Just BE Kitchen: Paleo Fare Thrives in Denver

by Grace Boyle on June 4, 2018

I can’t help but love women-led businesses.

Meeting owner and founder, of Just BE Kitchen, Jennifer Peters, it’s no wonder they’ve found such success in their first year of business. She’s a power house.

Filled with positivity, a clear zest for life, and a vision to help heal others through food, Peters has recreated the once-dim space on 15th Street, to be bright and inviting with a palette of blues, green, and white. The walls are adorned with inspirational quotes from the likes of Rumi to Maya Angelou, infusing a feeling of mindfulness and peace when you enter.

I was surprised to learn Peters doesn’t have a background in food or restaurants. She is however, a smart businesswoman. She comes from corporate marketing. She worked on this idea as a class project when she was earning her MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. When her professors told her the idea had legs she realized it was a way for her to blend a lifelong love of food with her business acumen and take a leap into something new.

As Peters shared, “I’ve been on a food journey my entire life,” especially given she spent many years as a vegetarian and vegan so although she doesn’t personally have any food allergies, her work in finding the right food for her and her life, is personal.

Through her connections at Kellogg, the former CEO of Burger King, Brad Blum took her under his wing, encouraging her with the concept. When it came time to pick a city she would love, she looked at Portland, OR and Denver, finally landing on Denver to open her dream restaurant.

Just BE is a fast-casual paleo restaurant that truly focuses on 100% gluten free, grain-free, and refined sugar-free ingredients. They’re also 99% dairy-free.

The menu names remind me a little of Cafe Gratitude – names like the “Enchanted”, the “Wonder”, or the “Wholehearted” are some of their dish names.

Peters shared although they’re dairy and gluten-free focused, they still have interesting dishes that are hearty and fun like the Wowed chicken biscuit sandwich with gremolata, baconaise, arugula, and sweet potato salad or the Fulfilled, their infamous, hearty burrito with chicken, salsa verde, ‘cheddar wiz’, paleo tortilla, pork or veggie green chili, cilantro, scallion, and jalapeno. They of course have a breakfast burrito available.

Below is the Inspire Mediterranean Plate that has turmeric grain-free falafels, cauliflower hummus, gremolata, crunchy slaw, sweet potato salad, and house pickles. It’s a small touch, but I love the vibrant plates that are used at Just BE.

On the booze side of the house they have entirely gluten-free beer, grain-free tequila, vodka, and gin, a quinoa-based whiskey, and from FitVine, low-sugar wines.

They have a full coffee bar offering bullet coffees and a variety of lattes and tea drinks.

They also have a plethora of desserts like their Divine brownie trifle, a brownie with creme anglaise (pictured).

Here are some of my favorites worth highlighting:

  • The back patio is dog friendly! They also host special events out back like yoga or classes on various nutritional topics.
  • Everything on the menu – from breakfast to dinner items – is under $15. I think that’s quite a testament to providing ultimate value, for healthy, conscious food.
  • As healthy as Colorado is, Denver doesn’t have many restaurants that are as allergen-friendly as Just BE. They’re very flexible and supportive no matter your dietary preferences. They actually say on the menu, “Please ask for any modifications – we are happy to accomodate.”  They further label everyone on the menu with: vegetarian, vegetarian option, vegan, vegan option, egg free, nut free, and nut free option.
  • The free of refined sugar part is hard to do. Peters shared she worked hard on even finding alcohol or kombucha providers that were lowest in sugar and had no added sugar. There’s a lot of care and consideration that went into every menu item.
  • They have a special bone broth bar – very good for you, very laborious to make, thus hard to come by.
  • Their paleo tortillas are the best I’ve ever had. Peters shared they can’t keep them in the kitchen – people come just to buy loads of the almond-flour based delights. Just order one as a side with your dish because it’s so well done.

Find Them:

2364 15th St, Denver, CO 80202 | justbekitchen.com/ | Monday-Sunday 8 am. to 7 p.m. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. Note: They recently started expanded their menu to offer dinner. Check them out at night to eat something healthy and fulfilling after work.

