The pandemic digested a lot of things in the food and beverage industry. What’s left has emerged with changes that go beyond the ever-present QR codes and takeout customer parking spots. There’s also outdoor street dining that’s still sticking around, souped-up and larger outdoor spaces, new ways to get your farm-grown produce, and mixologist-crafted cocktails to go.
We’re looking forward to getting back into whatever is out there. If you’re like us, read on, and then find your way to enjoy what’s available. When you do, you’ll be supporting businesses that have overcome some seriously daunting obstacles and are excited to see you.
Ongoing Outdoor Street Dining
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Outdoor street dining is a habit we’ve gotten used to during the pandemic. When restaurants had to turn streetside to expand their seating footprint, they got creative in making spaces as warm and sheltered as possible during colder months.
We are into it.
At this point, we’ve gotten more than used to sipping sake on Hapa Sushi’s heated seat pads while people watching on Pearl Street Mall. We also discovered Jefe’s Tacos & Tequila in Longmont was better at colorful tables streetside and spent too many hours having Echo Brewing’s pizza and craft beer at picnic tables in a grass lot next to the restaurant.
Then there’s the Alpenglobe seating at Frasca Food and Wine. It’s as cozy as streetside dining gets, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. It should be even better during the rain when drops pelt the side and you’re caught with nowhere else to go and nothing to do but enjoy the food in front of you and whatever’s in your glass.
As welcomed as outdoor dining has been, some of it is going away. Louisville’s closed Main Street was reopened to auto traffic last year, and Boulder officials are starting to consider if dining on car-free streets has a permanent future after the current emergency orders expire on Aug. 31, 2022.
While there’s strong support for it to continue somehow, the city is trying to determine what that looks like, and there’s even talk about charges per square foot for restaurants to lease parklet space. The future will show just how far restaurateurs are willing to go to keep the seating areas and how much the public is willing to advocate to keep outdoor dining a reality.
Revamped Outdoor Spaces
As the restaurant industry grappled with serving guests, some looked at how non-streetside spaces that hadn’t been used before could be converted. Businesses created amazing environments to hang out, and these spots appear to be sticking around for the long term.
Head to Acreage’s Back Forty and snuggle up with cider and a date overlooking Lafayette. There are plenty of Adirondack chair groupings throughout the ground and a fire pit if it gets chilly but you still want to enjoy your beverage or food in the fresh air.
Avery Brewing also updated their outdoor space with an expanded patio. With spacious seating, a walk-up window bar, and a flexible performance space, it’s a great place to hang out and socialize with friends or when Friday work gets out early.
In Longmont, Left Hand Brewing added an entire beer garden with performance space adjacent to their taproom and plenty of food truck access if you get hungry. Beer, music, friends—it’s all there. The centerpiece is a converted storage container that serves as one of the hippest, most convenient remote bars you’ll find.
While we’re on the subject, we encourage as many other hospitality-based businesses as possible to follow Left Hand’s lead. In other states, we’ve even heard of parks with multiple food and beverage concepts placed together. Music and lots of innovative, early-stage dining-concept options helped this set up function like an open-air food hall and gave aspiring chefs a less expensive way to reach customers. We wouldn’t mind having something like this closer to home for warm summer nights.
Community Farm Dinners
Close to the source is where chefs get their most creative. Farm dinners were particularly beloved during the pandemic, and you should be on the lookout for more outdoor, farm space dinners this summer. They are fresh-air, community-building events that show how great food can taste and how enriching an evening can be when you slow down and engage with the company of others out in the open.
Although the full list of available farm dinners for this season weren’t available yet, we have a sense of where some of them may be. We’ll start with Black Cat, where farm dinners are resuming this month. Reservations may be hard to get, particularly since Owner and Executive Chef Erik Skokan is a finalist for 2022 James Beard Southwest Chef of the Year. Guests are served a family-style meal with beverages available for an additional price, and plenty of time to wander through the farm and blacksmith shop area. Secure your spot on their website.
Ollin Farms is preparing farm dinners featuring a rotating group of chefs. Meals last about two hours, and guests are invited to bring their own wine. Menus are announced a few days beforehand for guests who want to specifically pair beverages with their food. Their list of restaurant partners for the event was not announced by press time.
We’re also hoping that a third option is 63rd Street Farm and Laudios Catering’s weekly “seed to table” dinners will be a possibility. At press time, they weren’t getting back to our inquiries about the 2022 dinner, but if they’re having dinners, we’re going to go.
Meals and Cocktails Delivered to Your Home
During the pandemic, many discovered meal delivery service. Sure, lots of us have ordered DoorDash or, for those who want meal kits to cook at home, Blue Apron. However, there are other options, many of which are local.
Top of mind for us is a service celebrity restaurateur Frank Bonnano who helms Mizuna, Denver Milk Market, and Osteria Marco. If you’ve ever enjoyed lobster mac and cheese, you can thank him because he created it. Now, he’s started Supper Bell, which offers items like chimichurri steak and mushroom pad thai. Both single meals and family meals are available, and so far, delivery reaches as far north as Westminster and Arvada.
Closer to our area, health and fitness-minded diners can consider Tuesday Foods which features clean, chef-prepared foods delivered on Tuesdays from a Boulder kitchen. Also in Boulder, Pearl Street Mall’s Food Lab introduced educationally-based home cooking kits during the pandemic, and they’re keeping them for the foreseeable future. One last option is The Cooking Crane by Chef David Crane, which includes things like pan-roasted pork tenderloin with quinoa with green peas and mint.
Food kits can also extend to more complex dishes that are perfect for feeding a group. Right now, a lot of the focus in this area is on paella, with kits being available from Cafe Aion, Food Lab, and Piripi.
