Bubu, Chop Shop and other Colorado fast-casual concepts bring new ideas to dining

Thumbnail image for chipotle-exterior.jpg
Remember when these guys were new and nobody thought they would make it?
We all know the drill: Get in line, read the big menu board, shuffle along the counter pointing at toppings and condiments, pay at the end and grab our food. Or maybe we just pick from lists of ingredients or lunch styles -- the wrap, the bowl, the sandwich -- and take a number to a table until a clerk in an Easter-egg-colored shirt seeks us out or hollers our number. Fast-casual (or the preferred "quick-casual," to remove associations with fast food) was the fastest-growing sector of the restaurant industry last year, according to a recent article by investment strategy website the Motley Fool . So what's the appeal? Is it marketing strategy designed to appeal to our health-conscious lifestyles, or is it just the most bang for the buck? And how are a new generation of quick-casual eateries luring us to spend our money?

See also: Chipotle raises prices, but only in Denver so far

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Clear Creek Organics, chef Michel Wahaltere prove farm-to-table is no fad

Mark Antonation
Happy goats make good cheese.
Farm-to-fork, farm-to-table, pasture-to-plate: Whether industry buzz phrases or genuine attempts to improve the quality of meals for restaurant diners, the trend has blossomed into a nationwide obsession for restaurateurs and dedicated gourmands alike. The sincerity of a kitchen's efforts is generally apparent with the first forkful: Is the salad topped with wan pink tomatoes in February; does the menu feature tropical ingredients flown in from hotter climates; why is there asparagus in my pasta in November? But when you're seated at a long table in the middle of a field within view of boisterous goats and rows of ripening produce, you know at least a few of the dishes sport ingredients that just recently had the bugs and dirt rinsed from their roots.

On Sunday, June 28, Michel Wahaltere, executive chef of the soon-to-open Dorchester Social Eatery in LoDo, teamed up with Clear Creek Organics to host a farm dinner at Steven and Lauren Cochenour's acre-plus parcel of fertile soil and burgeoning vines.

See also:First look at Ambli, Michel Wahaltere's new restaurant, that puts a global spin on takeout

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Mercury Cafe's crowdfunding project seeks to bring more solar energy to the restaurant

Throughout its various incarnations in Colorado since the mid-'70s, Marilyn Megenity's Mercury Cafe has been a model for clean energy. Since the Mercury settled into a permanent home at 2199 California two decades ago, Megenity has installed 36 solar panels on the building and also worked to change the city regulations on the use of wind energy.

Now Megenity wants to do more so her business can use less -- and she's asked for the community to help. She's launched a crowdfunding campaign that will allow the cafe to purchase and install 36 more solar panels and batteries; with less than two weeks left to reach the campaign's goal of almost $40,000, Megenity is hoping that her loyal patrons will jump at the chance to invest in clean energy for the future.

See also:Best of Denver 2013: Best Free Entertainment - Mercury Cafe

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Natural Grocers bans confinement dairy products

The consumption of certain products can contain inherent ethical conundrums -- and those are the sorts of conundrums that cause outright hostility between, say, vegans and carnivores. What you eat is part of the issue, but another equally important component is how that food product was created and, perhaps, how the animal involved in creating it was treated.

"How our food is produced has always been a concern of ours," says Heather Isley, vice president of Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, which recently banned all confinement dairy products from its shelves. The new corporate guidelines require that milk ingredients in any products are sourced from dairies that provide their cows access to pasture and a natural diet of grass and forage -- and those dairies also may not use non-therapeutic antibiotics, hormone treatments, growth-promoting materials or feed containing animal byproducts.

See also: Natural Grocers opens today on East Colfax Avenue

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Colorado Supreme Court approves Colorado GMO labeling initiative

Foods in Colorado could get new labeling next year, now that the Colorado Supreme Court has approved the wording of Right To Know Colorado, an initiative to label genetically modified foods --commonly called GMOs -- on food packaging. Now supporters just need to collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot -- and then convince Colorado voters to approve the measure.

See also:Photos: Monsanto protest at Colorado State Capitol

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Sustainable seafood at Jax Fish House & Oyster -- with recipes!

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar is definitely in the swim when it comes to sustainability. The restaurant recently announced its partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, a program that encourages consumers, restaurants and distributors to make friendly choices for healthy oceans.

See also: Jax Fish House named one of the best seafood restaurants in the country

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On a paleo diet? Caveman Cafeteria now delivers via FedEx

Caveman Cafeteria might have put the brakes on its food truck, but the paleo-centric company started by Army vet/standup comedian Will White is still on the move. Caveman Cafeteria, now under the motto "Where the Hunters Gather," is now delivering -- nationally.

See also: Cavemen didn't have trucks, but that's not stopping the Caveman Cafeteria

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Holiday read: Eat Ink reveals the "rebel art" of tatted chefs, including several in Colorado

Lori Midson

My Christmas wish list, not surprisingly, lends itself to all things culinary -- including cookbooks, of which I already have hundreds. But there were a few cookbooks that I treated myself to early: Pok Pok, by Andy Ricker, which is one of the most detailed (some might say daunting) explorations of Thai cooking that I've ever seen; and Eat Ink, a recipe-intensive cookbook that doubles as an homage to what author Birk O'Halloran and local photographer Daniel Luke Holton describe as "rebel art."

See also: Food Ink: Tattoos of Denver Restaurant Employees

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First Descents launches Out Living It blend with Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company

First Descents
In a coffee-crazed city like Denver, we've grown accustomed to new roasters cropping up and local companies introducing every brewing method imaginable. And now you can not only enjoy good coffee, but support a good cause at the same time: Out Living It is a coffee blend that resulted from a partnership between Denver nonprofit First Descents and Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company.

See also: Six best coffee stops on Larimer Street

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Steak 'n Shake returns to metro Denver as two locations reopen

Nate Hemmert
They're back! After being shut down after the franchisees got in a legal feud with the Indiana-based parent company, the Steak 'n Shakes of Centennial and Sheridan are back slinging burgers. Both stores reopened yesterday, and this time they're being run by the corporation.

See also: Steak 'n Shake will reopen two Colorado stores Monday -- win free Steak 'n Shake for a year

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