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Life Lately: A Health Journey

by Grace Boyle on May 7, 2018

I’ve always loved food. It’s one of the things that most excites me in life.

My world revolves around it –> making food, sharing food, trying new food, talking about food, finding new restaurants, and thinking about my next meal. It’s in my blood. Not to mention outwardly, I have this food blog, write for many food publications, and now professionally work in the industry.

Just like any woman I know, despite loving food, the relationship with my body, health, and food is a dynamic ever-changing one. And of course, I’ve had my struggles.

I’ve always been active and involved in sports. I’ve also never fit into a physical box as a short, curvy girl. It’s hard to find clothes that fit right and I always lamented I couldn’t share clothes with my friends (while they all could with each other it seemed).

It started at age 15 when I first went to Weight Watchers.

Despite daily horse back riding, basketball, track, and generally growing up playing outside in the countryside of Iowa, I felt even in high school I needed to be tracking my points. And from there on out, I probably never felt truly satisfied with how I looked and struggled with self esteem. Looking back now, I cringe at how healthy, happy, and fit I looked as a high schooler.

I’ve probably tried every diet that exists and of course, none of them last.

Then last year, I had one of the most emotionally stressful and challenging years of my life. I was commuting 2+ hours a day, working 70 hours a week in a job that was grueling in an environment that just didn’t fit me. I felt lost and like nothing I did was good enough. I was really unhappy.

I had left a job I loved in a supportive company after five years and I had no job lined up in late 2016. After a few months, I thought I had found the next best thing.  Everything on paper checked out.

It wasn’t the case.

After being laid off (ironic – universe telling you what you need and/or what you put your attention on grows) from said difficult/trying job after 10 months, I luckily had a job already lined up. It still wasn’t easy.

They made some shifts before I could quit so many would call it a blessing in disguise. I enjoyed the severance and parting ways amicably as they headed in another direction as a company. Immediately following I had an offer letter signed with a totally new industry, away from technology, with a longtime mentor and prior boss of mine.

I aimed to take off the rest of the year to unwind and get my old self back.

After some routine blood work as we headed into the 2017 holiday season, I uncovered some health issues.

I was surprised and confused.

I have adrenal fatigue, my cortisol levels are too low (effectively my stress hormones have shut down, I don’t have the right tools to even deal with stress until I repair those), am experiencing insulin resistance with way-too-high insulin (sugar) levels, I have newly uncovered thyroid issues with antibodies present, despite my total cholesterol being normal my triglyceride levels are off the charts, I have the gene mutation MTHFR, and I have a slew of hormone imbalances. All which have implications for impending diseases like pre-diabetes, heart health complications, infertility issues, and more.

Although there are no official diagnosis yet, the plan is to undergo lifestyle shifts to swing the pendulum back to a place of balance, and see if I can heal all the above mentioned through food.

The first two weeks I was baffled and even more stressed than before. I was confused, processing, and feeling like I had “done” this to my body.

Although there are some genetics at play, so much of this can be fixed through lifestyle shifts.

I was a few months into my new job and “new me” but felt harshly reminded that I wasn’t in the clear yet.

I had lost mindfulness over the last year and stress had shut down so much of my body. It has been years since I dieted, and was just living a full life but also not thinking too much either.

I always have eaten healthy and have worked out at least 3-5 times a week my whole life as an active hiker, snowboarder, yoga-goer, I cross-fitted for years, and always have had a gym membership. Nonetheless, I also love indulging and due to the food blog, eat out and try new restaurants a lot.

Being raised vegetarian, I deviate to a lot of carbs (e.g. beans, rice, grains, etc.) that are high in sugar and in moderation good for you, but less protein and more sugar-rich foods weren’t helping.

I don’t own a scale and am not into that mental mind game. Yet, from doctors visits, I also know I weigh the most I’ve ever weighed and have gained 30 pounds in the last few years. I didn’t even realize – most friends don’t even notice, but it’s something.

