As children, before we learned that the only certainties in life were death and taxes, the one thing we could count on was summer vacation. For three glorious months we had no school, no homework, and nothing to do but play around and enjoy ourselves. These warmest days of the year held endless adventures -- hiking in the hillsides, inventing new games with our friends, and cooling off by running through the sprinklers. Whatever we did, we almost always did it outside.
For most of us, reality set in between about 15 and 23. Summer jobs and real work killed summer vacation. For the first time, a Tuesday afternoon in mid-July became just another day at the office.
While that special summer feeling of freedom and possibility may now be beyond our reach, we can do some things to steal little bits of it back for ourselves. Start by spending as much time as possible outside, soaking up the magically relaxing warmth of the summer sun. Then, make extra time to be outside by eating outside.
For me, eating in the open air is at once casual and fancy. While the food itself tends to be low-key, there's something essentially luxurious about lounging over a meal in the afternoon sun or the evening breeze. Besides, the picnics, camping trips and backyard parties associated with summer all involve eating outside. But even an ordinary day can become a mini-summer vacation by eating out somewhere you can eat out -- on the patio.
One of our city's most tranquil patios is hidden away at The Margarita at Pine Creek. Spread out over a gentle slope are several tables surrounded by trees, shrubs and flowering plants. The bits of shade and warm light make the perfect setting for a late Sunday morning brunch.
As the sun warms your face, dig into hunks of the Margarita's homemade coffee cake, served up oven fresh. The crunchy topping of brown sugar and nuts gives way to a light, moist and sweet cake that captures the spirit of leisurely weekend breakfasts. So do the eggs benedict, offered with the traditional Canadian bacon ($11) or lump crabmeat ($15). Either way, the eggs are gently poached and topped with a smooth and piquant hollandaise sauce. If something more like lunch strikes your fancy, salmon cakes ($11) feature house-smoked salmon and a generous mound of fresh greens and summer veggies. In addition to brunch and dinner, you can enjoy cocktails and live music on The Margarita's patio, where the low stucco wall gives way to an open field and easy views of the summer sunset.
If you work downtown, you have many choices to reclaim summer at an outdoor lunch, including the quiet front porch and garden at the Dale Street Caf. Boxes of colorful pansies and a burbling wall fountain frame the patio, and a well-planted garden lies just across the sidewalk.
Seated beneath a large umbrella and basking in the glow of the old Victorian's funky purple charm, complete the Mediterranean mood and try the Nissa Socca pizza ($8.75). Sitting atop the rustic, handmade crust, you'll find a tangy concoction of artichoke hearts, onion slices, and Kalamata olives suspended in melted cheese. This bit of pizza on the patio ought to quickly rekindle those summer fires.
For patio dining that's as exciting as it is relaxing, check out Jake and Telly's. Perched above Colorado Avenue in the heart of Old Colorado City, their second-floor patio offers people watchers (like me!) a great lunch with a view of the crowded street below. You can gawk at the parade of summer tourists over mezze, including anginara, a warm, zingy artichoke dip; light and flaky spanakopita; or a cool plate of grilled haloumi cheese and roasted red bell peppers.
My personal favorite is the souvlaki sandwich ($7.95), loaded with big chunks of tender pork, tomatoes and cucumber yogurt dressing. Marinated according to an old family recipe, Jake and Telly's rich and tender souvlaki captures the essence of casual, yet savory and satisfying, patio dining. Add a glass of wine from their award-winning list and you're sure to recapture the giddiness of your youth.
But, be careful! Once you start reclaiming the summer break of your childhood, who knows what you might decide to do next. Keep this in mind: Water balloons and office equipment don't mix.
-- David Torres-Rouff
The Margarita at Pine Creek
7350 Pine Creek Road
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday, 6-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dale Street Caf
115 E. Dale Street
Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Jake and Telly's Greek Cuisine
2616 W. Colorado Ave., Old Colorado City
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.