Bradford Heap’s Salt: a Boulder Restaurant review. {Updated}

Via Waylon Lewis
on Sep 1, 2009
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salt restaurant bradford heap boulder green

Update: Salt, a few months after opening, has come into its own.

The first few months, I didn’t go to Salt hardly at all. Why would I go elsewhere than the Kitchen for fine dining, for great style, for local food and quality beer, for friends?

But then, I stopped by one night to see a friend, they were getting drinks in the old stone basement turned lounge, bar, dining room (great for private parties, huge dinner parties). Bradford, the owner and chef, stopped by, and his continual charm and more importantly his evident hard work and caring for his business of food struck me, once again. And I got hooked.

Though I personally am on a budget, I find the prices reasonable. I go once or twice a week, now, for business lunches (I’m particularly impressed by the hand-cut fries, the homemade ketchup, the coffee made by the cup, the warm service—everyone stops by and remembers you, says hello, introduces themselves to your guests, and really seems to care that you’re enjoying the food).

The menu continues to evolve, as do and should most quality menus based in part of local fare. Bradford’s always trying out new recipes, and assures me he’ll be offering more and more vegetarian-friendly fare (the meat and fish offerings are, by all reports, impressive).

The service, which earned widespread complaints by my friends and colleagues the first few months (though I’ve never had anything but warm and thoughtful, timely service, personally), has by all accounts improved. It seems the growing pains are gone, and Salt has emerged a first-tier, mindfully eco-responsible, elegant yet relaxed dining option in Boulder.

The other night I went by for a private media dinner, got to meet some of the local farmers (most of whom I already knew, since I shop at Boulder’s wonderful Farmers’ Market. I invited slow food chef Peggy Markel to join me, or rather Bradford himself invited her along. I was also joined by my friend Kaitlyn, from Jax, who knows her food, and they both helped (ignorant) me judge the drinks and dishes. While they had suggestions and constructive quibbles, we all came away loving the place.

I’m a fan.

elephant’s Original (P)review, which has ranked front page, #8, in Google searches for “Boulder + Salt” since we posted it:

I went to Salt, the newest restaurant on the Boulder scene, last night—opening night.

It’s in the former location of Tom’s Tavern, a longtime favorite restaurant that used to be party central for the wild Buddhist scene back in the 70s (I can’t tell you the number of hours I sat at a booth coloring a placemat and watching the Budweiser horses roaming their way around their lit-up ceiling beer display).

Tom’s, over the years, while still revered as a part of unpretentious, affordable Boulder (two qualities we now lack), went downhill over the years. Toward the end, the burgers tasted like meat-scented cardboard paddies, and the place was in need of some new blood, some love.

Well, it got it.

Word on the street is that Salt’s Bradford Heap, a well-established Boulder-area chef, and his team of investors put in a million dollars in their renovation of Tom’s Tavern.

In any case, it looks it.

It’s one of the most high-profile locations in Boulder, on the corner of 11th and Pearl. Two of the four walls are all windows, now. On the 11th street side, you can see the kitchen, and word is they’ll be serving grass-fed burgers to-go out of a window back there. Cool idea, if true.

The basement is nearly the size of Upstairs at The Kitchen—which anyone and everyone is, at least initially, measuring Salt against. The basement is like the one in my house—about 100 years old, all brick and rock and cement floors. Only, at Salt, there’s a full long bar, tables, a wine cellar, bathrooms…a great place for loud music and hiding away with a loved one or a group of rowdy/cultured drinking buddies (the really rowdy ones, like Ryan Van Duzer, who stopped by with me last night, will still trend toward Catacombs or Scumdowner, where you don’t have to pay $5 bucks a beer).

But the first floor is where much of the action is. You walk off the street and note that they’ve saved the old metal step from Tom’s Tavern (see photos). You walk in, there’s a feng-shui perfect metal half-wall that contains, cut sideways, a bunch of the old Tom’s windows, and serves to guard the excellent cushiony lounge area that overlooks Pearl—now, instantly, one of the best be-cool and be-seen spots in all of Boulder.

There’s a big bar. Inexplicably, they’ve painted the old, historic, gorgeous simple exposed brick—though the sperm/eyeball* abstract paintings are lovely, in their way.

*that’s what Laine from NYC and Katelyn of Boulder Ballet, who I was also with last night, decided the paintings represented.

