Night after night for the last few weeks, I’ve trudged into the kitchen and asked my partner: What should we have for dinner tonight?
The pandemic has given me — and plenty of other people — a chance to slow down and actually start to enjoy cooking, something I’ve always considered more or less a chore. But even so, it was getting a little old.
And so we found ourselves heading west from Longmont one Thursday evening in early December. Though it was only 5:45 p.m., it was already pitch black by the time we parked and walked across the dirt road to Black Cat Farm, which seemed to glow with warmth in the chilly evening air.
When the pandemic forced restaurants to close for in-person dining in March, Eric and Jill Skokan made the difficult decision to close their two popular Boulder restaurants, Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare.
And, nine months on, they still haven’t reopened. But the Skokans aren’t about to let COVID-19 destroy what they’ve worked so hard to build over the last 14 years.
Instead of throwing in the towel, they’ve instead shifted their time and energy to various novel, pandemic-born businesses, including Mabel the farm truck, a successful daily farm stand and al fresco dinners at their farm at Nelson Road and North 51st Street between Boulder and Longmont.
After tragedy struck the Skokan family this summer with the death of 17-year-old son Kelsey, they persisted, managing — somehow — to continue providing others with warm hospitality and nourishing foods, even while grappling with their own unimaginable grief.
The farm dinners were a natural fit for the summer months, when masked diners could wander around the farm in the evening light and warm air, comfortably dressed in short sleeves or just a light jacket. But even now, when the sun dips behind the mountains around 4:45 and the temperature quickly plummets to just above freezing, their farm dinners continue to serve as a magical escape from the pandemic boredom and monotony.
Warmth and nourishment
When we arrived at the farm at our allotted time (reservations are required), we wandered through the farm gate and made our way over to the patio. A member of the Black Cat team greeted us warmly and offered us some hot mulled wine, which we were all too happy to accept. The smell of wood smoke filled the air and, though we couldn’t see much because of the darkness, string lights provided a soft glow around the 1883 blacksmith building and other historic farm structures.
Mulled wine in hand, we followed our hostess up a small hill to our private dining cabana, a square glass greenhouse that had been tastefully outfitted with rustic and cozy decor. And, importantly, a cast-iron wood stove that was already piping hot.
With propane-powered heaters overhead and a pile of wood next to the stove, we stayed plenty warm over the course of our three-hour dinner.
The $80 per person blind tasting menu changes daily, depending on available meats and the day’s harvest at Black Cat’s 425-acre certified organic farm. Black Cat raises heritage sheep and pigs, and grows more than 250 heirloom vegetables, herbs and grains.
On the night we dined at Black Cat, dinner started with crispy chickpeas and a small loaf of sourdough bread to dip in olive oil containing fresh sage from the garden. Next came a plate of bite-sized hors d’oeuvres — homemade potato chips with Black Cat’s take on Bloody Mary dip, roasted carrots, cranberry and walnut crostinis and goat cheese with beets. We also sampled Black Cat’s charcuterie board, with house-cured prosciutto and pancetta and a selection of cheeses and crunchy bites.
The salad course, which came next, exemplified exactly why people are still driving out to rural Boulder County to dine in the dark and the cold, even in December. On its face, the salad was incredibly simple — fresh arugula from the farm, sliced avocado and grapefruit and a simple vinaigrette — but it was one of the most delicious foods I have eaten in a long time. Here is where Black Cat truly shines — by letting a handful of simple, just-picked, perfectly seasoned ingredients stand on their own and remind diners what the now-trendy phrase “farm-to-table dining” really means.
Alongside the arugula, we sampled a warm salad of beets and farro (served in the tiniest Dutch oven) before proceeding to the main course, which, on this particular night, was ham, spaghetti squash, turnips au gratin and roasted carrots with a side of garlicky kale.
We capped off the evening with hot tea, a tiny chocolate truffle, a bite-sized pumpkin square and a perfect, crumbly almond cake with cranberries and walnuts. And just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any better, I spotted Theo the fluffy white farm dog making his way toward our cabana, tail held high and swishing happily. We called him inside and he obliged, accepting all of our scratches and pets in the warmth of the woodstove. Meanwhile, outside, we watched a pair of ducks and a very large (and loud) goose roam the premises. This is a farm, after all.
Maybe it was the fact that we hadn’t eaten at a restaurant in weeks, or the fact that we skipped out on my mom’s home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Or maybe it was the romantic and utterly unique ambiance of the dining cabanas and the farm. Or, perhaps more likely, it was the skilled professionalism and true hospitality of the Black Cat team, led by executive chef Eric Skokan and his chef de cuisine Heraclio Garza Silva.
Either way, our farm dinner was exactly what we needed to stay the course during the cold, isolating winter pandemic months to come. For now, it’s tucked away safely in my memory bank — just below the surface — to revisit when I need a quick reminder of the good that still exists in the world and how fortunate we are to live here in Colorado.
If You Go
Black Cat Farm dinners
9889 North 51st Street
Longmont, Colorado 80503
Reservations required — Be sure to call 303-444-5500 or make a reservation online well in advance.