When a space has been a restaurant almost continuously for nearly 75 years, it retains echoes of all the people who’ve eaten and worked there and all the meals they’ve had.
The first time I ate in the space at 1047 Pearl St., I sat by a window inside Tom’s Tavern across from the bar and had a cheeseburger with fries and macaroni salad. I had just arrived in 1976 and the beer to try was the only Colorado brew: Coors Banquet.
The most recent meal I ate there was the first night Salt restaurant had been open since it went into hibernation around Thanksgiving Day, 2020. I ended up seated in the same spot I occupied at Tom’s Tavern.
I’d forgotten the pleasures: the glow of candles, the cocktails, the good bread and butter, the hot plates, the soft murmur, clatter and clink in the background and the smiling service. I’d forgotten the joy of not cooking, of not eating takeout from a plastic dish and of not doing the dishes.
My notes from that night included this statement:
“I’m not sure if I remember how to do this.”
It was a surprising thing for a former professional dining critic to admit.
I sat there sighing over perfect black mussels steamed with San Marzano tomatoes and vermouth, a Tuscan bean soup with sofrito, olive oil and rosemary. The Cara Cara orange and shaved fennel salad was coup de grace-d with a topping of crunchy-creamy polenta croutons.
Bradford Heap grew up in Boulder eating at Tom’s Tavern, attending Fairview High School and cooking in local eateries before heading to California. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America where Julia Child told his graduating class to “cook with the masters.” He trained in France and Monaco before returning to Boulder.
I encountered him in the early 1990s when he began cooking at the Pearl Street Inn and I was the food editor at the Daily Camera. With partners, he went on to serve his fare at Chautauqua Dining Hall, Colterra in Niwot, Full Moon Grill, Wild Standard and Pepper the Noshery.
In February 2020, the chef had only one restaurant left, Salt, and it was busy and doing well.
“Then one day they said: ‘No more indoor dining.’ We had 46 people working and could only keep five or six to try and do the to-go program. Everyone was laid off,” Heap says. “Then in November we just closed our doors.”
After a dark winter of self-reflection, he started the process of reopening Salt in the spring with a new menu and a new service model that made pay more equitable for workers in the kitchen. With all the changes, he says he lost most of his managers and some servers. As he started to rebuild a staff he faced the restaurant worker shortage every Boulder eatery now deals with.
The new lean reality means that the owner is wearing an apron again. “I’m not 40 anymore, but at 60 I’m proud that I can cook on the line and keep up,” he says.
After his professional near-death experience, Heap still remains an advocate for sustainable, equitable and locally sourced food, but with a human emphasis.
“I’ve changed. I used to say, ‘Do good and do well,’ but I was mostly talking about the environment. Now, it’s about the people, too. I’m so grateful for these people that put in so much effort getting Salt open again,” Heap says.
The chef has had a thing for lamb since he opened his first eatery and his simplified French- and Italian-influenced menu includes a fall-apart braised Buckner lamb with penne pasta, Parmesan and garlic-seared chard.
Heap’s steaks, gnocchi Bolognese and cacciucco (a Tuscan seafood-packed stew) are popular so far, but Salt’s top-sellers still include a comfy culinary echo.
The Tom’s Burger is a juicy grilled grass-fed patty on a brioche bun with cheddar, house-made ketchup, bacon jam and fresh-cut fries — a good match with an Upslope Craft Lager.
It’s a fitting, upscale and sustainable homage to Boulder’s evolving dining history.
LOCAL FOOD NEWS
Murphy’s North, 2731 Iris Ave., has closed after 37 years in business. Murphy’s South and Murphy’s Taproom in Louisville remain open. … Sisters Jessica, Jill and Jennifer Emich have announced that Shine Restaurant will close on July 9. … Opening this fall: Farrow Restaurant, 7916 Niwot Road, Niwot. …Recent openings: Famille French bistro in Westminster’s Origin Hotel. … Lafayette’s Tip Top Savory Pies is opening a second shop at 6565 Gunpark Drive in Gunbarrel. … License No. 1 officially reopens July 8 in the Hotel Boulderado. … The Boulder County Farmers Market is open for in-person shopping in Boulder, Longmont and Denver, but if you aren’t ready to arm wrestle for arugula yet, online ordering and curbside pickup are still available. bcfm.org … Send Boulder County culinary news, and information about food events, tastings, farm dinners, classes and festivals to: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com
TASTE OF THE WEEK
I pulled off U.S. 287 in Lafayette as soon as I saw the sign for “Charcuterie.” The recently opened Al’s Artisanal Meats and Cheeses (489 N. US-287) offers freshly sliced artisan meats and cheeses, charcuterie boards, imported foods and a single sandwich of the day. When I stopped in it was an exceptionally tasty layering of finocchiona salami, cotto salami, buffet ham and hot sopressata with Dijon pesto and extra mature Cheddar cheese on a chewy loaf from Parker’s La Baguette De Normandy.
WORDS TO CHEW ON
“Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.” —Anthony Bourdain
John Lehndorff is the Boulder Weekly’s Food Editor. Comments: