The culinary landscape of Denver was quite different when Pat Perry opened Highland's Garden Cafe in 1994. There was no Fruition or Table 6 to garner rave reviews from out-of-towners. No Lola or Linger to draw the ultra-hip masses to Highland. No Potager to emphasize homegrown ingredients.
Meanwhile, for almost twenty years, the Garden Cafe has been quietly emphasizing its seasonal cuisine -- including components grown in the garden right outside the restaurant. "We don't try to be trendy," says Pat Perry, owner, proprietor and chef. "What's important to me is that we care about the food."
In February of this year, Perry took a sabbatical from the restaurant to refresh her mind and menu; it just re-opened this month. "Taking a break, spending time with family, clearing the gardens and scrubbing floors really gave me time to think and I dedicated a great deal of thought to our menu," Perry says. During the four months in between, the restaurant was transformed from a hopping, fine-dining spot to a private-party place and back again, all in the hot Highland area. "There is growth and change to be sure," she notes, "and that adds to the diversity that is so vital to strong urban neighborhoods."
And that change is reflected in Perry's updated menu, which keeps the classic items that Garden Cafe regulars still line up for after all these years -- including the Cointreau-glazed duck -- but also shifts the kitchen's focus from the traditional four-course meal to a selection of fresh small plates and innovative salads, including healthy and/or Colorado-grown ingredients whenever possible. "I've always been so aware of how really good food can be for all of us," says Perry. "Our diets are one of the most powerful tools in preventative medicine today."
The relationship between mind, body and plate that Perry contemplated during her sabbatical is represented in a new dinner series, which brings Colorado farmers to the Garden Cafe to talk about their process and the importance of homegrown produce, as well as share recipes. First up is Jenny Redmond of Table Mountain Farms, which captivated Perry with its practice of bringing gardens to where people live. "I think Table Mountain and the Agriburbia concept are incredible, which is why I asked them to come," she enthuses.
"When we were conceptualizing the Garden Cafe, we always wanted it to be a place where people would come to gather," she adds. "So many people are so busy, we try to make it a place where you can enjoy good food and good conversation."
The first dinner of the series is at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, and spaces are limited. (If you go, you're expected to bring a dish of your own to share.)