Regardless of the food kit you receive, there are a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind when you select a service. You’ll want to make sure that your order has been generally kept at the right temperature to maximize taste and prevent bacterial growth. You may also want to consider how the food is packaged—as sustainably as possible – saying goodbye to plastic, chemicals, and styrofoam. This has been more of an issue for national meal and grocery delivery services than anywhere else, but it’s something to keep in mind whenever you turn towards the convenience of porch delivery.
Before the pandemic, if people wanted a restaurant- or bartender-prepared mixed cocktail, they were required to drink it on premises. That’s no longer true. Last June, Governor Polis signed a law allowing restaurants and bars to sell alcohol for takeout and delivery until 2025. Three. More. Years.
Some of our favorites that we plan to enjoy this summer include 30-ounce cocktail bottles from Erie’s 24 Carrot Bistro. Dryland Distillers also offers packs of unique cocktails to go, including a cactus spirits cocktail, and West End Tavern has packaged a number of cocktail standards, such as Manhattans, margaritas, and Moscow mules.
Farmers Market Remote Pickup, CSA Pickup Events, and Collective Agriculture Events
This summer there are more ways than ever to get fresh produce thanks to remote pickups. How does it work? Boulder County Farmers Market allows customers to register and place their orders on designated days. Pickups for our area include Sundays in Longmont at Lefthand Circle, The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesdays, and a non-disclosed day in Lafayette at the corner of E. Simpson St. and Michigan Ave.
During the pandemic, Ollin Farms realized how important it was for growers to connect to their customers and set up a combined, community-growing effort. They’ve pulled together social, community-based farm market days with other growers that include Lazy J. Ranch, McCauley Family Farms, Rocky Mountain Superfoods. The farm’s co-owner Mark Guttridge said that part of the reason behind the effort was that during the pandemic, farmers found it challenging to get their goods to the public. He wanted to make it easier to connect buyers with growers.
While there are plenty of community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the area, 63rd Street Farm turned its weekly pickup night into a community event. It’s been quite the event, but we also haven’t gotten word if it will continue. We’ve got our fingers crossed.
Food and Drink Classes
Gathering a group of friends for a at home is a classic way to while away a summer night. Some places to look include Food Lab, with a series of classes that can be taken individually or as a group and include themes ranging from brunch to Indian food, pasta, French food, dim sum, and more.
There are also in-store cooking classes at food equipment purveyor Sur La Table, located at Twenty Ninth Street and at Fresh Thymes under the instruction of holistic, natural chef Christine Ruch with all classes designed to support anyone looking to build health through what they eat.
You can also find cocktail classes like the monthly cocktail class at Niwot’s Farow. So far, their mixologist-led classes have evaluated tiki cocktails (perfect for summer), the old-fashioned, and amaro. Classes last about an hour and cover a drink’s history, ingredients, and preparation techniques. If you go, you’ll be invited to stick around for happy hour.
Creative Community Festivals
For years, across Front Range community festivals, concerts, and celebrations have brought people together outdoors. Though many communities have concert series, some have gone beyond and gotten creative. In Arvada there’s an annual kite festival, while Erie and Frederick have their own hot air balloon festivals, and Lafayette has a peach festival.
Bringing people together isn’t anything new, but since the pandemic, we think communities are valuing these activities even more. One of the best examples we’ve seen is Niwot’s series of art and entertainment events that connect shoppers and merchants in the downtown business district each month, maybe more, and all year long. They’ve held après-ski events, St. Patrick’s Day events, dance nights in parking lots, traditional holiday events—they’ll take any excuse for a community gathering. Most of their events included carriage rides, fire pits, and multiple music stations, and there are often performances by their citizen-led, semi-marching, free-range band. This summer, they’re not letting up, and it’s a great way to enjoy outdoor fun and creativity.
Regardless of what communities do, it’s all fun for you. Definitely find a festival near where you live this summer, and head there.
Support Local Establishments
Regardless of how you spend your time, one of the biggest things for food lovers to keep in mind is that their support of the establishments they love is more important than ever. Most aspects of the hospitality industry have been hit by crippling stressors since the pandemic. Owners have had to show grit, creativity, and the willingness to adapt, and you can thank them for their endurance simply by visiting them.
Buy a meal, head to a bar, order takeout, and tip well. Attend farmers markets in whatever format works for you, sign up for a CSA, attend a class. These are some of the best ways to show people in the industry you appreciate what they do and care that they’re around.
When you support these industries, you increase the likelihood that what’s here this summer is here next summer too.
You might run into new tipping policies. Here’s what to look for.
This summer, you may also notice that tipping policies in many restaurants are getting an overhaul. As part of seismic changes that hit restaurants industry-wide, tipping is being replaced by a service charge, and restaurants are using tipping pools. The end goal is making sure that staff is being fairly compensated for the work that they’re doing.
Farow chef and co-owner Lisa Balcom has adopted this practice in her restaurant. She pays her staff an hourly wage, and then service charges, which are added to all checks, are split equally between all the staff to boost what they earn. She said that, “many guests are accustomed to tipping around 20% on their bill, and this seemed like an easy way forward for everyone. Many of our guests seem to enjoy not having to do math at the end of a meal.”
Many restaurants that are doing this are attempting to communicate as clearly as possible about it. Ideally, servers will mention it during service and/or there is signage in the restaurant. The goal is to not have diners be surprised or accidentally add a tip when it’s already been included.
It also doesn’t hurt if diners clarify what’s happening ahead of time—no one wants a surprise at the end of the meal. Asking is a way for you to know what to expect before you pay.