Healthy at the Harwood
After 12 years of feeding students at Escuela del Sol montessori, Robin Day and her husband Tom Day began selling her cooking to the public. The initial idea, she told me, was to take advantage of a semi-captive audience: parental units that are obligated to drop by the building twice a day, having been briefed by their kids on how good the food is.
The school is located in the Harwood Art Center, the old, high-ceilinged brick building on Mountain and Seventh Street. The approach to the café brings you through the school’s echo- and art-filled hallway. A cute, five-table dining room has been fashioned inside Robin’s corner enclave. The tables hold flowers so fresh they look fake. Smartly framed children’s art is on the wall. An assortment of old, colored glass bottles occupies a windowsill. National Geographic and other magazines, and some books, are on the shelf.
For the most part, what’s served in the café is different from the school menu, although the recipes retain a wholesome, made-from-scratch ethos that makes Robin’s a style of cooking you want your kids to be eating. The chicken noodle soup is one of the few examples of pure overlap, says Tom. “It’s mostly parents buying it for the kids who’ve grown to love it.”
Other than the soup of the day, soups are sold frozen in pint-sized portions for between three and five dollars. Having tried them all, the beef barley, rosemary white bean and squash red bean soups are my favorites—and quite a deal. I found the green chile chicken a little weak on the green for my tastes.
The breakfast burrito, made with oven-roasted Yukon gold potatoes, fresh-roasted green chile and eggs as local as they can find, is absolutely masterful. The finish on the potatoes reacts perfectly with the eggs, cheese and green chile. Altogether it has that breakfast burrito feng shui that’s often approximated but rarely nailed.
You can tell a lot about the quality and integrity of a place by how it cuts or doesn’t cut corners. The little things stand out at Robin’s, like organic milk for the coffee.
Sprouts and sprouted grains find their way into the food in many ways, including perhaps my favorite dish on the menu: Robin’s great grains salad, made with wheat berries, barley, dill, parsley and sprouted lentils in a homemade, roasted garlic and balsamic dressing. The nutty flavor of those sprouted lentils was educational to me. By the register is a disclaimer: “We grow the sprouts that are served here, in order to ensure that they are handled safely from the beginning. We are careful to grow them at a safe temperature and rinse them with fresh filtered water.”
You can tell a lot about the quality and integrity of a place by how it cuts or doesn’t cut corners. The little things stand out at Robin’s, like organic milk for the coffee. Tom told me they use premade organic stock for the soups. While they don’t advertise it, the food is as clean and local as possible. Many of the herbs come from their garden, as well as the tomatoes in the salad and sandwiches. They also buy extensively from growers’ markets and other local farmers. It will be hard for this Locovore to find a restaurant closer to his heart.
Although I’m not much of a wheat kind of a guy, I can appreciate the mastery in Robin’s baking. The green chile cheddar biscuits are like a cross between a scone and an English muffin. Her honey wheat dinner rolls, which come with soup and around sandwiches, are simple yet quietly impressive. The lineup of baked goods on the rack by the register includes muffins made with organic fruit that was frozen in season for this use.
Based on the food served in the café, the 12 years’ worth of students that have attended Escuela del Sol are pretty lucky. And now the rest of the world is finding out. While it’s still a niche location, more and more people are wandering over from Downtown. But when the school is closed, so is the café, and that will be the case on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 15 and 16. As long as school is in session—including the summer arts program that just ended—and it isn’t the weekend, Robin and Tom will be in their kitchen, diligently turning out healthy food for happy girls and boys, and men and women.