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12 Area Chefs to Keep Your Eye On | Indulgence Issue 2022


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From Biscuits to Duck Confit, Here Are Boulder County’s Standout Dishes

Due to the abundance of great food in Boulder County, deciding on just 12 chefs to feature in our Indulgence issue isn’t easy. We were able to whittle it down to a dozen kitchen magic makers who produce many fantastic kinds of food in every kind of venue from food trucks to white tablecloth, fine-dining establishments, and everything in between. This list proves that great food can come from anywhere.

In this piece, you’ll read about seafood paella made in a converted cozy house and messy-dished pizza on The Hill near CU Boulder, spicy biscuits from a truck, duck confit in Erie, hot chicken at a Longmont brewery, and creative tacos on South Boulder Road and now Denver.

Let’s dig in and talk about what’s been on our forks (or in a paper wrapper and our bare hands) lately.


Bradford McDevitt – Italian Beef Tacos
McDevitt Taco Supply

FX’s The Bear is hitting a number of chefs on our list hard. None more than Bradford McDevitt, who has brought some of the best tacos (and we know that’s saying a lot) to the area.

As Chief Taco Slinger and founder, McDevitt talked about how The Bear reflected his love for all things Chicago and we asked if he’ll try to replicate its famous Chicagoland beef as a taco. Turns out they already had, and it’s one of McDevitt’s favorites to sling. Their Italian Beef Taco is spicier and greasier compared to other tacos but really interesting to eat because it’s not at all what you’d expect.

We know weird, delicious tacos are McDevitt’s thing, and that’s why we love them. If we wanted overdone, thinly sliced beef or chicken and pico de gallo with sour cream, we’d go somewhere else. We first had McDevitt Taco when it was a cart at Sanitas at the East End of Pearl Street and loved its freshness and attitude. When it was there, McDevitt worked to start the Boulder Taco Festival, which features 40 different types of tacos. The fest survived COVID and has continued to grow, though now, it’s got an event planning firm and Nacho Libre wrestling behind it.


Nate Say – Nashville Hot Chicken
300 Suns Brewing

Chef Nate Say started out at 300 Suns as a customer. A regular old beer drinker who would come up to the bar for last call and hang out with owners and staff. One thing set him apart from everyone else — his culinary chops. Getting to know everyone there eventually led Say to grow from running a food truck to opening up a kitchen for the brewery — something that came in handy during the pandemic and is now a beloved part of the business.

Say gets to indulge in the love of craft beer that brought him across 300 Suns’ doorway in the first place. He drinks beer, he pairs foods with beer, and he cooks with beer, not necessarily in that order. He told us, “Dan [Dan Ditslear, 300 Suns co-owner and head brewer] has a wide variety of beers that he brews, and that variety allows me to pair those things with different food offerings and integrate it with our cooking. The demi-glace we use on our cheese curds pairs with his Nut Brown Ale. The green chile goes with their Blue Corn Maiden Cream Ale.”

But what Say really wanted to tell us about was the Nashville hot chicken — which pairs nicely with 300 Suns’ West Coast IPA, in case you were wondering. He’s passionate about how regions have a favorite sandwich, like the Philly Cheese Steak, and he traveled throughout Nashville to get this one just right. He said the key isn’t just to dredge and fry it right, it’s to “slather it with chili oil just after it comes out of the oil. It makes everything come together.”


Austen Vasquez – Any kind of paella
Cafe Aion

My first trip to Cafe Aion was an anniversary dinner where we wanted paella that was packed with seafood, underscored by a socarrat (the tasty bottom crust of a well-made paella), and washed down with sangria. So we found ourselves at Aion, sitting on a cushion by a cozy window on a February night, scraping our forks to get every last piece of rice and fish we could find.

We can thank Chef Vasquez for our experience. Originally from Detroit, he’s worked in Colorado for more than a decade. He first worked at Niwot’s Colterra with Italian- and French-trained Bradford Heap before that restaurant closed due to fire. He and Heap then moved to SALT before Vasquez eventually made his way to Aion three years ago. Considering how much he likes paella, we were surprised that he doesn’t actually have a favorite version. He does, however, listen to his paella sing (an effect of the steam) to make sure it’s done right.

When he’s not detecting audio cues from his food, Vasquez is doing something simpler and equally pleasant: appreciating the Aion crowd he works with. “It’s as at home as I’ve felt in a place, like family.”


Kevin Kidd – Duck Confit
24 Carrot Bistro

Chef Kevin Kidd is another alum from Bradford Heap restaurants, having helped open Colterra and remaining in touch with the people he met there to this day. One of the things Kidd mentions about Colterra was how it brought Niwot into consideration as a dining destination. He recalled that people came out to Niwot and then, as other places like 1914 House and Farow opened, they went there too.

