The Front Range food scene has consistently offered dishes and cocktails bursting with inventive flavor, vibrant notes and locally grown provisions.
“I am most looking forward to seeing the whole community come together to celebrate our dining scene,” said Jessica Benjamin, First Bite’s founder. “The past 18 months have been so trying, so having a reason to come out to party, try new restaurants, gather with friends you maybe haven’t seen, it generates such an amazing energy.”
Over 30 eateries are participating in this culinary tradition, showcasing must-try grub at price points that range from $20.95-$49.
“This energy fuels everyone who participates — the diners, the restaurants and the local business community,” Benjamin said. “I also think it reminds us that we are resilient and deeply connected to each other and that each link of the food system is something we are impacted by.”
During the pandemic, First Bite poured its work into crafting a cookbook featuring recipes from restaurants throughout the Front Range. In addition to spicing up dinner during a time when dining out was significantly dwindling due to the fear of COVID spreading, sales of the book went to help area restaurants survive during closures and restrictions.
“We have loved connecting with diners in a new way through the cookbook,” Benjamin said. “It’s raised over $85,000 for the restaurants so far and we have our last few hundred copies left to sell.”
First Bite: Boulder Restaurant Week also has a charitable element.
First Bite has partnered with Nosh Boulder, a locally owned delivery service who, through its Give Back Mondays program, donates 10% to a variety of local nonprofits.
During Restaurant Week, 10% of all of Nosh’s orders — even for restaurants not participating in First Bite — will be donated to Emergency Family Assistance Association.
“It’s really important to me that we continue to look holistically at how to keep strengthening our community,” Benjamin said. “We are only as strong as our most vulnerable people and industries. So, incorporating a philanthropic giving aspect into an event that generates such a solid economic impact is really vital. Our economic impact in 2019 was over $500,000 for Boulder.”
Benjamin hopes to raise at least $2,000 for EFAA.
Josh Dinar — owner of River and Woods and the newly opened Ash’Kara on West Pearl Street — is excited to have two eateries participating with meals designed by Chef Daniel Asher.
“I’m really looking forward to Ash’Kara’s menu as well as getting a chance to try some of the other newcomers who have bravely opened their doors during a difficult period,” Dinar said.
The Restaurant Week menu at River and Woods offers Montreal duck wings, bacon-wrapped dates, deviled eggs, Ole Hickory St. Louis Ribs and other fare.
“The inspiration for our First Bite menu comes from a desire to present a beautifully balanced dining experience that showcases the reimagined comfort food we love to highlight,” said Asher. “It is impossible to make a bad decision and the menu reflects some of our all-time guest favorites, alongside some beautiful early fall local ingredients showcasing some of our farm and ranch partners.”
Cuisine also pays homage to a dish that was served at former establishment John’s Restaurant — a Boulder staple that used to operate out of 2328 Pearl St. — where River and Woods is located now.
“Since it’s River and Woods’ five-year anniversary, I have to say, I’m always a softie for the John’s Gnocchi dish that’s featured on the River and Wood’s First Bite Menu,” Dinar said. “It’s a secret recipe that was passed on to us from John’s Restaurant to our team. It never disappoints, screams comfort food and is a perfect fall weather meal. That and, of course, our famous molten cinnamon and chocolate churros for dessert.”
New this year, First Bite organizers have decided to extend the dining options beyond evenings and offer meals featuring refreshing mimosas, luscious egg dishes, decked-out waffles and more.
“What foodie doesn’t love brunch?” Benjamin said. “This town is loaded with amazing brunch locales and often they are so packed you have to be an early bird or willing to wait a bit to dine. I am really excited that the participating brunch restaurants are ones that you may not think of first, when you plan brunch out on the town. All of them are including a drink and are super reasonably priced, so it makes it easy to go out both Saturday and Sunday.”
Centro Mexican Kitchen and Café Aion are a couple of the eateries offering brunch.
Boulder’s restaurant scene — built on farm-to-table ideals — is such an intricate aspect of what makes the area a sought-after destination for foodies. Those in the industry are more than ready to showcase new dining options.
“The restaurants were really enthusiastic to hear Restaurant Week would be back,” Benjamin said. “The past 18 months has just been hell for them, so they are eager to have some fun and celebrate making it through with their amazing local diners. What has been really great to see is that we had several restaurants join First Bite that have never done it before — 37% of our restaurants are brand new to First Bite.”
This year, Benjamin took away the rules and is allowing eateries to craft any offering they would like. The creative freedom has drawn restaurateurs like Peter Waters, owner of T/aco at 1175 Walnut St., on the Pearl Street Mall.
“Working with First Bite will give us a very unique opportunity to offer up our favorite guests a new and original way to enjoy dinner at T/aco,” Waters said. “We are incredibly excited to invite Boulder to join us this fall for the return of First Bite. We will be waiting with open arms and tacos for days.”
Some restaurants are including drinks, special add-ons of prices or making a shareable family-style menu.
