Food 2 stars
Service 2 stars
Ambience 2.5 stars
Boulder Baked, the downtown Boulder bakery and cafe, has some good ideas. Take their fresh-baked cookies. You know how display-case cookies can be hard and dry? Boulder Baked gets rid of that problem. You choose which of the more than 24 varieties you want, and they bake them right there.
“But you have to order a bunch, right?” I asked the server. I just couldn’t imagine they’d bother with a single cookie.
“No,” he said. “You can order just one.”
So I ordered two: the chocolate chip mint and the Heath Nut crunch, at $1.10 each. Twelve minutes later they arrived at my table, warm and soft and gooey.
The freshly baked cookies are definitely a good idea. But I’m not so sure about other things, like the bakery’s name. It seems to allude to marijuana (Boulder Baked — get it?) and whether or not this allusion is deliberate, it doesn’t seem entirely lost on the staff. A stack of newsletters touting marijuana’s medical benefits sits on a counter. And one server wore a T-shirt that said something like “It’s Got to be 4:20 Somewhere.”
Now, a disclaimer. While I have nothing against marijuana itself, I am quickly exasperated by any coy references to one’s own pot habit. Thus my first instinct, upon seeing the server’s T-shirt, was to point out that if it was 5:07 in Boulder it wasn’t 4:20 anywhere on the planet. I restrained myself, but I say all this to acknowledge a severe bias. It’s perfectly possible that others find the subtle pot references at Boulder Baked appealing. In fact, I’m sure the group of high-school boys sitting next to me had no problem feeling the stoner love.
Anyway, back to the food. In September 2008, Boulder Baked moved from a location on the Hill to its present spot on Broadway near Pearl Street, and the menu expanded in conjunction with this move. The bakery now serves more savory fare like soups and sandwiches in addition to the aforementioned cookies, cakes, pies and regular and vegan cupcakes.
As for soups ($2.75 for 8 ounces), the Texas chili is a standard version of the dish, with lots of ground beef. It has enough spice to heat you up, but it won’t scald your taste buds. The tomato bisque is thinner than some versions, yet it has a pleasing balance of acidity and creaminess. The only soup that fell short was the tomato tortellini, in which the pasta arrived in a clump.
The three sandwiches I sampled at Boulder Baked all featured white bread grilled to a golden spot in the middle, with cheese oozing out the ends. (Sandwiches are $4.20 to $6.25, with discounts if you also order soup.) The Italian sandwich had red peppers, provolone and some lackluster ham and salami. I preferred the grilled cheese and the tuna melt over the Italian. The grilled cheese was hot and slightly greasy, the sort of dish one craves around midnight. The tuna melt is a’70s-style classic. No seared tuna steaks here — just the good old canned stuff with mayonnaise, melted cheddar, pickle bits and sliced celery. It’s drippy and soft and wonderful, if you like that sort of thing.
Although Boulder Baked is primarily a bakery, the savory fare sometimes tastes better than the desserts. These can suffer from being too sweet or too uniform in taste. The blueberry milkshake ($4.25), for instance, does include real blueberries, but the sugary base makes them hard to detect. The moist strawberry shortcake cupcake ($2.50) also has too much artificial sweetness. As for those fresh-baked cookies, the Heath bar one is cloyingly sweet, while the mint chocolate chip version is better. The bakery clearly has a brilliant idea with its made-to-order cookies, but it would do well to tweak some of its dessert recipes so you want more than a few bites.
As for ambience, the eating area is clean and colorful. Vases of fresh flowers sit in alcoves along the walls. In one corner is a signed poster of the Denver Broncos cheerleaders, several of whom are fans of the bakery.
Boulder Baked probably won’t win any culinary awards for its food. But it is a great spot to know about if you find yourself hungry near Pearl Street late at night. In fact, I suspect I’ll be back sometime for a cookie. I’ll be lured in by the smells of fresh baking, by air that’s sweet and scented, by a substance that’s luscious and enticing — and one that even Bill Clinton can admit to inhaling.
Contact Camera Dining Critic Meg Tilton at firstname.lastname@example.org