Ultimately, I know the stress has been the trigger and my body hasn’t been able to work as it should to take care of itself.

Here I am today, 30 days in. I’ve jumped into a journey of healing myself from the inside out.

I’m drastically reducing my sugar and carb intake to almost none. I’m not eating dairy, gluten, or grains and not drinking alcohol. I’m doing this for 12 weeks until we re-test and see how things looks.

I struggle with intense changes like this. It’s not graceful for me. It’s not quite sustainable and I travel for work too, so I’ve had to change a lot of habits and am constantly navigating the ups and downs.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that everyday is a bit of a struggle. I think: what can I eat, will I have time in between this meeting in another city to find the right type of food, saying no to drinks at client dinners, and more.

I’m still adjusting quite a bit. But despite a few planned ‘cheat days’ with weekend trips or parties, I haven’t really strayed. I’m lucky to have a partner that is joining me on the journey and being so steadfast, despite my challenges and oscillating emotions and a support system that sends me recipes and rallies for me from all corners of the country.

Although I’ve never had acne issues, just in general my face is clearer, I’m sleeping better, and I am starting to have more energy. I’m listening to myself more than ever and trying to see what feels good to eat versus mindlessly eating without thinking.

I struggled with even writing something here but realized in the last month, so many people are in similar boats. Or are adjusting something in their lifestyle to accomodate X issue. It doesn’t have to be taboo and I also recognize everyone’s journey is different. I’m not a medical professional (I’m working with a naturopath who specializes in hormone balancing with women) but I do hope to share some of the products, dishes, and tips I’ve learned along the way in hopes that someone may relate.

I’ve found solace in others that share their story so I’m doing the same.

Ultimately, I know I’m lucky. This isn’t a cancer diagnosis, and I also didn’t experience anything that’s totally life altering. It’s intense stress, a real bad year, and we all face it in many different ways.

Still, it’s a radical shift so yes, it’s scary and hard. But in learning what I have in the short amount of time on this journey, I understand so many women face hormone issues that we don’t have to live with.

This to me is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. We only get one body so I plan to heal and take care of mine.

I’ll add one thing that’s really important to me: I understand that acceptance and happiness around self image and our bodies starts within. It’s about listening to yourself, doing what you need, and finding a balance that’s fulfilling. Specifically, this is something that’s for my health and not to get to a specific size or look a certain way. This is medically something that I need to do to help regulate some issues, before it gets any worse…

Next week I plan to share some of the tips that have been best in this journey thus far. Thanks for being here.

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Peanut Butter Almond Bites

by Grace Boyle on March 6, 2018

Now that I’m in a new job and I work from home, I have been making sure more than ever to have plentiful home-cooked food in my fridge and kitchen.

One such energy snack that I love are these quick-t0-make, peanut butter, honey, almond bites. I usually have one in the afternoon when I need a pick-me-up and they’re easy to travel with when I’m on the road. 

Sometimes (like above) they don’t roll into perfect balls because they can be sticky, but despite how they might look, they’re tasty and healthy.

The ingredients are simple:

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup diced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed

Put all ingredients together in a bowl, mix well.

Roll into small balls and place into refrigerator. They will harden a bit over night and can be stored in the fridge, as well.

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Stem Ciders Opens Acreage on 12 Acres in Lafayette

by Grace Boyle on February 28, 2018

Acreage, by Stem Ciders, opened on Saturday, February 24th. The 30,000 square-foot-space sits on a 12-acre hilltop behind a tech park in Lafayette. Part cider-house, part thoughtful wood-fired restaurant, part production facility and offices for the Stem Cider team.

The Space: Upon entering the space, the views are spectacular from inside the tap room, to outside on the patio as you view the mountains to the west. The interior is filled with an open kitchen, a long wooden bar filled with their cider taps, and picnic style community tables and booths in the back that invoke community and gathering as a group over food and cider.

The combination of materials from wood, to steel, to white subway tile is really warm and rustic. It doesn’t hurt that the entire space is literally warmed by the wood and smoky flavors.

