Sunday Brunch at Rioja in Denver

If you are in Denver, you must, must, must go to Rioja — especially for brunch.

I ended up there by accident, and I’m very happy I did. My hotel concierge suggested several places, finally settling on a new French bistro whose menu looked good. But, in typical Adirondack Chick fashion, I got lost. And I needed coffee and water [read, we were out very late drinking the night before and hydration was a must!], so I walked down Larimer Street checking out menus.

Rioja’s menu had vegetarian dishes, a great outdoor area and was moderately prices, but still upscale.

My waiter was likely the friendly and nicest person I have ever met at a restaurant, and the staff never let my coffee cup or water glass go empty – two things most restaurants unfortunately fail at.

I finally decided to start with a mimosa ($7) and Eric’s house made donuts filled with lemon curd mascarpone with a side of compote ($6). I’m usually not a donut fan, but everyone around me was ordering them and raving about them — and for good reason. They were sooo good! The mascarpone oozed out when you cut into them and topped with the blueberries made for a perfect bittersweet combination.

There were so many great options on the menu it took me what felt like forever to decide what to have next. I thought about the crisp potato galette or the buttermilk waffle with berries and granola. You would’ve thought the menu below was 80 pages long — it was two pages — the way I was reading it and not able to make up my mind.

I finally decided what I really wanted was the Rioja Benedict — goat cheese biscuit, bacon spinach, tomato, poached egg and parmesan sauce. But, I didn’t want the bacon or too much sauce and really wanted scrambled eggs instead of poached. Figuring my request would be denied, I was so excited when the waiter told me no problem — that never happens!

This was one of the best brunches I’ve had in a really long time. The biscuit underneath was not soggy or mush like usual when you add eggs to the top and the sauce wasn’t too overpoweringly rich. The spinach and tomato combination added a good veggie flavor that was just right.

When I got back to the hotel, the concierge asked me where I ended up. When I told him Rioja, he said great choice because it was owned by Jennifer Jasinski, who he described as “one of the top female chefs in the country now.” After eating there, I can absolutely see why.

And, whoever trains their staff should train every restaurant staff — the service was impeccable. They were friendly, kept the drinks flowing, were not pushy when I couldn’t figure out what I wanted and were very accommodating when I wanted to make changes to the meal of my choice.

We will absolutely be revisiting Rioja when we are in Denver again!

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