“More than anything, food is a language that helps us communicate across cultures,” Benjamin said. “When we sit down with people to have a meal, it is through the time we spend together and the food we experience that we share love. This is why I say ‘food is love.’”
Several participating First Bite restaurants have found inspiration in the goat-milk caramel sauces of Table Mountain Farm, a Longmont-based purveyor of delicious sweets.
“We are very honored to be a sponsor of Boulder Restaurant Week and be included in restaurant dishes this year,” said Amanda Adare, founder of Table Mountain Farm. “Restaurants have gone through such a difficult time this past year and we wanted to celebrate them and give back by providing our sauces at cost for them to play with and their customers to enjoy.”
Chefs from The Greenbriar Inn, Dagabi Cucina, Japango and The Empire Lounge and Restaurant will be using Table Mountain Farm Caramel in one of their First Bite desserts in honor of the event’s 16th year.
“I wish I could be like our goats with four stomachs and get to eat at every one of them,” Adare said. “We will absolutely be going to several restaurants and support all of the restaurants in any way we can.”
Table Mountain’s variety of flavors, ranging from vanilla bean to salted dark chocolate, complement a number of dishes and are often sought out by chefs.
“We always feel a bit biased to our favorite farm neighborhood restaurant, The Greenbriar,” Adare said. “They’ve used our sauces for over a year now and are so creative with their dishes. Everything they create is made to perfection and I can never get enough.”
The Empire Lounge and Restaurant — based in Louisville — is using the caramel sauce in an apple walnut cake.
“I have to admit, that is my absolute favorite use of our sauces,” Adare said. “I may order a few rounds of their dessert.”
Adare, who runs the farm with her husband Andrew Adare, has once again crafted a limited-release sauce that can be obtained by ordering directly from the company, although shoppers may possibly find it on the shelves of a few stores during the winter holiday season.
“We have just released a flavor that is laborious to create but is the best flavor yet, Irish Coffee,” Adare said. “Fair Trade coffee beans steep for five hours as our goats’ milk boils and reduces to a sauce, allowing for the most rich coffee flavor. We then make our own Baileys to add at the end. The combination is completely divine and perfectly balanced.”
Longmont’s ‘cheers to 150 years’
Longmont Restaurant Week — established in 2018— is also returning with close to 40 participants, including The Roost, Martinis Bistro, Jefes, Flavor of India and many other notable spots.
“I am so excited to be back to the original form of Longmont Restaurant Week with specialty menus at the original price point of $18.71 in honor of Longmont’s founding as the Chicago Colony in 1871,” said Karen Stallard, membership director of the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce.
An additional price point of $28.71 is also being offered.
And restaurants aren’t the only participants delivering unique experiences sure to dazzle taste buds. Dry Land Distillers will offer mouthwatering charcuterie boxes from GB Culinary along with drink specials.
On Oct. 17, at 5:30 p.m., visitors to the distillery can enjoy six spirits from Dry Land and six chocolates from Moksha Chocolate — Boulder’s bean-to-bar chocolate company.
“For Longmont’s 150th birthday this year, we also have some great special offerings from eight local drinkeries saying ‘cheers to 150 years,’ launching at the start of Longmont Restaurant Week,” Stallard said.
Like First Bite, Longmont Restaurant Week is also rooted in giving back.
The Food Truck Cup — a “Top Chef”-style showdown where food trucks compete for a trophy decided by live votes — benefits Longmont Food Rescue. It will take place Oct. 16 from 2-7 p.m. at St. Vrain Cidery and feature live music from Blackjack Gravy and Shadow Side. Participating food trucks include returning 2019 champ Nacho Mama’s Tacos, Hurry 4 Curry, FED Boulder and The Maine Event.
Tickets are $28.71 and that price covers a taste from all four food trucks and three beverages. Folks also have the option of purchasing a $10 entry ticket and order from food trucks separately. Kids age 5 and under get in free.
Abbott & Wallace Distilling, St. Vrain Cidery and Outworld Brewing will be serving drinks to pair with the appetizers from food truck contestants.
“This event was the largest fundraiser for Longmont Food Rescue in 2019 and we would love to bring that same support to an organization supporting access to and equity to food in Longmont,” Stallard said.
Given the economic strain the pandemic placed on families, organizers are hoping to make even a larger impact.
“This event has an additional goal this year as we work with the JM Smucker Company — the presenting sponsor of Food Truck Cup — to hit a community engagement goal unlocking a donation of up to 15,000 Uncrustable sandwiches to Longmont Food Rescue and other organizations who support our community.”
Amy and Chad Neb and Mary Colwell of Dwellings Colorado Real Estate, all Longmont-based, are the event’s presenting sponsors.
“The big takeaway is that our community has made it this far by supporting one another and this event is a celebration and a testament to that,” Stallard said. “We hope Longmont joins us for a chance to enjoy amazing food with amazing people and raise a glass to our resilient community.”