Bowl of ‘Zole in Denver features local chefs, Mexican agave spirits
Bowl of ‘Zole, a mezcal and pozole event, is coming to Denver on March 30, and with it, ticket-holders can try around 20 versions of pozole from chefs all over the city, as well as over 150 unique sips of agave spirits.
“I call it industry-style. It’s an insider, guided taste of mezcal and pozole,” said Jimmy Carbone, one of the three organizers of Bowl of ‘Zole. “You are going to get a chance to talk to and taste all these different chefs and (spirit) brands.”
Bowl of ‘Zole started in New York City in 2019, brought about by Carbone (a former NYC restaurant owner and now head of the event company Food Karma), chef Danny Mena, and spirits expert Arik Torren, who is now Denver-based. The event was inspired by the pozole pop-up that Mena had been putting on at his restaurant, La Loncheria in Brooklyn, as well the chef’s own mezcal project, Pelotón de la Muerte.
“We are passionate about pozole, a brothy entree found throughout Mexico that I think of as the Mexican ramen experience. It’s a traditional dish but also a platform for creativity,” said Torren. With the spirit aspect, the event “brings together spirit people, but also foodies, so it broadens the communication between them.”
So far chefs such as Amos Watts of Fifth String, Dana Rodriguez of Cantina Loca, Brian Rossi of Palenque Cocina y Agaveria, Troy Guard and his team behind Los Chingones, and Antonio Tevillo of Tamayo have signed up, and some chefs shared what special bowls of ‘zole they would be making. Overall, expect 20 tastes of unique, locally made pozole to pair with the numerous spirits.
“Since the heart of pozole is simply pork, chiles, garlic and hominy, it lends itself to lots of interpretations,” said Hop Alley executive chef Geoff Cox, who is giving his pozole an Asian twist. “Seeing as soups are integral to Chinese cuisine, we created a regional one that incorporated the first three ingredients and just switched out the starch component, adding noodles instead of hominy. We hope our rich broth treated with these simple ingredients pleases, and maybe even surprises, those in attendance.”
Though this is the third year the team has put on Bowl of ‘Zole, it’s the first time the event takes place in Denver. But while it’s new in the Mile High City, according to chef Jose Alive of La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal in LoDo, pairings like this have a long history in Mexican culture. In fact, pozole dates back to pre-Hispanic Mexico when it was a ceremonial dish. Today in Mexico, modern pozolerias can be found, and mezcal is just part of the experience.
Bowl of ‘Zole is scheduled for Thursday, March 30, at Skylight (833 Santa Fe Drive) from 6 to 9 p.m. Buy tickets via Eventbrite. General admission is $55; the VIP option, for $85, includes early admission at 5 p.m. and a goody bag.
Traditionally, Mexican pozole, or posole, is a savory broth made of chile peppers, onions and garlic, and laden with hominy and meat. The soup often comes garnished with shredded lettuce or cabbage, thinly-sliced radishes, avocado and/or limes. Versions of the soup pop up all over the country, and many states have a specific style, be that red, white or green, the trio symbolizing the colors of the Mexican flag.
“Every culture has its chicken soup, something warm and comforting, so we called the event Bowl of ‘Zole. It’s chicken soup with a ‘zole,” Carbone said recently over the phone.
Expect to try at least 20 small cups of the soup, each showcasing the restaurant and chef who makes it. While the list proves long, here are six bowls of pozole to whet the appetite:
- Chef Jose Avila’s award-winning La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal will be represented at the event. His negro pozole, featuring heirloom corn that he imports from Mexico and nixtamalizes in-house. The base gets made with garlic, onion, tomato, seven types of peppers, bay leaf, avocado leaf and Mexican oregano. Right now the meat choice is to be determined, but it won’t be the normal protien. “If you want pork or chicken pozole, just come to the restaurant,” said Avila. “Last time I made it with venison that I hunted; maybe this time I’ll do ostrich.”
