Slow Food Nations, a three-day culinary festival inspired by Italy's famed Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, takes place in Denver for the second year July 13 to 15. To introduce media to the foodie-focused weekend, a reception was held at Urban Farmer, the restaurant that replaced McCormick's Fish House in the Oxford Hotel in Denver, And what better place to learn about slowing down and enjoying food, the premise for the Slow Food movement? The Portland, Ore.-based Urban Farmer chain is devoted to the sustainability ethos that favors local and organic food sourcing.

Executive chef Chris Starkus moved from Portland to open the restaurant. He conducted a tour of his "urban farm," with beehives on the hotel roof, a mushroom garden in the basement, and herbs sprouting in boxes festooned in the dining room windows. A photo gallery shows the local farms and ranches from which the steak house gets its produce, meat and dairy products.

"We have a rancher where we get grass-fed and finished beef for our in-house butcher shop," Starkus said. "We get a pig weekly from Corner Post Farm in the Black Forest area near Colorado Springs."

Mushrooms harvested at the restaurant are displayed on carts used for table-side food preparation.

"We like to tell the story of where food comes from and how it is grown," he said. "The mushrooms are a great conversation starter."

This year's Slow Food Festival takes place in Larimer Square, with more than 50 free and ticketed food tastings, dinners and workshops devoted to sustainable-sourced food and drink. Friday night has the Colorado Fare tasting event and Taste Marketplace, an open-air tasting pavilion and market. Tickets are on sale at slowfoodnations.org. Urban Farm details: 1659 Wazee St., 303-262-6070, urbanfarmerrestaurant.com.

Burger sensation

This isn't news. We are a burger-loving nation. Those looking for a burger with some spunk should try Culver's Pretzel Haus Pub Burger. The burger patty is made of fresh beef, never frozen, from the Midwest. The pretzel bun is chewy, as you'd expect, but not so chewy that it's impossible to eat. And, like other Culver's burgers, the bun is buttered and toasted for extra yumminess. Next the bun gets a smear of bistro mayo sauce, made with horseradish and mustard. The patty is topped with gooey Wisconsin cheddar cheese sauce. Tangy pickled veggies, made freshly daily so they stay crisp, are heaped on the cheeseburger, which also gets a couple of strips of fried bacon before being topped with the pretzel bun cap.

The burger comes with fries, but why stop with those? For a slight upcharge, go with Wisconsin fried cheese curds. Now we're talking a total Midwestern experience. The special burger is available through May 27. Visit culvers.com for locations.

Free coffee

Fine Arts Center members, here's a perk for you: the Member Coffee Punch-Card.

Baristas pulling the shots at the Fine Arts Center's espresso cart use local High Rise espresso and coffee beans. You'll get a free drink when you fill the 10-punch card. The bar's new hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Check out the house-made grab and go sandwiches, wraps, composed salads, fresh fruit and vegetables made with local, seasonal ingredients. Healthy snacks and bottled beverages are available too. Details: 30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org.

Tofu takes the cake

Alex Gould's Awesome Asian Tofu continues to take top honors in the annual Sodexo Future Chef's Challenge. The fifth-grader at The Classical Academy North Elementary has been selected as one of the top 40 regional finalists from across the country. His recipe now moves to the next round of judging, and the top five will compete in the semifinals.

His recipe won the first round of cooking in February, when District 20 youths were challenged to create a healthy, Asian-fusion dish. Although 175 aspiring junior chefs jumped at the chance,

Alex's crispy tofu cubes were a winner for great texture and delicious Asian flavors.

Congratulations Alex!

Events to check out

There's never a lack of worthy foodie events to attend. Here are a few to add to your Day-Timer:

- The Gleneagle Sertoma Spirits of Spring wine and food tasting at The Antlers hotel, 4 S. Cascade Ave., 6 to 9 p.m. April 28. For $60 ($110 per couple), sample food from 10 eateries, with beverages from Downtown Fine Spirits & Wine. Visit spiritsofspring.org.

- Taste of Tri-Lakes Cares takes place at Flying Horse Ranch, 9663 E. Palmer Divide Ave. in Larkspur, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 9. Tickets are $20 for adults, free for children under 11 with a paying adult, to see local chefs create dishes from a mystery basket of ingredients. Visit tri-lakescares.org/taste-of-tri-lakes-cares.

- Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains brings us Taste of Hop, May 10 at Great Wolf Lodge, 9494 Federal Drive, to showcase local restaurants, breweries and wineries offering tastes and sips to benefit the organization's programs and clients. Cost is $25, $15 for kids 3 to 12, with a $3 discount for military, seniors 65 and up and students with ID.

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Send tips about restaurant openings, closings and specials to teresa.farney@gazette.com, 636-0271, Twitter: @tffoodie or Facebook Teresa Farney.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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