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Lunch at Sacred Grounds is almost a mountain retreat




Just before it leaves civilization for cañon living, Cheyenne Boulevard winds its way through a quiet neighborhood just forested enough to make you think that, at this time of year, you might be better off in a one-horse open sleigh. (The periodic presence of cold-gear cycling nuts lovingly belies this image, somewhat.) The final border's signified by the squat, stone presence of the Starsmore Discovery Center, but a little before it there's a square coffee shop off to the left. It offers dirt parking out front, a recently built patio, and a menu heavy on light, fresh eats, courtesy of new owners Cecil Horlbeck and Natasha Shnapper.

Shnapper brings Russian influences that appear in sides of sauerkraut or borscht, but mostly you'll find burritos, quiches, paninis and a display case packed with desserts like bourbon-ball-tasting chocolate truffles ($1.50) and cheesecake ($4.50). "We use all natural and organic ingredients," reads Sacred Grounds' menu. "We also sell whole pies."

The small inside hasn't changed much with new ownership. It's still a cozy mix of tans and browns, with magazines like The Economist piled on novels next to a radio playing Christmas music, and tight enough that scooting one's chair back may or may not knock over a tree by the door and shatter ornaments all over the ground. (Um, sorry about that, again.)

But everybody is gracious, even when you're a little late to pick up your Saturday night take-out dinner. Ours was baby back ribs ($15), one of several rotating call-ahead options also available to take home on Wednesdays. The ribs required proper expectations — cooked in the oven, there was no smoke or bark — but for salty and juicy roast pork, they were delicious. The side of brown-sugar sauerkraut seemed a little shoehorned on, but worked better than I thought it would.

Another day brought one of life's simplest pleasures: a steaming, flaky ham-and-cheese croissant ($3.50). We paired that with coffee from Barista Espresso, pumped from a set of self-serve carafes, and a thick, moist quiche ($5.75) set with caramelized mushrooms and onions. A light spring-mix salad followed, dressed with a zesty red-pepper vinaigrette.

Simple continued to star with the Mushroom Julienne ($4.50), a small appetizer oozing tendrils of heat that defied abstention. Russian in origin, it felt more like something you'd find in a French steakhouse: button mushrooms baked in a cream sauce, topped with a gooey cheddar-jack mix and served next to soft slices of baguette. It was hot, soft and succulent.

The paninis are crisp and dense. A muffaletta ($5.75, with Boulder Canyon chips) full of ham, salami, provolone and a very tangy, very strong olive tapenade, was more distinctive and invigorating than some other regional knock-offs, while the Veggielicious Panini ($5.75) did a pizza thing with a delicious garlicky pesto under roasted bell peppers and mozzarella.

On a Sunday, it was so slammed that an employee could only respond with a strained "Sometimes" when I asked him if it was normally this busy. So we stepped outside with our fresh breakfast burrito ($3.85) of hash browns, onions and green peppers, and sipped coffee from white ceramic mugs. Bicycles with those little pedals that seem to say "I ride this a lot" leaned against the front of the coffee shop, while neighbors poked their heads out into the warming air across the street. The snow considered melting.

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