A new spot for street food from around the world opened today at Avanti Food and Beverage.
Chef and owner Merlin Verrier’s new Street Feud counter, which is located on the top floor of the LoHi restaurant incubator, takes a global approach to street food with a menu focused around a selection of tacos, Bao Buns, flatbreads, and quinoa bowls.
Verrier, who has been cooking for 27 years and most recently served as the Culinary Director for Boulder’s Kitchen Restaurant Group, said the counter was influenced by both the great Mexican food he ate while growing up on the Central Coast of California and his mom’s Indonesian heritage.
As a result, there are clear nods to both cultures in the Al Pasto and birria (goat) tacos and the chicken satay Bao Bun, which is made with spiced potatoes.
However, there is also a quinoa tabbouleh bowl that includes falafael and a Korean BBQ jackfruit bao bun. The loaded fries, meanwhile, celebrate international styles of music. The K-Pop fries are covered with kimchi, pork belly and cheddar cheese while the mariachi fries come smothered with cheese sauce, pickled jalapenos and spicy red salsa.
Verrier said he is particularly excited about the crispy mushroom taco, which consists of oyster mushrooms that have been sauteed in mexican aromatics and flash fried to create a crispiness that is reminiscent of a chicharrón. Those fried and seasoned mushrooms are then paired in the taco with a black bean puree made with corn fungus and a roasted tomatoe salsa.
“It’s super meaty and really rich,” Verrier said. I actually tasted the staff on it and didn’t tell them what it was and nobody had a clue it was mushrooms.”
Those tacos are also one of several vegan and gluten-free offerings that Verrier said are the result of a focus on creating vegan offerings that are a menu focus rather than an afterthought.
The restaurant’s managers will also get three extra “mental health days” off every quarter separate from their paid time off as part of what Verrier described as an attempt to create a work environment that is more healthy and humane than many of those he has worked in during his career.
“I think cooks have been abused too long in this industry,” Verrier said. “I’ve had experiences where I made $100 a day but had to work for 15 hours to get the job done.”
Verrier said he hopes Avanti will serve as a jumping off point to an eventual brick-and-mortar Street Feud, which he is already searching for a location for. His longer term goal is to open five Street Feud locations around Denver over the next three or four years before eventually taking the restaurant nationwide.