In October of 2014, I wrote about the opening of Food at the Riverside in the 100-year-old Riverside building that was built in 1914 originally as a candy store. Since I moved here in 2008, I never saw anything occupy the space until 2014, and the resurgence of the space also created an event venue, co-working space, and restaurant. A year later, the original restaurant closed and quietly, on November 13th this year, Per La Gente opened in its place.
Per La Genta, meaning “For the People” in Italian, was opened by Colorado-born, Chef/Owner Lewis Guarasci. Guarasci, alongside his steady team of three, all came with him from The Little Nell, the infamous 5-star restaurant in Aspen. Guarasci began his cooking career when he was 15, at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs where he trained under the Olympian, Chef Siegfried Eisenberger, earning his stripes and skill for fine dining at a high volume and swiftness. After many fine-dining restaurant rotations, he landed in Boulder to open his first restaurant.
Guarasci is Italian by heritage and he spoke fondly of his parents cooking and his cultural heritage. As he fluidly moved around his newfound kitchen, he shared that cooking Italian food is where he feels “most sincere” and has always had the desire to cook “for the people,” hence the name and homage.
The Riverside | Boulder’s Home on the Creek:
The Riverside building still hosts co-working with Fuse, and in its front Light Room where the bar resides, there’s room for live music and events with weekly rotating musicians. In the more casual cafe space that faces the open kitchen, Per La Gente seats 20 and in its Creek Room (which is coziest) and overlooks Boulder Creek in the back of the building, it seats up to 30. They have the opportunity to expand to the Light Room which can seat up to 60 and for warmer months, they also have the outdoor patio on the creek.
The building is large with three unique rooms for dining and event space, but once flowing and bustling with customers I can imagine the bright lights of downtown and the rushing Boulder Creek below them will make for a nice ambiance. With breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner being served six days a week, you can’t deny that it’s a lot of rooms and segments to maintain (e.g. breakfast in the front cafe to candlelit dinner at night in back).
When I asked about the parking options at the restaurant since it resides on Broadway’s bust street, Guarasci didn’t seem too concerned and explained in every direction from 1-2 blocks there is ample parking whether it’s a garage one block away, street parking behind them on the park, or the public parking lot right across the street to the West of them. He shared that Pearl Street restaurants on the pedestrian mall face the same sort of parking options that they do, but education of course helps because of the foot traffic Pearl gets. Also, they’ve put together a handy map for the plethora of parking options within walking distance to the restaurant.
Food, For the People:
When trying Guarasci’s food I asked if the winter squash ravioli was made in-house, and he gave me a “What do you take me for?” look, shook his head and smiled like I should know better with his work. I laughed and exclaimed, “You have to ask!”
Guarsci makes everything in his restaurant from scratch. He even got a bigger oven so he could start baking his bread in house. His only other chef, and right-hand man Chris Carillo is the Sous Chef and between the two of them they tackle all dishes, including their desserts like crème brûlée to their house-made burrata to of course, the tender ravioli. They grow their own herbs in the windows of the restaurant and they plan to rotate their menu at least four time a year to reflect the seasons.
For lunch, try their $10 lunch box special including the likes of a warm panini and soup, or starting at 9 a.m. you can also enjoy oatmeal or an egg benedict with coffee, to kick off your morning.
Have I set the stage? Maybe the best way to put it is that they’ve been around the block and know what they’re doing. That being said, let me take you on a culinary tour of their opening dinner menu. You will be wowed, I am sure.
I started with their fried green tomatoes with house-made burrata, basil, and a saba dressing (bottom right). Saba is simmered in copper kettles over an open flame, and is akin to a sweet reduction of a grape, similar to an aged balsamic vinegar. The pear bruschetta comes with whipped goat cheese, shaved pears, and delightful burgundy onions (top right).
Their winter squash ravioli was tender, correctly al dente with a brown butter, sage, and pignolia. The ravioli comes from the “for the table” section of the menu that are great for sharing with a group.
One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the yukon gold gnocchi with celery root, butternut squash, and black garlic. The black garlic is grown by Guarasci’s friend in Texas and it’s called “Texas Black Gold”. These garlic bulbs are heated and fermented for one to months at a warm temperature to cause the cloves to break down naturally which taste sweeter and thus have an antioxidant property.
On their entrees list I loved this beautiful 1/2 roasted chicken with acorn spaetzle, over a parnsip puree, swiss chard and pan jus.
The other outstanding dish was the vibrant kale lardon, pork belly, sous vide egg (perfectly poached), and champagne vinaigrette. It was delightfully crispy and filled with flavor.
They have four desserts on their menu at $9 each. From left to right: Crème brûlée, a rich chocolate mousse made with bittersweet chocolate and a tart, but nicely paired passionfruit sorbet and a Italian cheesecake with a fresh berry couli. The precision and plating on the desserts were impressive, after such a strong round of savory dishes.
One of the things that was most evident to me when I spent the evening with the team of four and eating their carefully prepared food, was how hard they work and how earnest they are in their approach. That’s innate and not something you can teach.
That’s where I’ll leave you. After you’ve journeyed through the food at the new place in town, I hope you head on over to Per la Gente to give them a try.
They’re open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week (closed Monday) serving breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinner. You can learn more about their Benedict’s and breakfast alongside their lunch panini and burgers here.