Monday through Friday, Lafayette’s Off Campus Cafe is a great place to wake up with pancakes, eggs and well-made lattes. A lunch line forms early for sandwiches, soup and salad at this classic office park eatery tucked away near Intermountain Health Good Samaritan Hospital.
On the weekend, the menu at Off Campus Cafe expands. Foodies are discovering the restaurant’s blackboard roster of rare regional Mexican dishes ranging from panuchos and salbute to cochinita pibil and crimson-hued shrimp with a side of fiery habanero sauce.
Boulder County’s many Mexican restaurants offer specialties from Juarez to Baja and Oaxaca, but the Off Campus Cafe serves perhaps the least known regional cuisine of Mexico. The relatively isolated Yucatan area has a strong Mayan culture and culinary delights unique to the area. It’s the food that Mariano and Norma Rodriguez grew up on there and fed their son, Santiago. As soon as the family bought the Off Campus Cafe about a year ago, they began offering the homestyle dishes that Norma cooks on Saturdays and Sundays.
Mariano happily introduces newbies to the nuances of the Yucatecan fare. Panuchos and salbutes are almost always available, each made with fresh masa (cornmeal) and manteca (lard). For panuchos, a freshly fried tortilla is stuffed with refried black beans and lightly fried again until crispy and topped with pork, pickled red onion and avocado. Salbutes have the toppings but not the bean filling.
Cochinita pibil is the signature Yucatecan contribution to the wonderful world of pulled pork pleasure. Mariano says the pork shoulder is coated in a distinctively red paste made from ground achiote (annatto seed), garlic, chile and citrus juice before roasting for 12 hours.
The tender, crave-worthy meat is served simply in freshly made corn tortillas or in a torta topped with pickled red onion.
New to the eatery’s secret menu is Yucatecan shrimp. Marinated with achiote, sauteed in garlic and butter and dished with cucumber slices and a mound of steamed rice, the plump shell-on on shrimp are nearly irresistible.
The Off Campus Cafe’s large regular menu also holds some surprises. The breakfast burrito is a major meat-filled meal smothered in a satisfying green chile sauce.
Huevos rancheros appear on almost every menu in town, but this version is a little different. It’s more like nachos or chilaquiles with corn chips cooked in pork green chili and crowned with chorizo, avocado, pico de gallo, cheese, refried black beans and eggs.
According to Mariano, other Yucatan dishes will make their way onto the menu, but says all are labor-intensive, scratch-made specialties that stretch the resources of the small family staff. These can include roasted sucking pig, banana leaf-wrapped tamales, a ham-filled sweet flaky pastry as well as kibis, a remarkable fried meat and grain street food influenced by Lebanese immigrants.
If you’re lucky, your discoveries the weekend you eat at the Off Campus Café may include ayote en miel, a modest dessert of pumpkin or yam slow-simmered in a syrup lightly spiced with cinnamon.
Taste of the Week: Dannon’s Dreamy Coffee
One can reasonably ask: What sort of person buys four coffee yogurts and tastes them side by side? I was hooked on the flavor from the instant coffee (with creamer and sugar) and milky iced coffee I started drinking as a teenager, and from Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.
For decades, the only coffee yogurt available was the seldom-seen treat from Dannon. Choices have expanded in recent years, thanks to Starbucks which has hooked America on that magical fusion of cream, sugar and caffeination.
The next-gen coffee-flavored yogurts are far from the same, as I learned when I tasted them side by side. Look at the small container of the latest entry, Haagen Dazs Coffee, and you will not find the word “yogurt.” This is crème fraiche, a cultured cream cousin to sour cream. Haagen-Dazs boasts a rich, dark coffee flavor and significant sweetness. It has a texture so rich and dense you could use it as cookie dip or cake filling.
My go-to for a while, Chobani Coffee Greek Yogurt, is also thick and creamy, but less intense than Haagen-Dazs when it comes to creaminess, coffee flavor and sweetness.
Icelandic Provisions Extra Creamy Cold Brew Coffee Skyr is a creamy yogurt delight with a silkiness similar to Colorado-made Noosa Yogurt, which offers a hard-to-find coffee flavor.
Finally, I tasted Dannon Lowfat Coffee Yogurt. I have to admit that my old familiar favorite suffers by direct comparison: Much less creamy, less intense coffee flavor and sweetness. That said, Dannon remains a perfect gateway coffee cultured milk product.
Local Food News: 2024 Dining Attractions
Born in Longmont as a food cart, Denver’s Sắp Sửa Vietnamese eatery is the only Colorado spot included in Esquire’s 2023 list of the fifty Best New Restaurants in America.
Coming soon: Ruzo Coffee, 3980 Broadway, former site of Cilantro Mexican Restaurant. Teocalli Cocina — with locations in Lafayette and Arvada — will open a third spot in a historic building at 460 Main St. in Longmont. The folks behind T/Aco and River and Woods will open a new eatery in Niwot’s historic Bader House, which formerly housed part of Colterra restaurant.
Nibbles Index: Tabletop Cell Ban
Cellphone use during shared mealtimes is disliked by 65% of consumers, according to a recent Acosta Group survey.
Etiquette experts say that the appropriate spot to place your cellphone on a properly set table is to the left and slightly below the bread plate. (Just kidding. Cellphones have NO place at the dinner table!)
Words to Chew On: Food and Faith
“Food to a large extent is what holds a society together and eating is closely linked to deep spiritual experiences.” – From Consuming Passions’: The Anthropology of Eating by Peter Farb and George Armelagos
John Lehndorff hosts Kitchen Table Talk with Chef Dan Asher on KGNU. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org