There's a new apartment complex at the corner of 18th and Central streets in LoHi (which will surprise absolutely no one) where many years ago a bookbinding company once stood. The only remaining evidence is in the name of The Bindery (1817 Central Street), a new restaurant that's aiming for a mid-October opening on the ground floor of the project. The all-day market, bakery and eatery is the work of Linda Hampsten Fox, a chef and caterer who has spent much of her life gleaning recipes and techniques from her travels abroad.
Fox grew up in Boulder but spent much of her life in Europe, living on the Swiss/Italian border for several years before moving to Tuscany. "I bought a little farmhouse there and grew grapes and olives for nine years," the chef explains.
The experience has shaped her cooking style, which has also been molded by her Czech-Polish upbringing, where food and celebration were an important part of her family, and by her time in Mexico, where she helped open a cooking school. Because of these disparate influences, the menu at the Bindery isn't easy to define, so Fox puts it simply: "My entire heritage and experience is in our food."
To start with, a bakery headed by John Romano will turn out breads, pastries and viennoiserie (the fancy word for layered, buttery pastries like croissants, pain au chocolate and kouign-amann). Romano began his baking career at the Med in Boulder and returned there recently after many years at baking school in California and restaurants and bakeries in California and New York. He'll be in charge of breads, pastries and the market menu.
Fox says she'll be a fixture in the kitchen, but she'll have help from executive chef and kitchen manager Jake Riley, who worked in a number of Boulder restaurants before joining Fox's catering team several years ago.
The eclectic menu will include handmade pastas without delving too far into full-on Italian cuisine, an emphasis on vegetables — like a "charcuterie" board that swaps out cured meats for seasonal produce — and alternative proteins beyond the standard beef, pork and chicken. Fox says she'd love to see more people ordering rabbit in restaurants and cites a savory rabbit-and-pecan pie as an example of something that could hit the menu. Overall, guests can expect rustic, traditional dishes with modern flare. "We're looking at what came before, how things were made," the chef explains.
The Bindery space is expansive and airy, with a big exhibition kitchen and bakery and a long chef's counter where guests can watch the action. Breakfast and lunch customers will first encounter the bakery and market with bistro-style seating and an order counter for takeout options. The front space will also turn out dinners made specifically for carry-out orders for neighbors looking to take home restaurant-quality food that has been designed and packaged to stay fresh.
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The larger dining room, with views of downtown Denver, will offer movable tables and chairs, rather than booths and banquettes, to maintain a European market feel. Fox points out that much of the design was intended to be as environmentally friendly as possible, from ultra-efficient under-floor heating to plaster surfaces that actually absorb carbon dioxide rather than emitting it, like concrete. The pale plaster covering walls and pillars also has the advantage of brightening the space much more than the typical gray concrete found in other modern projects. Other "green" elements include kitchen tile made from vinyl recycled from the automotive industry, dish washers that capture heat and steam for re-use, and a high-tech, four-deck oven that will be the centerpiece of the bakery.
Fox has had her eyes on the Highland neighborhood for years and has attended neighborhood and business association meetings to get to know residents. She says that the space was on its way to becoming a Starbucks before she eventually signed a lease after considering several other restaurant locations in the area.
The Bindery will initially open at 7 a.m. with pastries and coffee (from Boulder's Dragonfly Coffee Roasters) and will stay open through lunch and dinner. It will gradually work its way up to full service, but there should be plenty of options for eating there or taking home a hot meal right off the bat.