- Antonio Tevillo, the chef de cuisine at Tamayo, will bring seafood pozole verde. The bright soup has a poblano-clam broth and comes loaded with shrimp, squid and scallops, and topped with romaine lettuce, shaved red onion, and radish. Expect a bit of a spicy kick thanks to a swirl of garlic guajillo chili oil.
- Going the more traditional route, award-winning chef Dana Rodriguez said to expect a pozole rich with pasilla chile, or chile negro, and succulent pork belly. The chef plans to represent all her restaurants at the event, which include Work & Class, Super Mega Bien, Cantina Loca and the much anticipated Casa Bonita, which she has officially partnered with. Rodriguez, who hails from Chihuahua, will also bring mezcal and tequila from her personal spirit project, Doña Loca.
- Taking a different turn, chef Geoff Cox of Hop Alley teams up with a former sous chef of his, George Lomotan, to create Yunnan pozole. “It’s a riff on the regional dish Yunnan rice noodle soup, but subbing out the noodles for hominy,” said Cox. “We plan on also adding Sichuan peppercorns, that, while, not traditional in this soup, speaks to one of our fun signature ingredients.”
- Using the pozole recipe he used to make at Acorn, Amos Watts, chef and owner of Fifth String in LoHi, is bringing back his green pozole. The meat of the soup is smoked Berkshire pork, and the green comes from the use of roasted green chiles. Watts garnishes the pozole with avocado and house-made pickles, which he makes using goods from Esoterra Culinary Garden in Boulder.
- Even vegetarians can join the fun thanks to chef Brian Rossi of Palenque Cocina y Agaveria. His team will serve its vegan pozole verde, made with a base of tomatillo and poblano peppers. Expect plump kernels of hominy, and toppings such as shredded cabbage, avocado, onions, cilantro and lime.
Traditionally, the word mezcal covered all agave spirits made in Mexico, which is still the case in many parts of the country. In fact, the it comes from the Nahuátl word “metl ixcalli,” which means “cooked agave.”
However, since 1994, internationally distributed mezcal has garnered an Appellation of Origin, as well as a Geographical Indication (GI) that covers the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Puebla and Zacatecas. Often handcrafted in small villages, these mezcals are often defined by a signature smoky flavor that comes from cooking the agave in pits in the ground. Unlike tequila, which uses only blue agave, mezcal can be made with any type of agave. Despite there being over 200 types of agave plants growing in the world, only about 30 are used in spirit production.
In the case of Bowl of ‘Zole, “mezcal” covers all agave spirits, which number greatly.
“Finding these stories and these makers and going beyond just the usual gets us excited by the breadth of what Mexico has to offer,” said co-founder of the event and spirit expert Arik Torren. “You can’t really speak to the complexity of what’s being made from one place to one distiller to one brand.”
Torren — along with chef Danny Mena, who also created the brand Mezcal de Leyendas — has curated dozens of small producers for the event, and expects about 150 different tastes will be poured.
In general, he said, the breakdown starts with verified additive-free spirits. On the tequila side, this includes Fortaleza, Don Fulano, ArteNom, Lalo, and Amatiteña. For mezcal expect Cuentacuentos, Alipus, Don Amado, Derrumbes, and Mena’s brand, among others.
Other Mexican spirit categories that Torren said are on the rise include Sotol, Raicilla and Bacanora. To give attendees even more knowledge on the vast offerings of Mexico, expect to taste and learn about obscure categories, and others such as Tuxca, Tutsi, Lechuguilla, Palmilla and Cucharilla.
“We thought we could create an event that would be affordable for small brands and importers to present these spirits,” said Torren. “It’s very affordable for the brands and consumer, and it’s been a huge win for both.”
Where to find pozole and mezcal in Colorado
While pozole is basically the chicken noodle soup of Mexico, getting it in Denver isn’t that easy. One reason is that most people who want it make it at home. However, there are some tasty options, many with mezcal at the bar to enhance the experience. These places constantly have one or the other on the menu, and range from high-end restaurants to casual eateries.
