When we last connected, it was March 19, 2020. My Nibbles column that day chronicled a surreal late-night trip to the supermarket “for some necessities to make it through the virus shutdown.” I wrote about the empty shelves and went on to recommend various canned tomato options.
I had no idea what we were about to face and I didn’t realize that it would take until June 24, 2021 for Nibbles, a column I’ve written since 1985, to appear in Boulder Weekly again.
Years from now, this time will have an asterisk next to it and our pandemic tales will sound exaggerated to our grandchildren. Before we happily return to dining, gathering and shoulder-to-shoulder market shopping, let’s remember the toll COVID took and how it has transformed every single part of our relationship with food in Boulder County.
That week in March 2020, the restaurants, bars, brewpubs, bakeries and food markets of Boulder County started going dark. When they did partially reopen, we started ordering take-out and delivery from restaurants that would have laughed if you called them for delivery a few weeks earlier. Even fine dining spots turned to fried chicken as we demanded edible comfort versus taste bud entertainment.
When we could finally eat out again, we wore masks and dined outside in inhospitable weather in yurts and fishing shelters. There were roller skating waiters on patios. Alcoholic drinks to-go became legal and it helped save many — but not all — local restaurants.
Longtime favorites are part of Boulder’s dining history — including Zolo Grill, The Med, Brasserie Ten Ten and Riffs Urban Fare, all of which closed in 2020. Also departed are Tahona Tequila Bistro, Bru Handbuilt Ales and Via Perla. Ice cream at the Heifer and the Hen, doughnuts at the Motorrad Cafe and BBQ chicken pies from California Pizza Kitchen are just memories. Numerous eateries inside Rosetta Hall closed along with Lafayette’s Super Mini Walnut Cafe and Samples in Longmont.
At local supermarkets, we sighed and stumbled through the aisles and dealt with masks, social distancing, sanitizing, pasta shortages, higher prices and the sad absence of food sampling. Many turned to online grocery ordering and delivery for the first time only to experience the frustration of never getting exactly what you order, especially toilet paper. Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder, Louisville and Longmont gave up the ghost… again.
The most important culinary impact of the COVID pandemic of ’20-’21 (and maybe ’22) has been personal. Food establishments laid-off thousands of cooks, waiters, bartenders and dishwashers. Those who still worked risked deadly exposure in close quarters and had to cope with customers’ verbal and physical abuse while enforcing health rules. Many essential food workers who kept us fed got sick and are still recovering. I know chefs who lost the ability to taste and smell. Some workers died of COVID during a time when families couldn’t even mourn them in person.
The pandemic has made us face long-standing, uncomfortable issues in the food world including pay inequity in restaurants, food insecurity, food waste, social justice, regenerative agriculture and the treatment of farm workers. Take-out and delivery of food and groceries was a safe alternative, but all that packaging only highlighted the monumental environmental challenges we face putting dinner on the table.
On the plus side, the pandemic did what my 40 years of writing about cooking in Boulder County had not accomplished. It forced thousands of people to rediscover their kitchens, grow a vegetable garden, dine with their families and experience the blissful perfume of sourdough bread baking in the oven.
These painful months have also seen an unprecedented amount of volunteerism and community activism in Boulder to support food workers and to help save businesses. While empty storefronts still abound, a surprising number of restaurants opened during the pandemic despite capacity limits and social distancing.
Tierra y Fuego Taqueria began dishing chicken mole in North Boulder, and Ruby Ru’s Street Eatery started serving bourbon chicken in Lafayette. Shake Shack opened at 29th Street and Edwin Zoe launched Pho Mi next door to his Chimera Ramen. Ash’Kara began dishing modern Israeli fare in the former Pepper/Wild Standard space.
The expansive Avanti Food & Drink was launched, offering a range of eating establishments, while new dining spots started refilling Rosetta Hall. Blofish, Fringe Pizza and The Fork n’ Frijole also took the plunge, and My Friend Felix has filled the former Via Perla space. Up on the Hill, the Waffle Lab, Rosenberg’s Bagels and Pizza 3.14 opened their doors.
As we shed our collective isolation in this New Abnormal, it’s important to know that the danger is not over yet for diners, shoppers or workers. Many of us are not ready or able to dine inside restaurants or willing to take our masks off. The shortage of food service workers means restaurants will have slow service and limited hours for months to come. You may need to live without chicken wings. My simple request is this: Be kind and patient. Be generous. Be of service. It is a joy to get back to eating and cooking with all of you once again.
LOCAL FOOD NEWS
Bruce Randolph Jr., owner of Boulder’s Daddy Bruce BBQ (now Snarfburger), recently passed away, and we also lost the father of Denver’s fine dining scene, Cliff Young. … Breakfast Champion, 4800 Baseline Road, has become Boco Restaurant, serving the same Turkish food and baked goods. … Coming attractions: Barchetta, 1644 Walnut St.; Sherry’s Soda Shoppe, 1262 College Ave., next door to sister biz Rosenberg’s Bagels on the Hill; Moxie Bread Co., 355 Main St., Lyons; Dry Land Distillers’ new distillery and tasting room, 519 Main St., Longmont. … Calling all pie-makers! I’ll be co-judging my first pie contest in two years on July 4 in Jamestown, tinyurl.com/july4piecontest. … Send Boulder County culinary news and information about food events, tastings, farm dinners, classes and festivals to: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com
WORDS TO CHEW ON
“Summer cooking implies a sense of immediacy, a capacity to capture the essence of a fleeting moment.” —Elizabeth David
John Lehndorff is Boulder Weekly’s food editor. He is the former food editor of the Daily Camera and dining critic for the Rocky Mountain News.