Chef Tim Payne may take his cooking inspiration from the Colorado soil, but the business model for his restaurant, Farmer Girl, is thoroughly modern. Payne started out with a food truck and catering company before signing a short-term lease in Avanti Food & Beverage, the restaurant incubator in LoHi, last summer; the idea was that the mini kitchens built from shipping containers inside Avanti were a great way to test a concept on a small scale before moving on to bigger things.
And Payne is definitely moving on to bigger things: Farmer Girl Community Bistro at 432 Main Street in Lyons, which he opened earlier this year. Payne says he's one of the first Avanti tenants to use the system as intended, so he'll be relinquishing his spot to a new entrepreneur when his lease is up this summer. That's the way Avanti was designed, and the move is great for Payne, whose produce-forward menu at the Lyons eatery highlights several favorites from his Avanti kitchen. It's also great for customers of the food hall, who can look forward to a fresh slate of creative cooking from newcomers in 2016. (The leases at Avanti are staggered so that there won't be a complete turnover of tenants come July.)
Farmer Girl opened in February in a homey space that had long been the Gateway Cafe and was more recently a sushi restaurant and then Local Eat + Drink. Payne included the word "community" in the name of his restaurant because 1 percent of sales will be donated to the Lyons Community Foundation. But his interest in the community doesn't end there.
The chef's passion for Colorado-grown produce includes searching out short-season vegetables from farmers who may have the best spring peas or asparagus or herbs for only days or weeks. So a pesto that tops a carrot latke may be made with greenhouse basil one week and fresh, bright carrot tops the next. Most of the small plates, from chickpea fritters served with beet ketchup to butternut-squash hummus with housemade flatbread, are meatless, and a short roster of six entrees, which showcases Colorado beef, lamb and pork, also gives respect to veggies, with a hearty cassoulet chunky with winter squash, parsnips and mushrooms instead of the standard sausage and duck.
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Payne is already looking forward to warmer spring weather; he'll be replacing the restaurant's small front window with a large garage door to let in more light and air, and he'll soon launch weekend brunch. And keep an eye on the Farmer Girl website for a list of upcoming farm dinners this summer.
The Avanti Farmer Girl may be ending its run, but between the Lyons eatery, the food truck and the catering business, Payne's farm-fresh fare is cropping up in more places than ever.