While music is often referred to as the “universal language,” that label could also easily apply to food.
From perfectly spiced bowls of curry to airy focaccia, topped with fresh sprigs of rosemary, and sweet lobster rolls, culinary offerings have the ability to stir intoxicating memories of home, loved ones and travels.
First Bite — the Front Range’s multi-day celebration of cuisine — returns for its 17th year, kicking off Friday and stretching to Oct. 9.
Delivering a variety of menus from over 30 eateries, this upcoming 10-day event truly offers something for every — discerning — palate.
“We are truly honored to produce this event for the 17th year, particularly after the past few years,” said Jessica Benjamin, director of First Bite. “It’s been a wild ride these past two years — helping restaurants stay afloat and meeting so many new faces that have opened up in the last year.”
First Bite organizers have retired the term “restaurant week” and have abolished any particular price point allowing for creativity and inclusivity to flourish.
“This freedom allows chefs to serve whatever they are excited about in whatever way makes sense for their restaurant — and at the price the market demands,” Benjamin said. “It’s been very interesting to see what restaurants have embraced this freedom.”
The Sink, The Hill’s beloved burger joint that has been serving up crispy fries since the early 1920s, has crafted meals and deals specifically for First Bite.
“It’s been quite a while since we’ve participated, and we’re looking forward to inviting Boulder locals back to The Sink — and also introducing our famous Sinkburgers and signature pizzas to a new audience,” said owner Mark Heinritz. “Diners can expect to get the whole Sink experience during First Bite. They’ll be sure to find something their date, friends and the entire family will enjoy at an affordable price.”
The Sink is offering a “Burger Date Night” with two signature Sinkburgers, any two sides and two drinks — either alcoholic of non — for $42 ($21 per person.)
A family-style dinner for four includes a large signature pizza, large mac and cheese and large garden or Caesar salad for $50, which breaks down to $12.50 per person.
First Bite is also a time when restaurateurs can show love to others in their industry.
“We’re thrilled our friends and neighbors next door at Café Aion are also participating,” Heinritz said. “I am looking forward to supporting them by trying their special brunch and dinner menu offerings. We hope Boulder locals will make The Hill a new stop on their regular culinary adventures.”
From Boulder’s oldest neighborhood restaurant to Gemini — a Spanish eatery that opened on the Pearl Street Mall in November 2021 — the variety of establishments curating special menus for First Bite remains diverse.
“We are excited about First Bite because we get a chance to make new friends and we also get to eat a bunch of great new food around town,” said Michael Mehiel, one of the owners of Gemini. “If it’s as much fun as First Sip, it is sure to be a good time.”
Back in late April, Gemini participated in the inaugural First Sip — a cocktail-focused event put on by First Bite.
Gemini continues to receive praise for its evolving wine selection and contemporary Spanish food.
From savory Spanish omelets to thin slices of dry-cured jamon and house-made pickled vegetables that grace perfectly balanced charcuterie boards, the dishes remain crowd-pleasers.
For First Bite, Chef Brian Pierce has created a menu of croquette de chorizo, burrata and heirloom tomato crostini, a salad made with arugula, kohlrabi, manchego, walnuts and rose vinegar.
For the main course, diners can pick either the prawns a la plancha with arroz negro, chorizo, squid ink and chili crisp or grilled leg of lamb with pearl couscous and pine nut gremolata.
Ending with a seasonal sorbet, this meal is available for $38 for lunch or dinner.
“Brand new items on the menu include the kohlrabi salad and the leg of lamb,” Mehiel said. “We are loving the break in the weather and the produce that comes with it.”
A few First Bite restaurants can be found outside of Boulder. The newly opened Marigold, in Lyons, 740 Front, in Louisville, and Busey Brews Smokehouse & Brewery, in Nederland, are all participating.
Farow, located in Niwot, has been serving up fare rich with a local essence since last September.
At the restaurant, located in the space that once housed Lucky Pie, 90% of ingredients used are sourced within a 10-mile radius.
“It takes a lot of extra work to source from farms and to only rely on what we can get within 10 miles of the restaurant, especially in the cooler months,” said Lisa Balcom, owner and pastry chef who runs the restaurant with her husband Chef Patrick Balcom. “Colorado’s climate can be so fickle, and you never really know when you’re going to have certain ingredients from one week to the next — and sometimes one day to the next.”
While the “buy local” commitment remains one that can present certain challenges, the Balcoms are fully onboard with sticking with the top-notch goods of regional ranches and farmers.
“We don’t have accounts with any of the big food purveyors, so there’s really no straying from our mission,” Balcom said. “At the end of the day, what’s seasonal and only travelling a few short miles to the restaurant is such a higher quality than something shipped from California or Mexico.”