In addition, when you walk to the bathrooms they majestically overlook the large production facility, which gives patrons an opportunity to be tied to the whole process and labor of love they’re supporting.

The Food: Stem Ciders pulled in local culinary superheroes, Kelly Whitaker of Id Est Hospitality and Basta and Daniel Asher of Boulder’s River and Woods, and formerly of Edible Beats Restaurants. The food is Basque-inspired and all wood-fired. Every menu item is gluten-free (except for the burger buns) which is impressive and a nice touch for a cidery.

I love how they incorporate Stem cider into some of the menu like the house aïoli made with Big B’s apple cider vinegar from Hotchkiss, and the mussel broth which has Stem’s Real Dry Apple Cider in it.

The menu ranges from the grill items – pasture party, gone fishing, and sausages – to a preserved section, a vegetable utilization plan (Asher has always been vegetable forward), to en frites, and burgers. There’s really a little something for everyone and you notice that each dish pairs well with cider.

Be sure to try the illegal poutine with Wisconsin cheddar curds, shitake gravy, and roasted anaheim peppers, the wood roasted whole market fish stuffed with citrus and herb, gluten-free cast iron cornbread with pimento cheese, apple-cider donuts, and the venison sausage with port wine served with warm cider sauerkrat. The menu elevates their food game and truly makes it a destination.

Another big benefit of this space is that Stem Ciders is able to rapidly grow their production as they can now expand to 70,000 barrels of cider a year now. On tap, they have 24 ciders which is far more than their RiNo location.

For the future, Acreage plans to plant an orchard and farm, where they can grow the food, be an apple source for their cider, and of course a wonderful place for families and even hosting private events. This is a great addition to the Lafayette area and I know it will be well loved.

Find Them:

acreageco.com

1380 Horizon Avenue, Unit A, Lafayette, CO 80026

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East of I-25, in Weld County, sits the burgeoning community of Frederick, Colorado. With 12,000 people strong, it’s not exactly a foodie destination, but it’s in proximity to many areas and recent development efforts make it an up-and-coming Front Range community.

One thing I found fascinating is that Frederick was incorporated in 1907 by three women who named the town after their father, Frederick A. Clark, the landowner of the site. It was a mining town and was home to almost exclusively Italian immigrants (my people)!

All that to be said, I’ve never been to Frederick, until I heard of Peel Handcrafted Pizza.

And I’ll be back. Again and again.

Here’s the thing: I run into a lot of trendiness. Denver and Boulder are well sought after and we’re lucky to have the food we have there, because it puts us on the map and it’s undoubtedly impressive (especially per capita in Boulder). But those cities have been forged for years.

Peel and the entire family that created it, cared about this local community and developing it into something much more. This takes gumption. And you know what? When you’re a driver and innovating, someone has to do something first. And that I greatly respect. I also learned that the developer helped bring Georgia Boys BBQs second location to Frederick across the street, so it’s much more than just the restaurant itself. It’s the community and the thread they care about weaving.

As owner Jason Hepp shares, “We’ve been involved in the community for a long time and on the heels of the Georgia Boys Smokehouse project we saw the opportunity available to add another layer of revitalization to the downtown area. Helping to breathe new life into the downtown would hopefully give local residents a downtown they could enjoy even more with their families and create a destination they’d like to share with others.”

Another favorite component is that this is truly a family affair. The owners are: Josh Jacobsen who is the Executive Chef (brother/son-in-law), Kevin Hepp is their wine aficionado (cousin/nephew), Jason Hepp is the local developer (son/cousin), Patrick Hepp is their systems expert (son/cousin), Angel Hepp is the marketing lead (wife/sister-in-law/daughter-in-law), and John Hepp has been an entrepreneur for 25+ years (father). They all have their hands in the restaurant.

It all feels very, if you build it, they will come.

The Space:

The interior is cozy and warm with a bar and the open kitchen/pizza oven as the focal point of the restaurant. To me, this feels like putting your heart on your sleeve – you show what you’ve got and everyone sees the ins and outs.

