Although opening day of Civic Center Eats was rained out on May 5, the twice-weekly food truck rally in Civic Center Park managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of lunch service last Thursday — and the sun even peeked out a little for the rescheduled official kickoff yesterday, shining on 31 food, beverage and dessert vendors. With a vast array of international street food available — including everythign from Hawaiian tacos to savory crepes, Louisiana po'boy sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas — choosing lunch at the park can be a daunting task.
We started our season of outdoor eating with a newcomer to Civic Center Eats, Pavlo's Taste of Ukraine, which just hit the streets this year. Pavlo's is operated by chef Paul Makolondra, who grew up in Denver but just returned last year after several years in Minneapolis. Makolondra delved into his Ukrainian grandmother's recipes for his menu, which features vareniki (Ukrainian pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese), holubtsi (cabbage rolls filled with ground beef and rice), kovbasa sausage (similar to Polish kielbasa) and a variety of traditional sides like cucumber salad in dill and sour cream sauce and marinated mushrooms. Accoutrements include sour cream, sauteed onions and crumbled bacon for the vareniki and a sinus-clearing horseradish-beet sauce for the sausage.
Makolondra grew up eating traditional Ukrainian food — "mostly for special occasions: Christmas, Easter, birthdays," he recalls — but only recently started making the food himself. The chef has been in the food service and hotel industry for more than twenty years, though, and attended culinary school in Minneapolis in 2010 to sharpen his skills.
After several years in restaurants in Minnesota, he decided that he wanted to return to his roots. "I need to get into business for myself," he explains, adding that there was an untapped market for Ukrainian food in Denver. "I can count the number of Eastern European restaurant on one hand."
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After several months of recipe research and testing, Pavlo's made its debut on February 1 and has been hitting the craft-brewery circuit since then. "The response has been incredible — I never thought we would be so busy," he notes. "I'm blown away by how fast word has spread."
Pavlo's Taste of Ukraine will be at Civic Center Eats every Tuesday this summer (through October 8); if you can't wait that long, head to 38 State Brewing in Littleton tonight or Diebolt Brewing in Sunnyside on Saturday from 2 to 9 p.m.