AURORA – On May 24 of this year Colorado Table was born.
I had previously written about local cooking, dining, sustainable food and drink ,but the time was right to create a food-focused home for the Aurora Sentinel newspapers and websites. The culinary scene in Aurora and across the state is clearly booming. New farm-to-table restaurants, ethnic bakeries, microdistillers, farmers markets, natural foods companies, and breweries seem to open almost every day. And we cooks and diners are demanding more information about the content and origin of the food our families consume.
In the past 12 months of weekly Nibbles column and Aurora Cooks profiles, I’ve been lucky enough to sample great fare and interview dozens of restaurateurs, bakers, and winemakers. Here are a few of my favorite culinary moments of 2012:
• “Here people are so nice here if you’re out of a particular pastry. In France, they would say ‘What the hell are you doing? What do you mean you don’t have apple turnovers?’” – Michael Dupont, owner, La Baguette de Normandy
• “Most of my customers are American Jewish and Israeli-born families. This is the food they grew up with too, and they like that I don’t serve pork or alcohol.” – Chakib Marrakchi, owner, Cafe Paprika
• “Young people — they love the flavor but it’s too strong — too sweet or too sour or too spicy — for old people. It’s the same in Thailand.”- Utumporn Killoran, owner, Thai Street Food
• “I knew that many ethnic places existed in Aurora on an intellectual level, but once I started looking, Aurora became my mecca.” – Ruth Tobias, author of the “Food Lovers’ Guide to Denver & Boulder”
• “I tell my kids: Don’t go into the meat business, become a dentist … but you never know.” – Carmine Lonardo, manager, Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market and Italian Deli
• “Aurora now has a large group of foodies. Fifteen years ago people thought that Olive Garden was fine Italian cuisine. Now they actually want to find authentic cooking.” – Sam Armatas, co-owner, Sam’s No. 3
• “I like very fruit-forward wines. For me to get that, I need older grapes, ones that stay on the vine longer.” – John Balistreri, winemaker, Balistreri Vineyards, Denver
• “We have customers who come in all the way from Laramie. One great thing about Americans is that if they find food they love they’ll come no matter how far they have to drive.” – Ashok Dugini, owner, Masalaa Indian Vegetarian Cuisine
• “We consider our desserts to be ‘European rich’ with butter and cream and none of that nasty sweetness you get from a bucket.” – Jim Pasquierello, owner, Daniel’s of Paris Bakery
• “I kept getting orders (for soul food) from women who don’t know how to cook. They’d come and pick it up and serve it in their dishes as their own.” – Sandy Hullum, owner, Flava
• “People come in and the first thing they say is ‘Did Angie make the custard?’ They have to have it. They say it’s just like crack.” – Angie Stathopoulos, co-owner, The Athenian
FAVORITE TASTES OF THE YEAR
After reviewing the fare I sampled this year at local eateries and bakeries, I started wishing I could assemble some of the dishes for a little Taste of Aurora meal.
I’d start with an Ethiopian spicy pastry-wrapped veggie sambusa at Meskerem Restaurant, hot Italian sausage and peppers in wine-mustard sauce at Balisteri Vineyards Tasting Room, and fresh cut, skin-on fries (from Kennebec spuds just like In-N-Out Burgers) at Cedar Creek Pub. For an amuse bouche, I’d clear my palate with an eggplant Parmesan grinder with excellent marinara sauce and whole milk mozzarella from Wholly Cannoli Cafe.
For the pasta course there would be Dan Dan noodles in a sesame-based sauce with beef, wok-ed baby bok choy, cucumber slivers and peanuts at Chef Liu’s Authentic Chinese Cuisine. The entree would have to be Filipino sisig, pork cheeks and ears boiled, chopped, fried and sauteed with vinegar, onions and peppers and served sizzling with an egg broken on top at the Sunburst Grill.
For sweets, I’d order a wedge of sweet potato pie from Flava, a flaky pain au chocolat at Daniel’s of Paris Bakery, and a cajeta-filled emapanada from Panaderia Tlaquepaque.
OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS
The following eateries opened in the Aurora metro area in 2012:
Chill Yogurt, 2275 S. Peoria St.; Yong Gung Chinese Restaurant; 2040 S. Havana St.; Cheapskates Action Sports Bar, 627 S. Parker Rd.; Masala Xpress, Town Center at Aurora, 14200 E. Alameda Ave.; Shin Sa Dong Restaurant, 10293 E. Iliff Ave.; Deelish, 1901 S. Havana St. (now closed); Caribbean Breeze Latin Grill, 15490 E. Colfax Ave.; Tarboosh, 2353 S. Havana St.; El Rico Dicho Menuderia, 10400 E. 6th Ave.; Pho Cafe Asian Cuisine, 12405 E. Mississippi Ave.; The French Press Cafe and Bakery, 15290 E. Iliff Ave.; Blue Lagoon Asian Bistro, 1695 Peoria St.; Las Princesas Bakery, 15343 E. 6th Ave.; Swirk Supreme Food, 2205 S. Peoria St.; Kirk’s Soul Kitchen, 14107 E. Colfax Ave.; Tacos Selene, 15343 E. 6th Ave.; Yogurtland, 18191 E. Hampden Ave.; Top That! Pizza, 24100 E. Commons Ave., Southlands Mall; Savory Spice Shop, 6295 S. Main St., Southlands Mall; Mali Thai Cuisine, 4955 S. Ulster St., Greenwood Village; PizzaDoodle, 6830 S. University Blvd., Centennial; and Pizzeria Di Olinto, 12023 E. Arapahoe Road, Centennial
WHAT ABOUT AURORA?
In December, a fellow food writer who is penning a book focused on recipes from chefs in Denver and Boulder. To expand the scope she asked me to pen a few words about the culinary importance of Aurora. Here’s what I shared:
“It’s true that Aurora has a limited number of chefs who graduated from culinary institutes. It’s also true that this city is home to thousands of cooks from across the globe creating incredible dishes in inconspicuous, strip mall kitchens. Where else can you taste genuine Filipino cuisine? Aurora is the epicenter of Colorado’s African community with eateries and dishing everything from Eritrean to Nigerian fare. There are more Korean barbecue joints and kimchi markets here than in any part of the state. Aurora’s big ethnic tent includes Italian meat markets, an English tea room, a great brat house, several Szechuan dumpling palaces, a bevy of pho cafes and an array of Mexican/Central American restaurants, bakeries and shops. If you want to taste the world, come to Aurora.”
Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Nibbles at aurorasentinel.com/colorado-table and “like” the Nibbles Facebook for regular tasty updates. John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, and kgnu.org).