Gaia Bistro
(out of 4 stars)
1551 S. Pearl St., 303-777-5699

The Draw A cozy neighborhood bistro serving up farm-to-table comfort food.
The Drawback Tables are tiny, and waits can be long on the weekends.
Don’t Miss The savory buckwheat and dessert crêpes, eggs in a basket, cinnamon rolls, French-press Kaladi Brothers coffee, quiche of the day, salmon salad.
Vegetarian Options Fresh fruit with granola and yogurt, oatmeal, cinnamon rolls, a variety of crêpes, Caprese salad.

The arrival of a restaurant like Gaia Bistro in Platt Park was long overdue. Sure, Stella’s Coffee House serves up bohemian-vibe espresso drinks and baked goods, Black Pearl offers nouveau lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, and Sushi Den packs diners in at lunch and dinner, but no one was offering residents a regular breakfast menu. That most basic of neighborhood needs was satisfied when Patrick Mangold-White and Jon Edwards opened their breakfast-lunch bistro in June 2006.

I discovered the spot by accident. I was en route to Mulberries Cake Shop when Gaia’s busy patio tables grabbed my attention. The restaurant—a sunny Victorian with wide-planked floors and big windows—was just as packed on the inside. It was clear that neighborhood denizens, a collection of young families and thirtysomethings, had already deemed the spot a favorite.

After a short wait (lucky for me it was a weekday), I was sitting on the sunporch, sipping on a smooth cup of French-press Kaladi Brothers coffee, and pulling apart a cinnamon roll’s yeasty swirl ($2). The sweet was to tide me over to my entrée, a delectable dish known as eggs in a basket ($6.50). When it arrived, two farm-fresh eggs were baked inside a nest of buttery brioche, topped with béchamel, and sprinkled with chives. This dish’s perfectly cooked eggs and velvety sauce clearly indicated chef Drew Middleton’s classical cooking skills. Later, a delicate ricotta crêpe, folded into quarters and filled with fresh cheese, lemon zest, and a dollop of blueberry compote ($6.50), further revealed Middleton’s light-handed touch.

Gaia’s crêpes—both savory and sweet—are a draw in themselves. Mangold-White imported crêpe pans from France to render the dishes as authentically as possible. The effort paid off with more than 15 flavorful options, all of which showcase the actual crêpe as much as the filling. The savory offerings are made with organic buckwheat flour (and can be made gluten-free for an extra buck), while the sweet varieties are made from organic white flour. In both cases, the simpler selections work the best. That said, the peanut butter, banana, and honey combination is pure decadence at breakfast or lunch. Instead of weighing one crêpe option against the other, ask your server for help ordering. As a whole, service is candid and friendly, though the waitstaff can be stretched thin during the weekend rush.

A couple of weeks after my first breakfast, I returned to Gaia to have lunch on the sunny patio. Sitting outside and taking in the surrounding gardens (many of the bistro’s herbs and some of its vegetables are grown on-site), I gained appreciation for the eatery’s array of seasonal soups ($6), which change daily, rustic sandwiches such as the grilled steak with poblano ($12), and bountiful salads. My particular favorite was the grilled wild salmon salad ($11), a seared fillet topped with a tapenade of kalamata olives, artichoke, and roasted tomato and served over garden-fresh greens.

The salad exemplifies Gaia’s mission: to serve wholesome and seasonal food that feeds both the body and mind. The staff, committed to healthy eating that’s not at the expense of the planet, goes out of its way to source organic flours, natural meats, and the best possible produce available within a 60-mile radius of the restaurant.

Originally, Gaia (which means goddess of the Earth) used ingredients from the South Pearl farmers’ market and the bistro’s own backyard gardens. But Mangold-White has recently taken a more comprehensive approach by leasing five acres of farmland in Arvada: Gaia will buy the seeds, the farmer will plant and grow the produce, and the restaurant agrees to pay for, and use all of, the harvest.

This new arrangement will allow the bistro, by the year 2010, to grow nearly 100 percent of its own produce during the growing season. To keep up with the volume of fresh product, Gaia plans to expand service to dinner four nights a week—and offer a garden-driven, comfort-food menu. Coupled with fine boutique wines and creative cocktails (Gaia’s liquor license will go into effect by July), the dinners are bound to become a neighborhood favorite.

As I lean back in my chair on the sun-dappled patio, surrounded by the subtle perfumes of the gardens, I think how naturally Gaia Bistro fits into its digs. It may have been a long time coming, but Platt Park’s dining scene now feels blissfully complete.