A simple question

Susan France

On the far western edge of the Hill’s business district sits a building that used to be the Second Kitchen Food Co-op but has since been remodeled and made the home of Alpine Modern Café. It’s the restaurant of a company that publishes the Alpine Modern magazine, a periodical of beautiful photos that highlight the intersection of nature and art school.

That aesthetic, which is achieved resoundingly in the magazine, was the clear goal for the café. And the building’s location, when you come in from anywhere but directly east (that is, the Hill), makes it feel more removed from Boulder’s bustle than it actually is.

But if Alpine Modern was going for a nature chic design in their cafe, they missed. What they got was a George Saunders-style, post-apocalyptic hangout where young people stare alarmingly silent at MacBook screens, sitting backs to the wall, creepily organized one after the next, facing into the brightly lit dining area. It felt like an Apple Store, if the Apple Store served craft coffee, which they might. I don’t know.

Then there was also an old guy in blue jeans named Carl sitting proudly alone at the communal wood table in the middle of the space, reading a USA Today.

Then there was me, who saw the eyes of the onlookers for the first time when my order of three entrees and coffee arrived at my table. Until then, many of the patrons were so stoic and resolute to point their perfect little faces only at their screens, unblinking, that I wondered if some of them were actually pieces of furniture and not human beings.

The barista who served my food was very nice, and dressed very alpine modernly. I became self-conscious — or self-aware — speaking aloud to her, and then beginning to eat. The only other sound in the space, which had no empty table by the way, was some low-volume music, which sounded like, but wasn’t, M. Ward playing acoustic covers of Motown classics.

That and Carl crisply crinkling the pages of USA Today.

The food was simple. A bowl of quinoa and two baguettes. The quinoa was dressed lightly in a bright vinaigrette, and topped with avocado and thin slices of pickled cucumber and the world’s smallest radish. The four ingredients of the bowl, separate, were flavorful and fresh. Together, it made a nice bowl for a midmorning snack or a very light lunch.

The baguette sandwiches came on a split pretzel stick. It was definitely a stick and not a roll as it had no greater circumference than what you might call a particularly large hot dog. On the first baguette was smoked salmon and spicy Dijon mustard; there was also that avocado and that radish again. The salmon was good, and chunked like canned tuna, but the sandwich fell apart due to the lack of space on the pretzel stick and the overabundance of creamy elements; the avocado and the mustard.

The second baguette was ham and cheese. The ham was prosciutto cotto, and the cheese was something with medium robustness like brie. There again was the thin pretzel stick, the avocado and the spicy mustard.

The baguettes tasted just OK. They were a mess to eat and, ultimately, they felt uninspired. I would not pay the $11.50 for the salmon baguette or the $8.90 for the ham and cheese again because there was probably only $5 of food (at most) on each, and the ingredients just weren’t elevated or particularly exceptional.

The coffee, though, was definitively good. It came down from one of several long science tube setups that are so in vogue now. The espresso I had later came from a shiny spigot on the countertop that ostensibly connected to some sort of espresso-making machine.

Look, simple is good: in life and in food. Their error is not in execution — the food was prepared well and the staff was friendly — the error, if there is one, is in the design. At best, Alpine Modern Café is simple foodstuffs and simple coffee when you need a small bite to eat or a pick-me-up. At worst, it’s selfaware hipster bullshit that tries to pass off uninspired and unrooted food as simple, while serving pretty good coffee from pristine Rube Goldberg machines. That’s for you to decide.