Puerto Rican cuisine is now part of the culinary scene in downtown Parker as the former Havana Bakery & Cafe on Pikes Peak Avenue transforms into Isla Verde Cocina & Bar.
“Hopefully by the end of May, first part of June, all these changes will be complete, and we'll be a full-service, sit-down restaurant with a full bar,” Grant Burch, co-owner of the new restaurant, told Colorado Community Media.
Burch, along with chef Jose Rivera and general manager Karen Reyes, purchased the restaurant at the beginning of the year. The trio have been making adjustments ever since — starting with the meu.
Rivera, who spent his childhood in Ponce, Puerto Rico, said Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine are very similar. So he kept the Cuban sandwich, the empanadas, the lechon asado and many other items from Havana’s menu but then added dishes from his own homeland.
“We, as Puerto Ricans, we like explosions of flavors,” Rivera said. “We use a little bit more seasonings than the Cubans, but it's very similar.”
The professionally trained chef, who started cooking in his father’s restaurant when he was just 15 years old, said he takes simple food like mofongo — fried plantains that have been mashed with garlic and the customer’s choice of protein — and elevates it with artful, sophisticated plating.
“Our food is very colorful, full of flavors and happiness,” Rivera said.
Burch’s favorite entree is the short rib with beans and rice.
“The braised beef short rib is just this huge dinosaur-bone-looking rib that has braised beef with a rosemary demi-glace,” Burch said. “It cooks for 12-14 hours overnight. And then when it’s ready the next day, that sucker just falls off the bone. It's so good.”
In addition to the menu, the new owners are rolling out a few other changes. The tradition of live music, however, isn’t one of them.
Musicians play at Isla Verde from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Burch said they’ve developed a following of folks that come to dance. He’s looking forward to moving the festivities onto the restaurant’s patio once the weather warms up.
Inside, there are plans to extend Isla Verde’s bar across the back of the restaurant’s dining room. Near the front door, two of the glass display cases will be removed to make room for a host stand which will aid in the business’s transition from a counter service eatery to full-service restaurant. Permanent signs with Isla Verde’s name and logo are also in the works.
The restaurant’s two murals will stay although they may also get an update, Burch said. The plan is to modify the rendering of the city of Havana so that it looks more like a Puerto Rican coastal town. In the meantime, the weathered blue shiplap walls, burlap swathed ceiling and exposed ductwork painted a cheery red give the restaurant a warm, easy-going air.
“When you walk in, you really get the feel of what it's like to be on the island — everything from the drinks to the food to the atmosphere,” Burch said. “It's kind of like a step out of the mountains and a step into the beach.”