Fresh Food + Local Beer + Community Spirit = Under the Sun Eatery & Pizzeria

Local beers are on tap at Under the Sun pub in Boulder, Colorado ©Allie Stoudt

Local beers are on tap at Under the Sun pub in Boulder, Colorado ©Allie Stoudt

Under the Sun is the quintessential Boulder, Colorado, restaurant: it’s got casual atmosphere that welcomes families and friendly folks, and its menu emphasizes locally sourced ingredients.

As part of the family of Mountain Sun Pubs & Breweries (with locations in Boulder, Longmont, and Denver), Under the Sun also brews its own fantastic beer, including a number of classics: Annapurna Amber, Old School Irish Stout, and Colorado Kind, a brew the original owner envisioned while biking from Oregon to Boulder in the early 1990s.

Before I launch into the dazzling six-course meal I shared with friends, here’s a word about the community spirit at Under the Sun. This pub boasts no widescreen TV. If you want to guzzle beer with your eyes glued to the boob tube, just stay home. But, if you want to share brews and food with your pals—or make friends with total strangers at the communal tables—this is the place for you. (There are even board games on hand to break the ice.)

At the end of the day, you’re likely to meet Boulderites dressed in cycling gear, hiking boots, or yoga togs—so no need to get gussied up. When the weather’s nice, you might enjoy a seat outside. Chilly? Relax by the fireplace and enjoy Under the Sun’s draught options, including 21 Mountain Sun ales, 10 guest beers and 8 wines on tap.

Awesome appetizer: asparagus with poached egg and prosciutto. ©Allie Stoudt

Awesome appetizer: asparagus with poached egg and prosciutto. ©Allie Stoudt

Service with a Smile

All the Mountain Sun pubs have a unique philosophy. First, the entire staff—from waiters to cooks to dishwashers to bartenders—share the tips so that everyone is motivated to create the best food and dining experience for guests. Really, the amiable—and usually speed—wait people are in states of good humor and efficiency.

And I should mention that the prices at Under the Sun are very reasonable for truly flavorful food. One reason the pubs can keep their fare affordable is they don’t accept credit cards. (There is an onsite ATM, and I’ve heard rumors about folks who are caught without cash being offered a “good karma IOU” envelop so they can mail in the money for their dinner later.)

Fabulous Food from Scratch

Under the Sun proves that delicious, well-made food isn’t something you can only get at fancy restaurants. The folks there are committed to serving fresh, exciting food from scratch, sourced locally whenever possible.

Pesto gnocchi ©Allie Stoudt

Pesto gnocchi Allie Stoudt

Depending on the season and menu, the kitchen serves up produce from a number of Colorado organic farms and food purveyors, including Abbondanza Organic Seeds and Produce, Cure Organic Farm, Long Family Farms, Munson’s Farm, Rudy’s Organic Bakery, Old Style Sausage in Louisville, and Steele’s Meats in Lafayette.

Vegetarians, vegans, and people who eat gluten free will find plenty of wholesome and tasty options on the menu.

Under the Sun’s executive chef Nick Swanson makes good use of a wood-burning oven to bake bread, smoke meats, char food, and roast vegetables, and of course, bake pizzas. If you want to watch the pizza-makers twirl the dough, ask to sit at the counter right by the oven. And yes, you can order gluten-free crust!

Local beer by the fire ©Laurel Kallenbach

Local beer by the fire ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Local Feast

I loved every dish I sampled  during a special taster meal—starting with the grilled asparagus appetizer, which included prosciutto, poached egg, and Grana Padano cheese. Its sprinkles of lemon-zest made it a knockout, and it was paired with the Saison D’Tropique farmhouse ale, which has bold flavor with slightly citrusy notes. This was followed by the Red Beet Salad with arugula, goat-cheese vinaigrette, candied walnuts, and fresh dill, paired with Hilltop Vienna-Style Lager that was refreshing and didn’t overpower the veggies.

Next up: housemade potato gnocchi with zucchini, garlic, and fennel pesto—plus fresh basil. It was scrumptious, and the Number One Belgian Tripel made a lovely companion for the Italian-inspired dish.

After that, I reveled in the beef short rib (fork-tender!) with fingerling potatoes and a mustard-seed vinaigrette. Colorado Kind Ale enhanced the meat’s rich, savory flavors.

I nabbed a slice of my friend’s wood-fired Wild Boom pizza (topped with local Hazel Dell mushrooms, wood-fired onions, sundried tomatoes, and Fontina cheese) just because it looked so delightful.

The perfect finale: wood-fired cookie with vanilla ice cream and stout-caramel sauce. ©Allie Stoudt

The perfect finale: wood-fired cookie with vanilla ice cream and stout-caramel sauce. ©Allie Stoudt

Luckily, I still had room for the wood-oven-fired oatmeal chocolate chip cookie served with a dollop of Sweet Cow vanilla ice cream. Heaven! (And by the way, Chocolate Dip Stout, which contains real chocolate, accentuated the dessert’s flavors, proving that beer can be great with every course of a meal.)

As you can tell, I love the idea of drinking beer brewed onsite. The brewers at Mountain Sun/Under the Sun favor hoppy brews. If you like super-hops, I recommend the FYIPA, which pairs nicely with pizza.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Chef Nick Swanson is Under the Sun's kitchen magician. ©Allie Stoudt

Chef Nick Swanson is Under the Sun’s kitchen magician. ©Allie Stoudt

Boulder’s Salt Bistro Preserves the Earth

Salt, a restaurant opened by visionary chef/owner Bradford Heap in 2009, is a culinary delight with a conscience for preserving natural resources.