Farow was recently voted Boulder County’s best new restaurant by Boulder Weekly.
“I think the freshness really shines through in all of our dishes,” Balcom said. “It’s a joy knowing the face, name and having a personal relationship with everyone we purchase our ingredients from. It fosters a real sense of community, and that’s what we really set out to achieve.”
For First Bite, Farow is offering warm cabbage salad with cilantro vinaigrette, dukkah and whipped chevre, as well as pork belly with caraway-roasted carrots, smoked apple, sweet pepper relish and crispy wheat berries.
No meal would be complete without a tantalizing sweet, and Balcom will offer a delicious baked good that is perfect for the autumnal season.
Apple-cider doughnuts with baharat anglaise, bourbon hard sauce and cider gastrique will certainly rival the ones found at Dunkin’.
“We have a very talented culinary team to bring you the tastiest dishes, a stellar wine list and pairings to complement that and an amazing service team excited to make our three-course tasting menu fun,” Balcom said.
The three-course tasting menu is $45. Optional wine pairings are $20.
“We’ll also have a special Coravin wine menu with flights available for those who love wine and want to try some really cool allocated wines,” Balcom said.
Balcom hopes the First Bite menu entices people to visit her and her husband’s eatery that also boasts a lovely tree-laden patio with blooms.
“I’m really hoping to introduce more of our community to our food, concept and team and to showcase some special dishes and wines to our current fans too,” Balcom said.
From traditional American fare to exotic creations, there is no limit to what one can expect on a First Bite menu.
“Corrida is featuring a brunch menu this year, as well as a tapas flight and wine pairing instead of an expected multi-course menu,” Benjamin said. “Japango also is serving up two ways to enjoy a chef-trio selection of sushi that will only be available during First Bite.”
While First Bite doesn’t officially kick off until Friday, foodies have already been getting a delicious sampling of what to expect during tasting tours.
“Each establishment we visited served a small dish and a half-a-drink, so it was a great way to explore several places and taste a bunch of different dishes in one night,” Benjamin said.
The tasting tour participants were Spruce Farm & Fish, Savory Spice Shop, Gemini and Rooted Craft Kitchen at Avanti F&B.
“They all really put on a show,” Benjamin said. “It’s also such a special way to meet new people. We had diners from Boulder, Louisville, Denver, Thornton, Arvada and Longmont with us, all with interesting stories on where they are from and what they enjoy in our community.”
Although First Bite is traditionally thought of as an evening outing, this year’s offerings make it possible to enjoy menus at other points in the day.
“With now having brunch and lunch options, as well as dinner, the options are bountiful and the real question just comes down to, ‘What do you feel like eating?’” Benjamin said.
During the pandemic, Benjamin penned “A Bite of Boulder” cookbook that featured recipes from Front Range restaurants, with proceeds from sales going back to those eateries.
With the upcoming First Bite, she continues to shine a light on eateries that have been Boulder staples and those that are just now emerging.
“This year’s lineup is a fantastic mix of brand new restaurants and pillars of Boulder’s dining scene for the last 10 years,” Benjamin said. “The Boulder Cork and The Greenbriar Inn have participated in First Bite every year we’ve hosted our event, and both underwent a big change this past year with getting a new head chef. This is a great opportunity to go visit these iconic restaurants again.”
New this year is the Industry Icon Award that will honor front-of-house and back-of-house staff members from a 2022 First Bite restaurant.
“First Bite is dedicated to recognizing all the parts of what make our vibrant restaurant scene incredible, and a large part of that is the people,” Benjamin said. “Boulder is full of restaurant workers who consistently provide genuine hospitality, delicious food and hard work night in and night out.”
The 10 days of grazing allow folks to experience one of Colorado’s most sought-out dining scenes in a new way. Best of all, no tickets are necessary to get in on the culinary adventure. Restaurants are accepting reservations.
“We hope diners will come explore, taste and celebrate these incredible restaurants of Boulder County,” Benjamin said. “We hope there are new memories made, a new-to-you restaurant discovered and absolutely the desire to come back to dine again.”
Click the restaurant below to view its First Bite menu:
740 FrontAsh’KaraAvanti F&BBastaBohemian BiergartenBoulder CorkBoulder SocialBrasserie Boulder (Café Aion’s Ghost Kitchen)Busey Brews Smokehouse & BreweryCafé AionThe Corner BarCorridaDagabi CucinaDry StorageFarowFrank’s ChophouseGeminiThe Greenbriar InnJapangoJill’s Restaurant & BistroMarigoldOAK at FourteenthRaglin MarketRiver and WoodsSALTSforno TrattoriaSpruce Farm & FishSteakhouse No. 316Süti & Co.