There’s a soft buzz of conversation and the smell of fresh bread. Chalkboard lettering takes you from MENU to ORDER HERE along a line of sugar temptations. Flaky croissants are stacked tall on ornate stands the likes of which you only see in the homes of women who make Pinterest DIYs their full time job, and colorful macarons fill old apothecary jars as if from childhood candy store dreams.
Olive and Finch is Chef Mary’s French souvenir to Denver. A wonderful neighborhood café, full of light and a warmth you can only find where great food brings people together. At once easy and sophisticated, it’s the kind of place you could take your lover, or your boss, or even your really crass group of brunch girlfriends (you know who you are).
Inspired by the Salons de Thé and Traiteurs she frequently visits in France, Chef Mary wanted to create a place where the food would reflect what was available, in season, and fresh. AND she didn’t want these high standards to make her menu financially inaccessible for those of us without an expense account.
True to its goals, Olive and Finch is all about organic, local, sustainable food – and you get it at under $10 a dish. Literally, no sacrifices (see, it CAN be done, Whole Foods!).
Like a great French café, the staff is consistent and they get to know you by name… which is particularly lovely because they use your initials to pick your table marker, created from classic European kids’ wood blocks.
The food isn’t really done justice by the menu. There’s a delicateness and care in every dish that a list of ingredients can’t describe. From the plating to the rich colors, every order makes you want to say, “nope, THIS is my new favorite.”
This is a place that encourages lounging… from the epic long meals (for which the French are most famous) to the casual café allongé with your computer, Olive and Finch encourages you to grab a favorite seat and stay awhile. But don’t pick my favorite seat – the outlet-adjacent one tucked in the corner behind the bar – because you will find me there pretty much always.
When you’re not in the mood to stay a while, you can still order from the counter or even just pull an already prepared salad and imported soda from the “Grab & Go” case. And if you’re really in a hurry, the kind people at Olive and Finch even bring that to-go order right out to your car (great for snowy days or bringing goodies across town to a sick friend).
If you’re a coffee purist, you’ll be happy to know that your espresso comes out of an Italian Strada machine and is served French-style, with two raw sugar lumps on the side. It’s this attention to detail that makes you really feel luxurious and transported in your own neighborhood.
Of course, the international feel also gets its own dose of Denver charm. Soy milk in vintage glass bottles add a human touch to the coffee counter.
Other French-feeling touches like fresh flowers on the tables or even house-made macarons remind me of some of my favorite Parisian cafés. Order the house Rosé (a favorite of Chef Mary’s from France this summer) and have a Parisian moment at the window.
Every dish has so much thought put into it. Maybe due to her time in France, Chef Mary knows that when you make a sandwich, you’ve got to have the right bread. Mary sources her baguettes and croissants from Denver’s closest-thing-to-Paris bakery, Le Trompeau, which makes all the difference.
The current special – a totally drool-worthy croque madame, just dripping in sultry Mornay sauce – hits it out of the park. The baguette serves its duty; it’s crispy enough on the outside to hold in the juices without falling apart and fluffy enough on the inside to soak up that yummy yolk when it breaks.
You can’t leave without having a pastry, even if you’re stuffed to the brim. The in-house pastry program, lead by Chef Mary as well (seriously, what CANT this woman do?), is all about class and restraint.
There’s no excessively sugared, frosting-explosions – every pastry piece is its own work of art with delicate precision and carefully refined flavors. The macarons have the perfect consistency – crispy on the outside, still tender on the inside. The tarts use fresh fruit purées in their pastry creams, reiterating Mary’s commitment to the integrity of the food; absolutely nothing is artificial. Everything is hand-placed. And you can taste every bit of care that went into it.
Get in before 10am on the weekends if you want to find a table of your own – they go quickly, though sharing with strangers (neighbors!) can be fun.
Breakfast (served all day): City French or Green Eggs and Sam
Juice: “Just Beet It” fresh squeezed juice blend or fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (also great in a mimosa)
Lunch: Croque Madame (when it’s on special), The Jamal, or Quinoa Salad (with goat cheese)
Pastries: Macarons, fruit tarts, or croissants (or truffles, or panna cotta, or…)
Olive and Finch
1552 E 17th Avenue
Denver, CO 80218
Which Olive and Finch dish are you craving? What do you value in a neighborhood café? Have you bought your plane tickets to Denver yet? Let me know in the comments!