Technically, Cafe Gondolier is in Boulder. And yes, I realize this is the I Ate Denver blog, not the I Ate Boulder blog. Five years from now it's all going to be one city, though, so I'm just trying to give you a head start. You're welcome.
According to Cafe Gondolier's website, they are the oldest family-owned restaurant in Boulder. This alone makes it worth a try, no? I first ran across this restaurant when they were located on Baseline at US-36. I used to see their sign with the big advertisement of 'All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti!' and shiver inside. I figured they were just another medicore red-sauce joint trying to appeal to the CU kids with limited incomes, so I never gave it a fair try. When I graduated from that hilly mecca for hippies and Mercedes-drivers alike, I didn't think I had ever eaten at Cafe Gondolier.
I was wrong. I was fooled! Bamboozled, if you will. Cafe Gondolier had moved, and my little college brain was unable to process that the lovely Italian cafe where I enjoyed an evening before a formal event was the same 'All-You-Can-Eat' place. So, when I arrived back at the new Cafe Gondolier (17th & Pearl) this weekend, I finally put two-and-two together. Sure, it only took me 3 years, but I get it now.
No longer waving a gaudy red-and-white banner heralding cheap pasta, the cafe now seems a respectable place from the outside. Located right next to Boulder's well-known Frasca, the 'new' location offers a large, romantic patio that smartly faces East (preventing the foothills' famous winds from whisking away your napkin). Inside, cute murals of stereotypical Italian scenes adorn the golden-hued walls, and a piano player adds a bit of ambiance.
In addition to a regular menu, Cafe Gondolier also offers a tapas menu. (Wait... aren't tapas Spanish? Well, regardless...) A couple could easily make a light meal out of a few items off of the affordable list. Add a bottle of wine and call it a night. The night I visited, I had a heartier appetitite. One that could not be tamed by mere tapas! We began with a huge plate of calamari. Lightly breaded, not too chewy. Only complaint was that it came with a simple marinara sauce. I prefer a spicier sauce with calamari since it doesn't have a ton of it's own flavor. It was a large serving though, and with all that food that was to come, I could probably have gone with the tapas size.
For my meal, I surprised even myself. All these years after being a poor college student, and well into my years of making fun of poor college students... I ordered All-You-Can-Eat spaghetti. And guess what? It was freakin' amazing, and arguably the best value in Boulder. $10.95, and just an extra 2 bucks to add some delicious Italian sausage. The value doesn't stop there, folks! This 'spag' also comes with soup or salad and bread. Although I'm not sure if the bread is the same every night, we received some wonderful focaccia, that worked well to soak up the remnants of the chunky Tomato Soup with Basil and Gorgonzola. Mmm...
On my next visit (and there will be a next visit), I plan on trying one of their pizzas. I don't think the table next to us appreciated me drooling on theirs. The sandwiches also look fantastic. And if you're in the area for lunch, they do a quick take-out of spaghetti for ridiculously cheap. I will let this be yet another lesson in judging a book by its cover... or in this case, judging a restaurant by it's tacky banner. Mangia!