Recently I was invited to try out the food at Former Saint Craft Kitchen and Taps right across from the convention center in downtown Denver.
From a somewhat hidden location inside the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, this big-time budget dining space with a glossy modern design has been serving hotel guests and the Denver community at large since November 2018.
As a whole, the place is a prime example of the new era of the “hotel restaurant” where developers are keen to invest in creating a credible dining experience attached to their properties – ones with a broad enough menu to please a wide variety of guests who are staying at the hotel, but are somehow able to attract the attention and interest of locals looking for a good meal.
In my opinion, Former Saint has found a good balance between these often diametrically opposed customer segments by placing a thoughtful, locally-sourced spin on a menu full of approachable-sounding dishes.
The restaurant, an imposing space with impossibly high ceilings and enough seats to serve 250 people at a time, makes a memorable first impression with a show-stopping collection of gleaming intertwining copper pipes that hover above the massive four-sided bar. But it’s more than just a striking design element — they actually connect to the nearby cask/keg room and directly feed the bar’s numerous beer taps.
Those not swayed by the ale options available can choose from a sizeable cocktail, wine, and spirits list. As you guys know, I don’t drink alcohol, so instead I opted for a mocktail version of the Sage Brush.
As for the food, Chef de Cuisine Matthew Rabelhofer (who has been working at Hyatt-owned properties for a number of years) and his team could have went with classic versions of Euro-American dishes that would appeal to the masses and called it a day. But more interestingly, they have used unlikely ingredients and playful flavor pairings to inject personality, style, and flair to what would otherwise be a standard hotel restaurant meal.
For example, the Carrot Gnocchi (my husband’s hands-down favorite dish of the meal, and steal at $9) is not only leveraging the flavor and vibrant color of the root vegetable, it’s sprinkled with a pesto made from local Colorado pistachios.
Strawberry & Heirloom Tomato Salad ($12) was pretty as a picture, with the berries adding in an addition hint of sweetness to the summertime favorite.
I very much enjoyed the Harissa Grilled Chicken Breast ($22), which was paired with an oddly addictive grilled onion cous cous side. I loved the incorporation of North African spices, which up-leveled the dish from being *just* a well-cooked grilled chicken, and showcased the creativity of the kitchen.
The Seared Scallops ($24) were cooked well and served on a healthy smear of cauliflower puree. One of the most pleasing aspects of the dish was that the scallops (normally a pretty light dish) were rounded out by a heaping portion of a warm vegetable salad.
Even the light snacks had a distinctive twist to them, such as the tasty Salty Dill Pickle Popcorn (a flavor combo that will inspire some home cooking imitations, $4).
My only thing is the prices for the entrees are almost all $20+, which in my mind pulls this restaurant into the weekend date night or special occasion category. It would not be an everyday spot for me, at least until I win the lottery.
The desserts were finely crafted, with dramatic dribbles and swooshes of sauces — and in the case of the Coconut & Chocolate Ganache Cake ($10), some impressive gravity-defying coco architecture. However, if you are looking to walk out of there spending less than $100 (assuming you order a drink or two), I would recommend putting your money into the savory items on the menu that are their strong points.
And if you were wondering, the name Former Saint is a playful spin on the space’s historic past. The entire block where the restaurant and hotel now sits once was Saint Mary’s Academy, a sprawling nunnery and boarding school for young women founded by three Sisters of Loretto from Santa Fe. (You can find a few reprints of photos the former occupants hanging in two small booths behind the bar.)
Former Saint Craft Kitchen and Taps – 650 15th St, Denver, CO 80202, (303) 486 4434
Please note: Financial compensation was not received for this post. I was invited by the PR firm working with Former Saint to sampled items off the menu. Opinions expressed here are my own.