offers it by the scoop, or you can enjoy it in one of their vegan milkshakes.

Almost everything at WaterCourse Foods is available vegan, and about half of it can be made gluten-free. Four chickpeas for ample choices!

For dinner, we headed to City O' City, a vegetarian coffee shop, bar, and restaurant located near the state capital building.

Operated by the folks from WaterCourse Foods, City O' City is hip, edgy, and geared toward adults. They boast an impressive selection of whiskey and Colorado microbrews; a sign above the bar endorses daytime drinking. While WaterCourse Foods feels clean and airy, City O' City is dark and graffitied, and most of the iPhone-using diners and drinkers sport self-consciously disheveled hairstyles and tattoos of literary significance.

City O' City is next door to WaterCourse Bakery, which supplies both restaurants with vegan and gluten-free breads and pastries. Many of City O' City's appetizers are gluten-free, including a Mediterranean plate with hummus, olives, and gluten-free flatbread. Salads, pizza, and the occasional entrée can be made gluten-free. Sandwiches and wraps cannot.

Thrilled at the opportunity to eat a pizza I didn't make myself, I ordered the La Chagall on WaterCourse Bakery's gluten-free crust. It comes with apricot sauce, brie (I substituted the house cashew ricotta), green olives, roasted garlic, and fresh tarragon.

It was truly, truly weird. At home I would never be brave enough to make something this bizarre, but somehow it all worked. I would order apricot pizza again. The crust, made mostly of chickpea flour, was delicious but insanely filling; I had to cry uncle after three slices.

Rod ordered a Buffalo Seitan Wrap with fries. He reports it was intensely tangy and spicy, and his mouth burned for hours after dinner (that is a good thing). It was also quite filling.

Of course the highlight of my visit to City O' City was the pastry case. According to WaterCourse Bakery's website, they strive to create gluten-free vegan baked goods that are even better than traditional pastries ("We have failed when someone comments, 'that's pretty good for vegan or gluten-free'"). I was skeptical, but wanted desperately to be proved wrong.

The evening's selection included Ho Ho Cupcakes, Hazelnut Chocolate Cupcakes, Sugar Cookies, and a giant version of Girl Scout Samoas. I was torn, but I went with a Ho Ho, because 1) it was shiny, and 2) personal experience has shown me that gluten-free cake is more difficult to pull off than gluten-free cookies.

Underneath that soft, shiny ganache was a layer of fluffy white buttercream, a layer of dark chocolate cake, more buttercream, and finally more cake.

My thoughts upon eating the Ho Ho Cupcake:

1. What?!? This is so good! Not even a little bit weird! They're lying—no way this is gluten-free!
2. How did they do this?! I am so jealous.
3. This tastes exactly like the chocolate cake my mom used to make.
4. Is there a WaterCourse Bakery cookbook? (Sadly, no.)
5. Why don't I live in Denver?

I can't wait to go back and try every other gluten-free thing in that case. Four chickpeas for City O' City!

More from Denver soon!

13 comments:

  1. Wow, it looks like you had a wonderful trip! Adding green olives to things seems like it might be a great idea...

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  2. My husband just returned from a conference in Denver, but I'm sure it must have been a different Denver. You make me wish I had gone too, but with you, not him.

    Great post with wonderful photos!

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  3. Yum Yum Yum!!! Looks great. I like Denver, and also Boulder. If you go to Boulder, you'll find a ton of great vegan options. Thanks for sharing--I love hearing about your foodie adventures in distant lands.
    xo
    Eco Mama

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  4. so funny! we drove through denver during our trek from new orleans to portland and stopped at both city o city and watercourse AND i ordered both a scramble and XgfX pizza. i loved the pizza we got, it had some of that cashew ricotta on it, too--but i can't remember what else. definitely not apricot!
    xo
    kittee

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  5. This might just be the best post I've ever seen! Everything looks SO fantastic and absolutely scrumptious. But those ho ho cupcakes have me entranced, they look heavenly!

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  6. That pizza sounds so wonderful! Who could resist apricot sauce and chaswe ricotta?

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  7. That's it... I'm moving to Denver!

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  8. Now I have a reason to go to Denver. Thanks, Mary!

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  9. Mary, I'm glad you found a pretty good gluten-free vegan bonanza in the Denver! I enjoyed a great dinner at Watercourse during the Denver VegFest a couple of years ago, but never made it to their bakery or City O' City so it was fun to read about your experiences and impressions of them.

    Apricot Sauce on pizza... who comes up with these ideas?! Apricot Sauce might not be the LAST thing I'd think of putting on pizza (that would probably be nuclear waste), but it still would take a hundred years of coming up with different pizza sauces before that one would cross my radar!

    Glad your Ho-Ho was such a hit it's making you wonder why you don't live in Denver! That's Mile-High praise, coming from a devoted Mainah. :-) Maybe some day they'll come out with that cookbook and you can have their Ho-Hos at Home. Meanwhile, tell Rod to keep signing up for conferences in Denver!

    Now stop leaving us in suspense.... did you make it to Boulder?

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  10. Yummy!! Looks like an awesome - and delicious - trip! Glad you found some testicle-free fare. Hahaha.

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  11. Next time you go, can I come too? It will just take me about 10 hours to drive there! ;-)

    Great post and pics. Thanks!

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  12. That post is making me super hungry. Just found your blog through a post on twitter, so glad to find another vegan coeliac :-)

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  13. You posted about my absolute favorite restaurant! I completely love their pizza. I get the gf pizza with red sauce, caramelized onions, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, tempeh bacon and cashew ricotta. Usually I am so stuffed that I don't get desert. I have had the scout cookies a few times and they are delicious! Recently though, I tried their gf ho-ho. I HAD planned on sharing it with my hubby when I got home, but I ended up eating the whole thing and not even feeling guilty about it. That thing was freaking unbelievable!

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