Save room for Salt Bistro's Chocolate Caramel Tart, sprinkled with (what else?) salt.

Located on Boulder, Colorado ’s Pearl Street, Salt Bistro was created in the historic space that was formerly the home of Tom’s Tavern, a downtown landmark for more than 40 years. While renovating the restaurant for his new bistro, Heap and his wife, Carol Vilate, a designer, reused as many elements from the original building as possible—an effort that imbues Salt Bistro with a sense of the past—and that reduced the need for new materials. The tin ceiling was original from the 19th century.

In addition, the couple used recycled materials whenever possible. Look closely at the wooden tables: They’re made from old doors taken from Boulder’s Casey Junior High during its remodel. The chairs came from an auction. Wood flooring and many other finishes came from Resource Reclaimed Building Materials, a local business.

Salt, a bistro in Boulder, Colo., is located in the Pearl Street building that once housed Tom's Tavern.

Earth-Friendly Flavors

The handiwork of local artisans resulted in a restaurant that feels both modern and old-fashioned, European and American Western. And that’s borne out in the food: the bar “chefs” offer a selection of pre-Prohibition cocktails, and the entrees present old-world flavors suited for contemporary palates.

Sustainability isn’t just for the interior design of Salt Bistro—it’s a huge part of the restaurant’s food philosophy. The menus are built around seasonally available local food—much of it organic—in order to capture the freshest flavors.

Heap aims to raise awareness of where food comes from, and the menu lists the farm source of each menu item. In addition, the restaurant features sustainable seafood and humanely-raised meat.

As an added touch, Salt Bistro’s used cooking oil is used for biodiesel fuel.

Well-Seasoned Menu

But how does all this taste? Executive Chef Kevin Kidd pulls out the stops with fare that displays Italian and French influences with an American flair. An artisanal cheese plate spotlights local Haystack Mountain goat cheeses. The Wood-Roasted Autumn Vegetable Cassoulet features bounty from Munson Farm, while the Seven-Hour Braised Colorado Lamb with fennel risotto comes from Rosen Farm.

I personally wouldn’t miss getting a side order of Salt’s Crispy Polenta—by far the most divine I’ve ever tasted.

Salt’s menu rotates seasonally, but some things should never change. That’s why you can still get a Tom’s Tavern Burger, which Salt has gussied up with grass-fed beef, Grafton cheddar and house-made fries.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The wood-burning oven at Salt produces innovative pizzas.

The Flavor of Italy at Boulder’s Pizzeria da Lupo

With the cool, wet weather, I’ve been pining for somewhere sun-drenched—like Italy. The solution, since I can’t jet off to the Mediterannean at the moment, is Pizzeria da Lupo, a small Boulder restaurant with big flavor—and the spirit of an Italian family pizzeria.

Authentic Italian pizzas in Boulder, Colo.

I bite into the crisp-but-chewy crust of a steaming-hot, just-baked margherita pizza and am transported to Italy. The fresh basil and San Marzano tomatoes have a hint of sunshine. And the gooey, house-made mozzarella is just right.

Every pizza is served with a condiment plate of sea salt, oregano, grated parmesan, and hot peppers. My pizza doesn’t really require dressing up—a classic margherita has all the flavor you need, really—but I do like a pinch of sea salt and three or four of those pepper flakes for just a touch of hot.

The $10 daily lunch special includes a 9-inch pizza, iced tea and a generous green salad drizzled in an olive-oil/vinegar dressing.

Fresh Ingredients, Authentic Pizza Oven

I first visited Pizzeria da Lupo in March for a special media event with chef-owner Jim Cohen. We journalists got to try our hand at the art of pizza making.

First, chef Ashlea Tobeck walked me through the experience of making cheese. I poured hot water over a bowl of mozzarella curds and clumped them together using a spoon. Then I plunged my hands into the melty cheese-water, pulling the hot curds into strings and then compressing them and smoothing them into a ball. It felt like kindergarten art project.

Chef Jim Cohen tends the wood-fired oven at Pizzeria da Lupo.

Next: turning a ball of dough into a pizza. The dough at Pizzeria da Lupo rises for three days so that it’s light and flavorful. My task—and it was surprisingly difficult—was to stretch the dough. Chef Cohen juggled the dough over his knuckles, letting it drape downwards.

When I did it, though, mine formed big holes. After I tried again and had the same results, Cohen stepped in and deftly spun the dough into a pie, which I then coverd with olive oil and added mushrooms and sausage and the yummy hand-made cheese.

My creation was ready to shove into the oval, brick-and-tile oven imported from Italy. A pile of red-hot embers heats the oven to 1,000 degrees at the top—700 degrees in the bottom center where my little pizza spent 60 seconds as the dough bubbled dramatically.

Antipasti and a tricolore salad, Pizzeria da Lupo

Then, using the wood paddle, the chef moved the pizza farther from the burning wood to a less-searing area for about three minutes. When it was done, he held it in the 1,000-degree spot for just a second or two to sear it.

Once out of the oven, the pizza was finished with a drizzle of Italian olive oil, cut with a mezzaluna knife, and served piping hot.

Despite my inability to spin dough, my pizza was done to perfection—with a little help from a chef and an Old World oven.

* * * * *

You may not get the chance to make your own pizza in this cute, quaint restaurant—I love the old-fashioned tile on the floor and the family photos on the wall—but you can enjoy the fruits of the chefs’ creativity.

So why fly to Italy? Just visit Boulder’s Pizzeria da Lupo.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and pizza taster