The bar and tabletops are made from repurposed bowling alley floor and a big part of the rest of the wood interior comes from a 100-year-old building (Douglas fir wood) that was next to this building, that they salvaged as it was coming down. There’s exposed steel beams and white subway tile encompassing the pizza oven and kitchen.In the summer months, they open the garage door windows out to their patio filled with Colorado-made Adirondack chairs, twinkle lights, and their own herb garden.

Their wood-fired pizza oven came from Italy and glows from the embers inside.

The Food: 

The team focuses the majority of their food on local and each server easily rattled off the local, nearby farms like Grateful Hearts Farm and other purveyors each item of food came from. The menu has starters, salads, pizza, paninis, and a kids pizza menu option for kids under 12. They plan to rotate the menu for seasonality around twice a year.

There’s a board with rotating specials with meat, cheese, and then a pasta special, salad special, and their desserts of the week. This kind of flexibility shows the stand-bys stay on their menu but they focus on seasonality where locals can still find something new and inventive.

The thin, hand-crusted pizza is a focal point of their menu. The pizza crisps in 60 seconds as the oven is 800 degrees. They have around nine pizzas, including a weekly rotating staff-made special, and even a make-your-own section to craft your favorite. They also offer gluten-free pizza.

I loved their pepperoni pizza particularly because they use Parmesan (instead of a more traditional mozzarella) which makes for a nutty flavor and lets the sauce and crust shine – see the look in photo above.

It has the perfect crispy thinness. On one wall they have the BPT (best pizza time) which reflects who can prepare the pizza from scratch and cook time. Currently, the best time is one minute thirty-eight seconds.

Pizza prices range from $12-16 per pie. It’s probably worth noting that their prices look more like Boulder prices (which at first surprised me), but because of the high quality local ingredients, I was happy to pay the price. It’s well worth it.

Their charcuterie plates rotate frequently – there’s a specials wall featuring their meat and cheese – including the likes of North Denver sausage, house made pickles, Moon Hill Drunken Higby cheese from Steamboat, house made mustard, and bread made special for them from (James Beard Nominated) Moxie bread. This particular plate was adorned with delicious, delicate micro greens.One thing I always wonder about with meat and cheese plates is that you pay a lot but you get one cheese and one meat. I like the range Peel offers from their Poplar plate ($8.50 – one meat, one cheese, accompaniments, sliced bread) or like their Mahogany plate ($17 – three meats, three cheese, etc. etc.).

The pasta dishes they offer are topped with their homemade sauce with pasta sourced from Pappardelle in Denver. The pasta dishes are rustic, simple, and hearty.

For dessert, we tried the pie in a jar and this seasonal creme brûlée with citrus. I loved the delivery of the dessert and also how fun it was. They also have a seasonal cheesecake and seasonal crisp that rotates on the menu.

Peel represents what a lot of heart and dedication can do, no matter the location. The food was so impressive it was one of the better meals I’ve had out in months. I can’t wait to go in the Summer to sit on their patio and enjoy the seasonal food they offer. Go for a little drive, to try them out!

Find Them:

peelhandcraftedpizza.com | 214 Fifth Street, Frederick, CO 80530

Happy hour Monday through Friday from 2:00-5:30 p.m. Open seven days a week until 8 p.m. (9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday)

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Johnny Curiel comes from a proud family of chefs – his mom, dad, and sister are all executive chefs. He joked with me, however, his parents didn’t initially encourage being a chef because they knew firsthand about the long hours and immense hard work it requires. Nonetheless, it was in his blood and he couldn’t turn away from it.

Thus, he started young in kitchens. At age 14 he began washing dishes in his dad’s kitchen in Mexico. At age 18 he traveled across Mexico to learn the time honored food traditions from each state of his home country. When he turned 21 he joined Richard Sandoval, where his cooking brought him to D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and Aspen. Next, he joined Troy Guard where he worked at Guard + Grace, Los Chingones, and Mr. Tuna. He did a quick consulting stint at Bar Taco (new neighbor to Centro) and then he joined the Big Red F team as the Executive Chef of Centro on November 1st, 2017.

