It was a brilliant move: Open a Rasta Pasta location just blocks from Colorado College and its annually refreshed host of Reggae-concept-loving trustafarians.
Rebecca Taraborelli says she and her husband Matt fell in love with Rasta Pasta in Breckenridge and Fort Collins, and eventually "pestered" owner Scott Lias into selling them rights to a store and training them during weekend trips. But while conceptually indebted to Lias, Rebecca is emphatic: "This is not a franchise."
Having grown up in Colorado Springs, Rebecca and her brother Gregory Harris (who rounds out the ownership trio) knew that targeting the college would be their best bet, and they've gone as far as accepting students' meal cards, like Wooglin's and La'au's Taco Shop. But since their early October opening, they've enjoyed a migration of business lunchers up Tejon Street and steady support from eaters who don't look like they just completed a shopping spree at the Poppy Seed.
Rasta Pasta courts a sense of humor about its dining demographic, with a "Hippies Use Backdoor (no exceptions)" sign posted between its tiny bar area and half-walled kitchen. Otherwise, it unabashedly embraces Rasta-mania, down to red, yellow and green CFL bulbs in its hanging light fixtures. The only thing missing: Selassie meatballs. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Servers are genuinely friendly, and tables are sparsely set with a spice tray, Red Stripe bottles as vases and only a fork on a black cloth napkin. After desiring a knife to halve large salad greens and a spoon to stir tea sweetener, I propose the servers set a traditional trio.
As for the irie grub, Rebecca says she can't alter her progenitor's pastas, but does have license to add items. One is the bountiful Chicken Citrus Spice Salad ($7.95) of jerk chicken and pineapple chunks with diced onions, peppers and carrots over red leaf and Romaine, sporting a delicious and tangy citrus spice dressing.
Another is a simple dessert concept built around three sauce choices — Bananas Marley (the fruit with rum), Pineapple Cool Runnings (the fruit in a mild curry sauce) and Chocolate Jammin (spiced chocolate) — over a vanilla scoop of Breyers Natural (each $3.95). All are good, but the bananas rule. One suggestion: Source a local ice cream instead, to truly spread the good vibes.
Rasta Pasta does use a proprietary blend of dry jerk seasoning from Red Hat Foods of Austin, Colo., to which it adds its own secret ingredients to make a paste. Paired with a house marinara, it constitutes the principal flavor of many dishes, including its namesake pasta ($6.95 lunch/$10.95 dinner). The penne is pretty tame unless you ask for more spice; on request, Rasta Pasta will add extra jerk, red pepper flakes, cayenne and habañeros; servers may guide diners through a tri-level scale.
Both the Seafood Marinara ($8.95/$12.95) and Dreadlock Ravioli ($7.95/$11.95) bring more of Italia than Jamaica, but soak up a greasy house garlic bread well. Spice and tomatoes aside, the unlikely Tortellini Jamaica Mon ($7.95/$11.95) of ricotta-stuffed noodles, pineapple, bananas and grapes in a white wine sauce quickly became our favorite dish. Points for being totally unique.
If Red Stripe or a variety of sweet rum cocktails take you to Babylon, find Zion with one of the lovely, unsweetened fruit iced teas ($1.85). And note that Rasta Pasta happily accommodates vegans, vegetarians and the gluten-free crowd.
One love, indeed.