Bradford Heap is doing it right. Where The Kitchen pioneered, many restaurants have followed—farm to table is where it’s at. Slow Food is what it’s all about.

We’ll see if Salt does all the little things the Kitch does so well—supporting small lobster-catchers, local farmers, producing veggie diesel out back, offering eco-responsible to-go ware, cloth napkins instead of paper, CFL lightbulbs (or LED), composting 85% of their trash, powering their electricity via wind…but my hunch is that Salt will walk the sustainability talk, given Bradford’s excellent background and the gorgeous (and even, gosh, occasionally affordable) offerings on the menu

(which, thoughtfully, includes a Tom’s Burger entree).

The staff is pleasant, outgoing, personable and fun. What else… The decor and fixtures and furniture, while luxurious, aren’t as simple and modern as those at the Kitchen, or even Frasca or Mateo or Radda. Salt is more bourgeois, rich, opulent, but not in a bad way.

My Dale’s Pale Ale, a local brew, was great. Laine got a strange, fancy cocktail, and loved it. Her friends got some nice wines. We all had a great time, Bradford himself, all 6 feet 5 inches of him, stopped by and chatted twice, and my pals all declared they’d come back often (except perhaps for Mr. Duzer, who you’ll likely find at Catacombs drinking $3 buck Fat Tire (that said, he’s not a Kitchen/Frasca/Radda/Mateo type guy, either).

Today, I intended to check ’em out with my pal Michael Ramsey for lunch, but got snagged by my dear friends Peggy Markel and Lisa Mills and, ironically, wound up at The (good old) Kitchen for a yummy, veggie, affordable luxury of a lunch.

(Bradford actually stopped by for a meeting I guess, at one point, and asked if I ever worked).

So, I’ll save up a bit*…and hit Salt for dinner. I’ll then report back on the food, service, why it’s called Salt…all that good stuff. For now, I’ll just say that I’m glad this key corner has been gutted, cleaned, opened up (the vast tall windows and new doorway are brilliant), honored (they re-exposed the historic tin ceiling, and thoughtfully left the Tom’s Tavern name on the east outside wall; see photos), and filled with life and laughter and eco-responsibility.

And if you have comments of your own, please do leave them below.

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**(I never go out but to Mountain Sun or Sherpa’s or Chipotle, these days, or to get a few groceries at Farmers’ Market or Whole Foods, as I wait for online to make 1/10th as much as elephant magazine did. We’ll get there!).


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


21 Responses to “Bradford Heap’s Salt: a Boulder Restaurant review. {Updated}”

  1. oryoki says:

    Well written, I'm sure Bradford will certainly appreciate your article.

    It will take a lot of $5 beers to pay off a million dollar re-furb.

    Interesting that you only use the "new urbanism clique" in your comparison. Well, except for your beer price low balls. Doesn't Van Duzer know The Attic has $1.50 brews?

  2. Jill says:

    Does Salt have a website yet? I'd like to check out their menu.

  3. uncompromise says:

    the 'cost' of supporting the local economy is generally a false metric, as there are many intangible benefits of paying more for local produce; increased economic autonomy, more taxes available to local council, decreased pollution through transportation = decreased public health infrastructure costs & decreased environmental management costs.

    Then there is the cost of service (paying staff appropriately rather than this 'minimum wage' BS), the cost of ambience and being unconcerned that your night is going to be impacted by a group of out-of-control college students whose interest is in quantity over quality.

    I've been buying organic / local for more than fifteen years – even at times when i was stony broke. I'd rather pay more for one, good quality local beer, than three cheap, low quality out-of-town beers any day.

    Places like Salt (I look forward to my first meal there) and the rest serve a valuable place in the ecoverse – they remind us that it's possible to be healthy, ethical, community-oriented AND stylish.

    It's places like this that take the values they espouse from being fringe ideals to practical realities for the 'mainstream'.

  4. Answers to both questions in this excerpt via Westword's great blog
    Heap's menu, which will change weekly, is inked with the local purveyors — Full Circle Farm, Oxford Farm, Wisdom Poultry, Cure Farm, Munson Farm, Haystack Mountain, First Fruits Organic Farms, Long Farms, Lasater Ranch (you get the idea) — from whence his beef, chicken, pig, cheeses, fruits and vegetables come. "We're taking our food away from corporate greed and making good choices by buying as much as we can on a local level," Heap explained.

