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MSP Versus DIA in the Culinary Competition

World globes hang from the ceiling at Root Down in the Denver International Airport. In the background is the collage of tin can lids.

There has always been a lot of synergy between Minneapolis/St Paul and Denver, but when it comes to airport cuisine, MSP is miles ahead of the Mile High city. A recent weekend trip to Denver gave me a chance to check out Denver International Airport’s culinary scene while a tour of MSP’s latest offerings was still fresh in my mind (you’ll have to wait for the September issue to read that story).

While MSP has been actively adding local trendy restaurants to its retail mix (11 of the last 15 new contracts at Terminal 1), the vast majority of dining options at the Denver airport are national chains, such as QSR stalwarts McDonald’s, Burger King and Auntie Anne’s; coffee shops, Starbucks and Caribou; and some wine bars, Mexican cantinas and grab-and-goes.

There are some local nods, such as the Boulder Beer Tap House that serves its micro brews; Elway’s (the Denver Broncos’ former QB-turned entrepreneur), a high-end steak and seafood place; and a Red Rocks Bar & BBQ.

Another cool design element at Root Down. Moss and tachometers add texture to walls.

One thing DIA gets points for is its mall is outside security lines so nontravelers can enjoy a meal or a drink before putting their loved ones — or workmates — on a plane. The fact that the airport is 25 miles from downtown may have something to do with that perk.

Root Down on the C concourse, however, is the closest thing to a MSP-aviation- style experience. It’s the airport version of the arty restaurant housed in a converted filling station on 33rd Avenue in Denver.

It’s stylish, with funky wood floors that look like bowling balls had once rolled over them, siding fashioned from various sizes of airplane wings and a wall papered with old tin can lids and air ferns. A nice touch is that some of the solitary seating includes a “garage,” an empty space next to your desk-like table to park your suitcase out of the way.

When I approached the hostess for a table, she asked how much time I had. When I said 30 minutes, she shook her head and said, “We like 45 minutes” (because the food is being prepared fresh). “OK, I can give you 45,” I replied. She looked at me suspiciously, but allowed me to be seated.

The menu is creative—it’s not often you see country-fried tofu as a protein choice—and healthy. My cobb salad had fermented vegetables, candied bacon and a scoop of creamy blue cheese, and was delivered seven minutes after I ordered it. The rest of the 45 minutes was spent eating it and then looking for the server to bring my check.  Even though my plane flew out of the A concourse, it was worth the tram ride to C for Root Down.  It’s grab-and-go station is called En Root.

But the one thing DIA has that we don’t is a conspiracy theory that involves underground bunkers, an evil-eyed horse and murals advocating dystopia or alien invasion. As a responsible journalist, I can’t stoke the fires on rumors, but it’s worth googling conspiracies at the Denver Airport for a fun read. 

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