At The Modern Eater, the term “hyper local” is often at the tip of our tongues. It drives our conversations and challenges our thinking. Ultimately, this food belief bind us. Why? Because we are shameless advocates for food that feeds and nourishes us as well as our local community and economy. As restaurants and brands are continually growing and evolving, we continue to ask ourselves: how does this align with our hyper-local food crusade? This week, the Modern Eater found its ideals reflected in the face of the Urban Farmer Denver: Executive Chef Chris Starkus.
If you’ve ever visited the Urban Farmer Denver, you don’t need to be told that their food is incredible. From beef to seafood, and pickled vegetables to charcuterie, the menu is thoughtful and tantalizing. But beyond the food served at Urban Farmer Denver, Chef Chris is all about local partnerships, transparency, and as he says, “putting the ‘farm’ in Urban Farmer.”
The Urban Farmer is a concept from the Sage Restaurant Group out of Denver. The original Urban Farmer was first opened in Portland, Oregon, and expanded to several other select cities: Cleveland, Philadelphia, and most recently, Denver. The Urban Farmer concept is one of marriage between a country farmer and his urban, cosmopolitan wife. How does that concept play out in Urban Farmer Denver? You’ll find this restaurant housed in the luxurious Oxford Hotel, adjacent to Union Station. The space is beautifully and playfully designed, and you’ll find unexpected, cheeky quotes from the likes of Mark Twain to David Bowie.
But back to the food; how exactly is Chef Chris “putting the ‘farm’” in Urban Farmer Denver? One notable way is through sourcing. Among their list of local ingredient and food purveyors is 7x Wagyu, The Grateful Bread, and Grower’s Organic. But beyond their sourcing, Urban Farmer Denver has several home-grown programs that are unique to them.
“What I like is that we are so transparent,” Chris shares, discussing their fish tank. “Anyone can see what we are doing here.” Their fish tank? Yes, that is correct. This is no ordinary fish tank, but an aquaponics system utilizing fish to fertilize vegetation and the vegetation symbiotically supporting the fish. And truly, you can see exactly what he is talking about in the lower level of the restaurant; currently, the aquaponics system is growing nasturtiums (edible flowers) to be used in recipes for their menu. Another natural process Chris is utilizing is the beehives he keeps on the rooftop of the Oxford Hotel. Not only do the bees support the local ecosystem, but their honey, honey comb, and pollen can be found in various dishes on the menu.
What else is growing at The Urban Farmer Denver? Microgreens grow in the windows of the restaurant, and are tended by Mountain Man Micro Farms. Several of our dishes were topped with micro chervil from these window boxes. As the weather warms, their dishes will also feature fresh herbs from their culinary garden on the patio. Their garden is even fed by their recycling program. How? They recycle and compost through Scraps Mile High, sending it out several times a week and getting rich, compost-nutrient soil for gardening in return. And in case the micro greens, aquaponics, and beehive weren’t enough to impress you, the Urban Farmer Denver even has a mushroom program, where mushrooms are grown in a terrarium in the restaurant.
Beyond these micro-farm systems Chef Chris has instituted at the Urban Farmer, they have two other hand-made offerings that allude to the rustic roots of the farmer in this union. Home-preserved and pickled items are used heavily on the Urban Farmer’s menu, with everything from oysters to their weekend brunch Bloody Mary’s. Upon my arrival at the restaurant, I immediately noticed the varying sized mason jars on proud display in the middle of the dining room. Golden, red, orange – a variety of produce, preserved in different brines, shone proudly as the jars were illuminated by surrounding light. Urban Farmer also has an ice room housing 300-pound chunks of ice. Hand-cut ice blocks are used in their cocktail program as well as unique plates for appetizers. “These were cut using a chain saw,” Chris explains as he carefully places a poached prawn on a slab of crystal-clear ice. It’s unique touches like these that transform a dining experience beyond expectation.
The Urban Farmer Denver is bringing a fresh, local, Mile High vibe to the downtown steak house concept. From hand-cut ice to aquaponics edible flowers, Executive Chef Chris Starkus and the Urban Farmer Denver crew is putting their own unique stamp on our local restaurant scene. And as a Modern Eater, I’m thrilled by their creative and unique approach to bringing us hyper-local food.