    He's also paying homage to Tom Eldridge, who opened the tavern in 1959 and ran the operation until he passed away in 2007 from a brain tumor, by having a burger on the menu that he's named "Tom's Tavern Burger." "I planned to do that from day one," said Heap.

    As for the name of the restaurant (Heap had originally planned to call it Terra on Pearl), it's a long story that's discussed in depth on the menu. But the short version, notes Heap, is that salt has been "civilizing taste for over 6,000 years … and is necessary for the survival of all known living creatures." You'll have plenty of time to read all about it, since SALT is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. The web site is still in its construction stages, but you can call 303-444-7258 for reservations and more information.

  5. I'm sure he does, but he's not telling me.

    I view Mateo, Radda, Frasca, The Kitchen as a new breed of restaurants trying to support local farmers, green practices, and offer healthy food, elegantly—and sometimes expensively. Should have included Sunflower, who's been on the scene for a long time, in my comparison.

    So while there's lots of great "college bars" offering cheap, weak beer for $1.50 or $2, I'll stick with my New Belgium's Fat Tire and Avery's Rascal and Dale's Pale Ale and Mountain Sun and Upslope…local brews supporting generally green-minded local businessfolk. That said, I'd love it if I could buy 'em for $4…whenever I start paying $5 for a beer I start visualizing how much of the same beer I could buy at Liquor Mart, and wondering why I'm acting like a yuppie.

    A great article via our Rusty Ralston: <a href=”…” target=”_blank”>

  6. mdy says:

    Salt is more like The Kitchen than you might realize. ECO-RESPONSIBILITY? I invite you to my apartment overlooking both restaurants. But bring a face mask. From approximately 9:30AM until closing, the downtown is inundated with noxious smoke from their woodburing ovens. Google "woodburning and cancer" and then talk to me about eco-responsibility. Instead of babbling about walking the sustainablilty talk, venture up on to the restaurants' roofs for a dose of what is really going on.

  7. uncompromise says:

    not having experienced this personally, it certainly seems like an incredibly valid point; recommend blogging about this, waylon, and inviting all parties to comment (can we live without woodburning ovens?)

  8. mdy says:

    Thanks, uncompromise, I hope everyone involved does, indeed, comment. And if you or anyone else has any suggestions as to what might be done about this, please let us know.

  9. hau says:

    Ate there on opening night. Was dissapointed. The Camera review said that the restaurant kept some of Tom's old town charm, but the place was your regular pretentious Boulder yuppie place. Tom's "tribute" burger had nothing to do with the real thing.

  10. Steve says:

    Looks like all the used kitchen supplies from Denver ended up here! A complete mis match of used chairs, muffler pipes and left over greese covered kitchen equipment. This is not my idea of a good time. There is no compare to the Kitchen, dream on Brad. More like Juaitas with all the fryers and food poisioning. I wounder if they got rid of all the roaches or if they are serving them up as the local fair. What has Salt to do with a hippy shack decor? This belongs in Nederland not Pearl Street. And what is with the Sperm painting all over the historic brick? I wish Chili's would come and take their chairs back.

  11. Arturo Giuseppe says:

    I have known Bradford's mother for YEARS! He comes from excellect stock! I also do know he is a GREAT chef! Much success on eeverything! BRAVO! FORZA!

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  13. Jorge says:

    not sure where Bradford got the name or why but maybe he has been to Australia, in Sydney, the internationally famous
    " Salt Restaurant " has been racking up the accolades for sometime now.

  14. It's improved, by all reports, since first month. As is natural. I've been loving it, and now find myself dropping by for lunch biz meeting or drink a couple times a week, as often as I can hack it.

  15. I think he was at least partially inspired by the book, "Salt," and the penultimate role of salt through trading and history. The book sits on the hostess' table, always, when you enter.

  16. I think, personally, overall, the decor is awesome. The metal work is killer (esp. the one with cut glass in it—glass that came from Tom's Tavern's old windows.

    At first I too wasn't a huge fan of the wall "sperm" paintings as you call 'em—when you got gorgeous raw brick, you leave it raw, I'm with you—but now that I'm used to it, I like it just fine. They add color and movement. The old tin ceiling is gorgeous. The windows, opened up by Bradford and friends, make this space probably the best space in Boulder dining. And the basement is great for drinks, private dinners, I'm hoping to host a few ele parties there. Finally, I like the bars—made out of old salvaged wood, I think.

    All that's my personal opinion—

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