Now seating the Flintstones

Paleo diet gets out of the cave and onto Boulder menus

Ahi tuna from Blooming Beets Kitchen
Susan France

It was 2013’s most-Googled diet. Over 500 Registered Dieticians named it one of 2014’s top diet trends. And these days, it seems like every single one of the thousands of people nationwide who follow the paleolithic or Paleo diet live in Boulder.

There’s no denying that paleolithic eating, which claims to mimic the ways of our pre-agricultural ancestors by focusing on protein and eschewing grains, legumes and industrially processed seed oils, is the saber-toothed tiger of current diet trends. But though word of the paleolithic trend has spread through Boulder County like prehistoric wildfire, the diet — known more for what you can’t order — has been slower to make it onto restaurant menus.

But it started working its way in last March at the Village in central Boulder — a fancy name for what is really an unassuming mini-mall at Folsom and Arapahoe. Look a little more closely and you might just see a few sweaty patrons of CrossFit Sanitas in the parking lot, sprinting and pushing tires before heading into their Connect mirrorless with us “box” (CrossFit speak for a gym) to perfect their burpees, snatches and squats. The gym, which was founded in 2012, got good reviews and built a devoted clientele almost immediately, but founders Eric and Melissa Roza ran into just one problem: hunger. After a shower, commute home and food prep time (many CrossFit enthusiasts follow a Paleo-style diet), many clients were famished. And not just any kind of famished — the me-eat-cave-bear sensation that is particular to a fitness enthusiast who has just picked up and put down heavy objects approximately one billion times.

The Rozas had only to look across the parking lot at Zolo Grill to find their solution. Many patrons already headed to the restaurant for an afterworkout meal (burger, no bun), so why not take it a step further? A few weeks later, CrossFit Sanitas and Zolo Grill had partnered on a Paleo menu with a simple premise: a $10 meal that could be pre-ordered by Sanitas patrons and that would arrive hot and ready at the end of that day’s workout.

“The Paleo diet is pretty specific,” says Brent Bedard, general manager of Zolo Grill. “The process of coming up with Paleo menus has been fun for Chef Justin Goerich. There’s nothing like throwing around some big tires, running five miles and then grabbing a meal. If you take away the tires and the sauté pan, it’s very caveman.”

Zolo doesn’t just offer its Paleo menu to CrossFit Sanitas patrons —anyone can ask for the Paleo menu, which costs $10 and includes a choice of one main protein (burger, roast pork, chicken breast or chorizo) and one side (salad, seared greens, roasted vegetables or sweet potato hash). Tom Baker, CrossFit Sanitas’ gym manager, notes that the menu has been so successful that the gym is considering partnering with other restaurants like YellowBelly.

And Boulder’s paleolithic menu trend doesn’t stop there. In fact, it’s evolved into a first: the city’s first all- Paleo restaurant, Blooming Beets Kitchen, which opened May 22.

Housed in a contemporary space studded with reclaimed wood and industrial steel, the restaurant is the brainchild of Paleo blogger Iva Paleckova, who says her Paleo diet helped her drop 15 pounds and improve her mood and overall health. A self-proclaimed “cooking idiot,” Paleckova searched in vain for a 100 percent Paleo option in her adopted hometown. When she couldn’t find one, she decided to start one herself. She added the proceeds of an Indiegogo campaign to her own savings and a few business loans and selected Diagonal Plaza in North Boulder as the site of her new venture.

Along the way, she’s collected an executive chef (Brittany Kerr), more than 113 backers (allergic, celiac and Paleo enthusiasts from all over the country), a distributor for local, GMO-free vegetables (Source Local Foods) and even a rancher (Casey Cook of Colorado Sustainable Farms).

“It’s not just about the money,” she says. “This is our chance to show people that Paleo can be delicious. That it’s easy to enjoy healthy, sustainable food.”

Blooming Beets Kitchen will offer a menu that’s 100 percent grain, corn, gluten and soy-free and that uses coconut, avocado and olive oils in place of processed canola and soybean oils. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with prices ranging from $7.50 for a beet-gingercitrus bisque to $25 for grass-fed steak with mushroom sauce. In addition, Blooming Beets Kitchen will offer chef-selected recipes for some dishes on its menu so patrons can enjoy Paleo dishes at home.

“I really hope this restaurant helps counter the meathead image of Paleo eating,” says Paleckova, who notes that transparency about food sourcing and cooking methods is paramount. “I invite anyone who has questions about what we’re doing not just to come in, but to explore our pantry, our kitchen. We’ll be happy to open them up to anyone who asks.”