La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal: Chef Jose Avila opened La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal in the summer of 2021, bringing a traditional pozoleria to LoDo. It was something Denver just didn’t have, he said. Now the chef has garnered numerous awards and nominations, but continues to keep things casual and true to the mission of bringing good pozole and solid mezcal to customers.
Pozole, said Avila, differs depending on the region, and at La Diabla he didn’t want to serve just one style. Choose from five different types, the classic rojo or verde, as well as blanco, negro and a vegan option. Most of the spices and all the heirloom corn come straight from Mexico, and Avila nixtamalizes the corn in-house, which gives his hominy more flavor than the usual white kernels coming from the can.
Mezcal, too, is part of the scene, and Avila curated 15 bottles from small, independent producers around Mexico. Try a steaming bowl with a shot of the house spirit. Bonus: On Tuesdays the restaurant does a “break-even” special, where any pour of mezcal is sold at cost. That way, said Avila, you can try one of the top-shelf spirits and discover why they’re so good. 2233 Larimer St., 720-827-4158, ladiabladenver.com
El Fogón: The pozole here speaks to Mexico’s Aztec heritage and the people native to southern Mexico and Central America, the Nahuatl. This rich version has red broth thanks to a chili base, as well as bright kernels of hominy and chunks of pork. While mezcal isn’t on the menu, guests can pair the soup with tequila or a cold Mexican lager. 621 W. 84th Ave., Thornton, 303-427-2477, elfogon-mexican-restaurant.com
Adelita’s Cocina y Cantina: Pick up a bowl of red pozole from Adelita’s, which specializes in cuisine from the Michoacán. This version is made with chile guajillo, hominy and pork, and served with fresh onion, radish, cabbage and cilantro. Pair the soup with a shot of mezcal, or any of the agave-based spirits on the vast menu. 1294 S. Broadway, 303-778-1294, adelitasco.com
Next door, Adelita’s owner and chef Silvia Andaya has opened La Doña Mezcaleria. As the name suggests, mezcal is the drink of choice, and diners can chase it with spoonfuls of pozole verde. The hearty soups comprises green onion, tomatillo, jalapeno, and poblano, and is laden with hominy and pork. Lettuce, fresh cilantro and avocado come on the side. ladoñamezcaleria.com
Ghost Donkey: While pozole can’t be had at the downtown spot, plenty of mezcal, sotol, raicilla, bacanora and tequlia grace the menu. In fact, there are over 100 different agave spirits to taste, and if you’re hungry, get the nachos or tacos on the side. Ghost Donkey also makes plenty of cocktails with these spirits, another fun and tasty way to dive into the liquor category. 1750 Wewatta St. Suites 140 and 160. 720-409-4242, ghostdonkey.me
Birrieria Y Taqeria Los Tecos: Simple red pozole with shredded pork can be found on a menu that mostly features all the ways to consume birrieria at this no-frills North Denver eatery. There’s a bar too, though tequila is more easily found than smoky mezcal options. 7353 N. Pecos St., 303-429-1627
NECIO Mexican Kitchen: The red chicken pozole consists of a guajillo chili broth spiced with other herbs and chiles, shredded chicken and crunchy hominy. Crowning the bowl are sliced radishes, with a side of purple cabbage, fresh lime, pepper flakes, oregano, onion and either bread or a tortilla. Currently there’s no mezcal on the drinks menu, but plenty of tequila and Mexican beer. 4001 Tejon St., (720)-485-5647, neciomexicankitchen.com
Bellota: Get a spin on the classic pozole with chef Manny Barella’s version featuring hominy, pork, watermelon radish, cilantro and a side of Mexican focaccia. It may present a little fancier than more casual Mexican spots in the city, but with the chef’s dedication to high-quality ingredients and his love for the food of his father and grandmother, the latter a native of Chihuahua, it’s worth a visit. The bar menu, too, proves solid, though not as vast as other places specializing in mezcal. (While there’s another location of Bellota in Boulder, the pozole is currently only on the Denver menu.) In The Source, 3350 Brighton Blvd., 720-542-3721, denverbellota.com
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