There is a lot to loathe about services like Blue Apron that deliver meal prep boxes. During the height of the pandemic, lots of us tried these services out only to be appalled by the pile of plastic trash and cardboard left behind. Convenience was nice, but many of the bagged ingredients didn’t seem to be local, in-season or sustainably produced.
At the price, the meal boxes seemed like a waste, literally and figuratively.
When a new boxed-meal service came to town recently with a promise to shift the paradigm and deliver food in a saner way, healthy skepticism was in order. Spade & Spoon delivers local-first, sustainably oriented meal kits weekly to homes from Denver to Fort Collins, with its largest concentration of customers in Boulder.
“Our goal is to serve a region and get as much good food delivered from that place to homes as possible,” says Joy Rubey, who founded Spade & Spoon in Denver in 2022. The meals come with freezer packs and recycled boxes that can be returned and reused.
When I decided to try out Spade & Spoon recently, it was clear that the service was not a startup figuring out logistics on the fly. It was hard not to be impressed by the thoughtfulness behind everything from the ordering system to the recipes.
That’s because Rubey and her company had already spent more than a decade figuring out the details.
Feeding families, saving farms
In 2011, Rubey was an architect and mom of a 2-year-old, trying to market produce from her husband’s farm in Washington state at farmers markets.
“When the farmers markets shut down for the season, for so many food people it shuts down their income,” she says. “How do you build a sustainable business that way?”
At the same time, Rubey was on the other side of the food equation. “I wanted to serve good healthy food to my family, but I wasn’t an excellent cook. I didn’t have time to shop or meal plan,” she says.
The answer to both problems came together in Acme Farms + Kitchen. Opened in 2011 in the Pacific Northwest, it was one of the nation’s first local-first meal kit delivery services.
“We felt like we could move a lot of local food if we made it easy on the farmers and producers, minimized packaging and food waste, and made it easy to access for consumers and affordable,” Rubey says.
The system was dialed in and road-tested before Spade & Spoon was launched in Colorado.
First, this isn’t for you if you need instant gratification and can’t plan meals ahead.
“We chose from the beginning not to do quick delivery on demand,” Rubey says. “We do that for sustainability and for the producers. Customers order a week ahead. The farms and producers only make what we order so there’s no waste or returns. We keep farmers on the farm and producers in the kitchen by doing all the pickup and delivery.”
By only delivering once a week, the number of delivery trips to the same neighborhoods is reduced, she says.
How to unbox a local meal
I put aside my qualms and shopped a week ahead of time for a Spade & Spoon box. The ordering portal offered one-time delivery or a subscription service.
With a weekly menu of 18 to 20 rotating meals drawn from a roster of more than 900 chef-tested recipes, Spade & Spoon customers can choose à la carte meals or pre-selected themed boxes such as vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and gluten and dairy free. The Family Classics Box includes three meals that serve four people each.
Ingredients are primarily sourced from dozens of Colorado’s family farmers, ranchers, bakers and artisan food and beverage makers, including Buckner Family Farms, Haystack Mountain cheese, Pastificio and Project Umami.
When my box arrived, it was a little like Christmas or one of those unboxing videos on YouTube.
My Spade & Spoon order featured an easy pasta meal from Denver’s Sfoglina. I dropped nests of their fresh mafaldine — long ribbony noodles made from semolina and turkey red heirloom wheat — into boiling salted water. After draining, I simmered them in Sfoglina’s ready-to-heat Bolognese sauce. It was so thick with local ground beef and pork, I thinned it out with the tasty pasta cooking water.
Topped with grated Parmesan, the hearty herbed flavor of the sauce filled the chewy ruffles on the pasta making for a truly happy meal. Extra sauce topped slices of true sourdough bread baked by Denver’s Hearth Bakery using Moxie Bread Co. flour.
As a biscuit lover, I had to order the kit with freshly made biscuit mix, dated and packed in a paper sack. The recipe turned out perfectly fluffy biscuits ready for unsalted butter and a jar of Bjorn’s Colorado Honey.
The most complicated dish was saag tofu or bean curd in curried spinach sauce. Firm tofu, fresh spinach and collard greens, tomato paste, cashews, fresh ginger and garlic cloves plus basmati rice and a spice blend were provided. The only item required from my pantry was vegetable oil, but I opted to use the optional vegetable broth and coconut cream.
Yes, there were multiple prep and cooking steps requiring attention to detail, but it was more than worth it for a high-flavor feast.
As someone who has written, edited and published hundreds of recipes, I enjoyed the fact that the accompanying Spade & Spoon recipes were well written in clear steps. They detailed what is supplied, what the cook needs from the pantry and optional ingredients that can be added.
Recently, Spade & Spoon’s online marketplace expanded its offerings with a marketplace of hard-to-find local taste treats such as Colorado Springs’ Sawatch Artisan Foods cheddar cheese, thick yogurt from Five Freedoms Dairy, locally made DAR and Bibamba chocolates, and Rancho Largo ribeye steaks.
“When you have a system that keeps local producers open, you support regional food resiliency. You begin to have a sustainable food system,” Rubey says.
Taste of the Week: Thai with a Twist
The extract of the pretty anchan plant, known as the butterfly pea flower, adds a transformative magic to a simple beverage. My cobalt blue glass of lemonade turned shades of violet as lemon juice was swirled in at Anchan Thai restaurant.
Everything I tasted recently at the Longmont eatery (1325 Dry Creek Drive) provided a slight twist on standard Thai dishes.
My rad na was a captivating bowl of chewy wide rice noodles tossed with fermented bean sauce, egg, collard greens, veggies and chicken. The complex, slightly sweet flavor was brightened by an unexpected ingredient: whole green peppercorns on the branch.
My dining partner’s Northern Thai jungle curry was a spicy soup rather than a creamy sauce, packed with green beans, carrots, bell peppers and those tasty little round Thai eggplants. Its big flavor infusion was provided by red curry, Thai basil, lime leaves and “finger root” — a ginger-galangal relative.
We also enjoyed fried roti — hot, thin, crispy wedges of flatbread ready to dip in a craveable peanut sauce.
Local Food News
Congrats to Chef Nick Swanson of Longmont’s Urban Field Pizza & Market. He placed seventh (out of 51 competitors) for crafting the best pan pizza in the world at the recent 2023 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.
Kapow Thai is serving dishes like curried noodle soup with chicken at 1377 Forest Park Circle in Lafayette.
Lafayette’s Three Leaf Farm hosts onsite dinners June 18, July 16, Aug. 13, Sept. 10, threeleaffarm.com/farm-dinners
Words to Chew On
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food will give you their heart.” — Cesar Chavez