Centro (950 Pearl Street) has been a downtown staple since 2007. It’s been a longtime favorite happy hour location of mine – that amazing indoor/outdoor patio, margaritas, fresh salsa, and chips do the trick. I even wrote about them in 2011

Johnny’s new salsas: Salsa on the left is Macha (hails from Veracruz) where it’s actually very creamy and is peanut and chiopotle based. 

However, it’s gone through an evolution of its food and since I’ve lived here (2008), this is the best refresh and upgrade I’ve tasted at Centro with Johnny’s creations.

When asked how much of the menu he changed, he said, “99 percent.” He notes he kept the avocado salsa and that’s about it. You can also see the menu has expanded with far more options which include more seafood than before. Just like Johnny – ambitious and pushing the envelope.

When asked about how much creative freedom he was given, he smiled and said although he was open to guidance and feedback, they wanted to see what he could bring to the table (no pun intended) and gave him the reins. He dug right in. Because of his connections in Mexico he is able to bring in fresh herbs and otherwise difficult-to-find ingredients in regular shipments to the restaurant. His focus was infusing very special regional cuisine from every state of Mexico across the menu, up-leveling the cuisine, while being creative yet approachable.

Johnny shared that he wanted to be sure to include interesting sides on the menu because he wants to encourage sharing and family-style eating; just how he grew up in Mexico. The sides are hardly a throw-away – like their esquites dish (below): sweet corn salad, with limo aoili, dehydrated mole negro and cotija cheese or their pan-seared carrots which look like a carrot castle when they come out with greek yogurt (one of Johnny’s favorite ingredients) candied walnuts, and fresh fennel.

There are six tacos on the dinner menu, all of which are under $5. For lunch, there are tortas and bowls – which are not on the dinner menu. The two meal services vary quite a bit in the food they offer, to cater to different styles.

Johnny and his team cook everything from scratch and often many of the dishes are lengthy to prepare (to be done right) like his mole negro which takes 1.5 days to make, or the achiote pork collar is smoked for 8 hours, and one of their vegetarian dishes, the banana leaf tamal, takes two hours just to thoroughly clean the large leaves.

Tumbada (arroz la tumbada, a traditional Mexican dish prepared with rice and seafood – also known as the Yucatan’s ‘hangover cure’): Pan seared octopus, gulf shrimp, bay scallops, roasted garlic, guajillo peppers, lime, over a red pepper sofrito rice.

When asked about his favorite dish on this diverse and sophisticated menu, Johnny doesn’t hesitate when he shares it’s the slow roasted lamb taco made with chile guajillo, pan-seared tortilla and tomatillo-chile de arbol salsa. It’s a simple taco and he suggest squeezing the lime over the taco for the right taste. When asked why it’s his favorite, he shared it reminds him of his childhood and it’s exactly how his mother made it for him after church every Sunday.

Bottom Left Taco: Pork belly carnitas, black bean refritos, salsa oaxaca, avocado. Top Right Taco: Slow Roasted Lamb (the Johnny fave).

Finally, I was surprised to learn he has no pastry chef and he also makes all the desserts everyday. He insists he keeps it simple but upon trying his tres leches cake (below) it’s anything but straightforward in the best way possible. Instead of traditional milk, he uses mezcal eggnog, goats milk caramel, strawberry chile di ablo preserves, and whip cream integrated with greek yogurt atop a sugar cookie. I suggest pairing with a glass of Mezcal while you’re at it.

I encourage you to try this completely overhauled menu under the new chef direction.

Finally, Centro has many weekly specials that can’t be missed. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Monday all night happy hour – 3 to 6 p.m. and dishes are $6 or less, beer cans for $3, $5 margs.
  • Sunday is family night and kids eat free (plus at night, they feature different live bands).
  • Tamale Tuesdays (they get taco tuesday is played out) so try seasonal tamales for $2.
  • They also serve brunch Saturday and Sunday with weekend specials.
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