Mercantile Dining & Provisions: The Ultimate Dining Car

Union Station’s Mercantile keeps Denver’s food scene on the right track.

Local foodies, national press, other cooks…everyone doles out heaping tablespoons of love to Alex Seidel. Even with his James Beard nominations and his rise to prominence among regional chefs, he’s kept his passion for food at the fore. Now, following his critical darling Fruition restaurant, he’s opened Mercantile Dining & Provisions, housed in the beautifully renovated Union Station, helping convert what used to be a dingy rail yard into a teeming downtown Denver hub for food lovers.

Mercantile combines a restaurant with a European-style market focused on artisanal seasonal goods—cured meats, cheeses made at Fruition’s dairy farm, housemade pickles, preserved fruits, vegetables and spices. Many of the market products are components used in the open kitchen. The bustling state-of-the-art barista station—perfect for lunch or a coffee and a pastry on the go—gives the market its character.

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But dinner in the sit-down part of the restaurant can be busier than mustard trying to ketchup. Is the casual dining atmosphere open and energetic, sophisticated and bright—or just loud? Are the seasonally inspired dishes—Seidel’s ambitious take on “elevated comfort food”—worth the expense?

Let’s mince garlic, not words. At Mercantile, I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Denver. The plating was sumptuous, the portions were ample, and the taste…well, there was wonderment in every bite.

The feast started with an array of tantalizing appetizers. The creamy, slightly gelatinous Marrow Bone Brûlée—“meat butter” in the parlance of my party of four—was rich and decadent, complemented by blood orange, fennel and oxtail marmalade, plus a gorgeous red-leaved sorrel grown hydroponically at Fruition Farms. 

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The sinfully delicious Pot au Foie Gras was a victory over animal-rights activists. The cured, fattened duck liver, presented with duck confit blinis, cardamom maple syrup and tart cherry jam went on the tongue with the consistency of hard butter and ended up slowly melting away.

And whenever there’s soup on the menu…I wipe it off. No, I ordered the Chicken Noodle Soup—it’s good for your health, if you’re not the chicken. A hot, savory broth was poured tableside over the ingredients—chestnut chicken sausage, roasted turnips, black currant vinaigrette and petite rigatoni pasta.

Ah, the pastas. They’re one of the Mercantile’s strengths, simple and handmade daily, perfect as a traditional intermezzo course after the appetizers. The Caramelized Potato Gnocchi were flawless, soft pillows accompanied by Colorado lamb ragu, Fruition Farm sheepskyr (an Icelandic-style yogurt with a creamy, thick texture and a refreshing, tart flavor similar to creme fraiche) and mint gremolata as a condiment. To add flavor, a server asked if we wanted some freshly ground pepper from Calabria, the region of Italy known for its hot peppers. The small, spicy chile, dark red in color with a potent heat and fruitier taste, had been hung and dried with a little salt for six months. A delicacy!

Pictured: An open kitchen reflects Mercantile's energy, photo credit:

The Acquerello Mushroom Risotto was sensational as well. Chefs go crazy for Acquerello, the rice grown, aged after cultivation, refined and packed in Italy—the grains are perfectly shaped and produce a quintessential risotto, made distinctive at Mercantile by truffle brined egg yolk and Parmesan truffle sabayon, a foamy, mousse-y mixture.

It was on to the seafood choices and the signature dish: Spanish Octopus à la Plancha, a play on the traditional Spanish tapa from Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain, called “Pulpo Gallego” (octopus and potatoes). Octopus can be rubbery, especially when overcooked. But the octopus sourced by Mercantile is immediately tenderized. They are trap-caught, harvested in glass jars baited with plankton, and then put in a tumbler (think of a lotto machine), frozen (further loosening the meat) and shipped. Three days later, the Mercantile kitchen tenderizes the cephalopod one last time and braises it to perfection.

Pictured: Spanish Octopus à la Plancha – YUM!, photo credit:

Rarely have I encountered an entrée so full of depth. The purple-tinged arms, in a striking coil, look more like objects of art than a meal. The slightly crispy grilled exterior gave way to a surprisingly sweet and delicate taste, similar to sea scallops, with crispy fingerling potatoes to soak up the layers of flavor, including a garlic aioli and a delicious, saffron-fragrant tomato broth.

In the meat and poultry category, we ordered the amazingly tender Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, prepared with a crisp crust and served with duck cotechino (an Italian charcuterie product), parisienne gnocchi and braised lentils. And the Broccoli a la Plancha was a delicious thing to do to a vegetable—a half of the flowering head served with curried yogurt from Larkspur Creamery, sunflower seeds and black currant. To complement all of the above, we shared a Chiroubles Beaujolais, from the highest elevation of the cru villages in the Beaujolais mountains—light-bodied, luscious and refreshing but still with some tannins.

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