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Thursday, July 14,2011

Small-town hospitality

Niwot Market turns casual dining into community affair

By Clay Fong
photo by Sue France

 

Throughout the warm weather season, the Niwot Market dishes up a Friday night supper that’s as much a community happening as it is an enjoyably casual dining experience. Menus vary from week to week, so it’s best to call ahead to find out what’s cooking. On some evenings the entrée might be fried chicken or steak, on another night clam pasta. The evening that friend Cynthia and I went, the menu was an $18 All-American barbecue heavily influenced by Southern home cooking.

We arrived at the starting time of 6 p.m., just as the courses arrived at the outdoor buffet table. Many tables were already occupied, with communal dining being a common theme. Live blues contributed to the festive, communal vibe. Within moments of sitting at a four top, we ran into my colleague Doug and his wife Maureen, Niwot residents and loyal fans of the market’s dinners. We learned the Market also serves a reasonably priced Sunday breakfast, which will likely inspire a return visit.

Meals here come with all the trimmings, and I felt compelled to make a few command decisions. I bypassed a colorful green salad in favor of fresh, ribbon-like cole slaw. It was refreshing to run into a version of this classic summertime salad that wasn’t soggy and drenched in mayo. Instead, Niwot’s preparation was both crisp and lightly dressed. Not-too-sweet cornbread, served straight off a baking sheet and drizzled with honey, wasn’t too shabby either.

I could have easily made a meal of two of the sides, namely the collard greens braised with hot pepper and meaty ham hock. It’s rare to see these nutritious and flavorful greens on the menu, let alone ones that have an ideal crisp/tender texture. The other was the macaroni and cheese, which Cynthia deemed brilliant. Topped with a breadcrumb crust, this pasta had the full, tangy flavor that can only come with the copious application of real cheese. The pungent qualities were balanced out by a deep creaminess, which compelled me to come back for seconds.

Of the two main courses, I preferred the delicately smoky beef brisket over the ribs. The ribs did have an exemplary falling-off-the-bone texture, but there was too much salt on the meat. A more assertive sauce would also have shown off these ribs to better effect. The brisket had the melt-in-your-mouth qualities that can only result from true slow-cooking. Furthermore, the correct balance of smoke, salt and fat gave this meat a velvety richness that made adding sauce superfluous.

Dessert consisted of simple but well-executed cupcakes from Slice of Feist, whose offerings are available in the market’s baked goods section. These were topped with a fresh raspberry and a delightful lemon frosting that reminded me of something my mom would make. While I’m not the biggest fan of white cake, I could fully get behind this light-textured version that wasn’t too sweet and played nicely off the frosting’s citrusy qualities.

Nourishment comes in many forms, and certainly the Niwot Market’s Friday dinner provides more than ample culinary sustenance. But judging from the familiarity that diners had with one another in a comfortable, easygoing setting, this event also provides welcome community nourishment. Even if you don’t live in Niwot, this meal’s still an opportunity to experience genuine small town hospitality.

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