Kidd says that he thinks Erie, the home of 24 Carrot Bistro, is starting to see the same thing. With at least four other restaurants in the same area, it appears these venues are lifting each other up, making the entire area a destination and bringing people to festivals. And when people come in what does Kidd love to show off? Duck Confit, the recipe for which he learned from Heap, is at the top of his list. There’s a way he cooks it in its own fat that keeps it smoky and crispy. Kidd mentioned another item close to his heart that he can’t always cook: lobster. When Kidd cooked it for one of 24 Carrot’s beloved Speakeasy events, it sold out, and he loved that. “We had a lobster dinner last week that was more like ‘my dinner’. Lobster, crab, surf and turf, clam chowder. I loved it, and it sold out so fast. We couldn’t do lobster rolls for lunch the next day!”


 

Lori Abramson – Avocado toast and a creamy egg
Cavegirl Coffeehouse

We have a young friend who’s in her early teens and has celiac disease. Every time we try to figure out what we can eat as a group, we’re more than happy to accommodate her needs. Cauliflower pizza crusts, gluten free cake — we love her, and we’ll find a way to get her those items. But our effort makes this friend uncomfortable because she doesn’t like feeling that she’s putting us out. We don’t mind, but she does.

Abramson opened Cavegirl Coffeehouse for people like our friend, and because she believes that food for special diets can still be amazing to eat. “I found it harder and harder to go, even just to the coffee shops to find really good, healthful foods. Non-inflammatory foods. No refined sugars. Things like that,” said Abramson.

Cavegirl Coffeehouse in Longmont’s Prospect New Town neighborhood makes delicious food that all of us love and helps our friend feel special. When we go, we can’t get enough of the chocolate balls. Lori, the owner, has another food she’s passionate about: “An over-easy egg on our avocado toast is possibly our most popular item,” she said. “That and all of the variations kind of light me up. There’s something about a runny yolk and avocado with salt, pepper, and olive oil.”


Mike Thom – Buffalo strip steak in a blueberry cabernet black pepper sauce
Spruce Farm and Fish

“We’re partial to lean and flavorful medium-rare buffalo, but we’re more likely to make it with simple salt and pepper than anything else,” says Chef Mike Thom. Thom, who has been cooking for more than 40 years, is currently at Spruce Farm and Fish in the Hotel Boulderado and believes in getting creative. He pairs a bison New York Strip with a cabernet black pepper blueberry sauce. We had it at last year’s Boulder International Film Festival’s CineCHEF and can attest to the fact that it was exceptional.

Chef Thom has a passion for proteins and loves grilling and barbeque. “When I’m at home, I’ll have brisket on the smoker. I’ll do ribs. I’ll make my own sausage. Those are some of my favorite things to do. If I opened my own restaurant, it would have been a blues and barbeque joint.”

Lately, when he’s not behind a stove or a grill, Thom’s been putting his experience to use helping others. He told us about a partnership he’s helped establish between Spruce Farm and Fish and Bridge House, an organization that has a culinary training program for formerly homeless individuals. With the backing of Frank Day’s Concept Restaurant Group, he’ll be employing graduates from the Bridge House program. “We’re hoping to be part of helping them permanently come off the street. Give them a purpose, a career.”


Josiah Sowell-Boyles – Social Club Pizza
Boulder Social

Boulder Social has moved into the building that once was home to such significant establishments as FATE Brewing Company and Ska Street Brewstillery. These are some weighty shoes to fill, but if anyone can step into them, it’s Frank Day. Judging from the tasting we attended just three days after opening, the shoes fit.

We tried two dishes from opposite ends of the culinary spectrum. The lemony, well-cooked salmon salad is crisp and delicious. The pizza is covered with piping hot cheese and inviting, with innovative flavor combinations courtesy of Chef Josiah Sowell-Boyles. He told us, “I’m constantly trying to do new things. I tried to put our house-made green chili queso on a pizza crust. It didn’t work, but I’m evolving it. Maybe on thin crust.”

Chef Sowell-Boyles shared that this pizza menu was imported from what customers loved at another Frank Day restaurant, Blue Bear Pizza, where he helped to develop their menus. He explained that Blue Bear acted more as a ghost kitchen that provided takeout during Covid, but the restaurant group uses those successful pizzas from that menu in other places, including Boulder Social to the delight of the customers according to Sowell-Boyles. They also will pair perfectly with the beer, which Boulder Social hopes to brew and sell again closer towards the end of the year. With Ska and FATE’s former brew space available, it’s a natural fit.


Mike Simuns – Chipotle and Adobo Biscuit
Biscuits at Mike’s

Chef Simuns radiates positivity. He’ll tell you that, while some in the hospitality industry love cooking, for him, it’s the structure of the job. The fact that he could have great food at the end of the day is a bonus, the icing on the cake. So he jumped at the chance to own and operate a food truck.

