Telling Stories

Edible Beats Ophelias interior

Edible Beats offers one-of-a-kind dining experiences with distinctive menus and decor

that embrace each restaurant's history.

By Janice Hoppe-Spiers

Edible Beats will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year and continues to pride itself on serving local, vegetable-focused food to a community of progressive eaters. Known for “playing with its food,” the Denver-based company features six restaurants in the city that are inspired by the original buildings’ past lives and celebrate flavor, diversity and integrity.

Chef Justin Cucci founded the company in 2008 with the launch of Root Down in a reclaimed mid-century gas station. “I was at a turning point in my career and had done every aspect of the restaurant business, so I decided to take a chance and really do what I wanted regardless of food trends and what everyone else was doing,” he remembers. “I opened my dream restaurant, Root Down, with no theme and just being creative.”

Photo Credit June CochranLocated in the lower Highlands of Denver, Root Down offers globally inspired seasonal cuisine in a funky ’50s gas station. The menu features sustainable proteins and vegetable-focused dishes using produce from Edible Beats’ 4,000-square-foot garden, local growers and purveyors. “We got creative with recycled and repurposed materials in the design,” Cucci adds. “Root Down exceeded my expectations for how busy and well liked it is. I was at the right place at the right time with the right concept.”

Each restaurant is diverse in its menu options and design materials. “The use is contextual to the building and the time or what’s going on now,” Cucci explains. “It’s an organic process and each has evolved slowly into what I want it to be. Everything has a fluidity to it both in food and design.”

Building an Empire

Edible Beats opened Linger in 2011 and the restaurant is located in the former Olinger Mortuary. The eclectic menu features global street food that is meant to connect people through the diversity of food and culture. The interior features a food truck as the kitchen, large windows for views of downtown Denver and the rooftop deck has a 1975 GMC RV as a bar.

El Five is adjacent to Linger in downtown Denver and described as a melting pot of all Mediterranean regions. Located on the fifth floor, El Five offers unobstructed city views of the skyline and breathtaking sunsets.

In September 2013, Edible Beats opened Root Down DIA at the Dallas International Airport to offer travelers a new option for healthy, sustainable and timely food when they travel. “To open Root Down in an airport is the strangest juxtaposition I can think of,” Cucci says. “I was excited to do something that had never been done before and I wanted to open a restaurant that was in an airport and not an airport restaurant.”

Vital Root features real ingredients, food and passion that will feed people’s need for alternative choices. Edible Beats recognized there are not enough vegetable-focused restaurants in Denver or the country for that matter and did something about it.

“There aren’t enough fast-casual healthy options, there aren’t enough affordable places to eat and there aren’t enough people equating nutrition with wellness,” the company says. “So why not open an eatery that offers all those things?”

Experiencing Ophelia’s

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is a departure from the other concepts and doubles as a live music venue. The restaurant, bar and live music venue features boudoir-style décor to honor the building’s past as a brothel turned peep show turned adult video library. “It’s located in a beautiful Victorian brownstone and the only X-rated video and bookstore on the historic register,” Cucci says. “That’s what I wanted to embrace at Ophelia’s.”

I was invited to experience Ophelia’s during my trip to Denver in July and knew sexuality was the theme because Cucci and I spoke right before dinner. I thought he did an excellent job of translating the theme of sexuality while not overpowering you with it. Old sex show booths and marquees celebrate sexuality. A stage below the restaurant and bar gives it a speakeasy feel.

Edible Beats chicken and wafflesDuring my visit I had the chicken and waffles that featured lavash-crusted chicken thighs atop mashed potato waffles. The chicken was topped with bacon and apple butter and a kale-cabbage slaw and chili honey was on the side. It was delicious: The waffles melted in my mouth, the chicken was crisp and the whole dish had the perfect mix of sweet and spicy.

Ophelia’s is located downtown Denver just a few blocks from Coors Field, so Cucci decided not to go with fine dining. “We honored the company’s philosophy on sourcing farm-to-table and out came what I felt was a menu contextual to the experience,” he says. “Menu items are small and easy to eat and some of it ended up being sharable food.”

Swedish meatballs with white grits is one of Cucci’s favorite menu items at Ophelia’s, as well as the Spring Cheese Incident, which features six cheeses with seasonal vegetables and house-made bread. The gastropub-inspired menu also includes a fresh take on flatbread pizzas, burgers and wings.

Moving forward, Edible Beats will serve as a consultant with a small batch distillery, which is soon to open next to Root Down. “To collaborate on some of our own products and vodkas right next door is an incredible experience,” Cucci says. “We don’t want to loose out on an opportunity because no one has encapsulated that in the farm-to-table, seasonal and slow food philosophy. It’s slow drinks.”

Edible Beats is also getting back to “101,” Cucci says. “We’ve had a great run of growth and success and I never dreamed we would have six restaurants,” he says. “Since we have stopped opening restaurants, it’s the year of getting back to 101 or communicating, telling the story about the food, hospitality and design.

“I’m excited to see where Denver goes from here,” he continues. “I think people are thinking about us when it comes to culinary experiences and I think the chefs are doing everything on par. The more people who come and expect more will continue to push us to deliver.”

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