But why breakfast? “I love having the chance to be one of people’s first impacts of their day, before they have the chance to have any issues.” He also said he picked breakfast because it was quick and convenient and a “great business to run at a time in my life when I really wanted to cook, for the time of day that I really wanted to cook in.”

Simuns was hard to pin down about what he loved to cook most, and it was hard to move him off the answer of “breakfast as a whole.” He said that to him, biscuits could have just as well been waffles or crepes. His biscuits are an operating system for his meal and can help him keep things versatile, which he considers to be an incredibly important aspect of the job.

It doesn’t get any more versatile at his truck than his chipotle and adobo biscuit, spices that are mixed right into the bread before he bakes it. It can serve as a great base for any of his sandwiches, ranging from bacon, egg, and cheese to honey-fried chicken.


Chris Cunningham – “Ugly Crust” Pizza
The Sink

Like a lot of other chefs, Chris Cunningham found a passion for cooking through his mother who had a bakery. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy in Pittsburgh, he then launched himself into his career in kitchens throughout the country, eventually landing at the soon-to-be centenarian The Sink.

The dish Chef Cunningham loves to talk about is The Sink’s famous (infamous?) “Ugly Crust” pizza. “It’s a Colorado-style pizza with a recipe we’ve had for over 30 years. Mark [Heinritz] and Chris [Heinritz] worked on the recipe when they bought the restaurant. It’s got a honey wheat crust, and we serve honey to dip the crust in when you’re done.”

Cunningham prides himself on the variety that the pizza can come in. Tofu, basil pesto, traditional red sauce, and more. “I would say my favorite is the Slaughterhouse. I’m a Midwest guy. I like meat on my pizza, and it’s got bacon, sausage, pepperoni. Love it!”


Mara King – Kimchi and fermented foods
Dry Storage

We’re big fans of Boulder’s Dry Storage. We set up our computer there and work, order pastry, rye bread, and flour from there, and gaze longingly at their bakery in the Peloton when we are driving down Arapahoe but can’t stop in.

So, we were thrilled to include Mara King, the director of fermentation for Dry Storage and the restaurant group’s other locations including Basta and the Wolf’s Tailor. Aside from working on breads at the mill, she creates other items including Kvass, a non-alcoholic fermented beverage which King called, “bread soda,” and a Danish-style rye bread which sometimes includes currants or cherries.

King worked specifically with Chef Kelly Whitaker to develop her position and support what the businesses are doing with fermented food. In terms of the food that excites her the most, she said “It’s super exciting that we have a kimchi on the menu. It changes seasonally. We made it in the spring with radishes from the MASA Seed Foundation. This fall, I’m going to make a purple napa cabbage kimchi.”


Matt Jansen – A burger and Beaujolais Nouveau
Mateo

A conversation with Matt Jansen, owner of the longstanding Mateo and the newer Raglin Market, includes a lot of discussion about local, clean, sustainable food. We were talking towards the end of summer when Palisade peaches were everywhere, and his first response when asked about his favorite dish was fruit, namely peaches. He’s been using them a lot, including adding them to pizza, putting them over ice cream, or pairing them with house-made mozzarella and grilled bread.

But when the weather cools, he said his menu turns to more savory, heartier food. One item that stands out is his burger with Beaujolais Nouveau, a red wine made from Gamay grapes and traditionally released with a lot of excitement during the third week of November.

“It’s a big highlight for us. We’ve got a very dedicated burger crowd here,” he said. “On Monday nights we do our wood-burning oven with live music, and people get an amazing pizza or they order our burger. Being able to go out for a glass of wine and a burger and sitting on the patio — it’s really something.”


Ryan Finney – Anything made with produce from their garden
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is known for its amazing history and its beautiful interior. It regularly draws notable guests including Governor Polis who comes whenever he can and Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who took a seat at the bar during a trip to visit his mother who lives in the area.

The menu is befitting of their beautiful location, and it was difficult for Chef Finney to choose one item that he liked to prepare over others. Generally, what inspires him is the ability to cook fresh food grown by owner Lenny Martinelli, who also owns Three Leaf Concepts, which features Boulder favorites like Leaf and Chautauqua Dining Hall as well as Zucca and Huckleberry in Louisville. Finney, particularly when we talked to him late summer, appreciated being able to work with the bounty he had available and incorporating it into everything from soups to the Mediterranean Salad to hummus accompaniment. “We get as many as two deliveries a week right now,” he said.

Author

Deborah Cameron
Deb brings a passion for community journalism and for the local food scene. She started out as an intern and over the years grew into our current Cuisine Editor. She has appeared in multiple publications including the Longmont Leader, The Left Hand Valley Courier, Ms. Mayhem, Finance101, and Ask.com. When not writing she's eating, road tripping, dog-parking, or watching high school softball. She moved to Colorado from Seattle in the early 2000s after spending a year traveling the U.S. in a teal Ford Escort hatchback. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a rescue dog named Charlie.

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