There’s a common perception that you have to go to Aspen if you want to go out for a nice dinner.
Chris Blachly, chef and owner of Il Poggio on the Snowmass Village Mall, says he used to see a line of cars stretching the span of Owl Creek Road as people returned to their hotels in Snowmass after dining in Aspen.
Aspen has the nightlife, the celebrity spottings, and, in all fairness, some very good restaurants. But what Blachly and others know is that while Snowmass might not compete with Aspen for “scene,” it does have a wealth of talented chefs and good food to offer.
“I understand the glitz and glamour of being in Aspen,” agrees James Mazzio, chef at The Edge restaurant in Timberline Condominiums. “My real take is: We’re just trying to do honest food. There really isn’t that glitz and glamour here.”
James Mazzio, who started working in restaurants 25 years ago at Mezzaluna, went on to earn the coveted “Best New Chef” award from Food & Wine Magazine in 1999 while working at 15 Degrees in Boulder. Mazzio has three rules for his ingredients: they must be raised or grown in Colorado, or sold by a Colorado company. He follows his own rules as much as possible, from the microgreens he buys from a downvalley resident to Avalanche Cheese Co. and 7X Beef products.
“The whole farm-to-table craze now wasn’t a craze when I worked (in the past), that was what it was,” said Mazzio, who grew up on a farm outside Philadelphia. “We were always that way.”
Mazzio started writing menus for The Edge at Timberline Condominiums three years ago and took an eclectic approach with recipes and styles from all over the world. When be became The Edge’s full-time chef last summer, he took the restaurant to a Mediterranean-style cuisine, which still includes a big variety but focuses on Italian, French and Spanish dishes.
“I just realized we were kind of missing a good beat here in Snowmass,” Mazzio said. “It took us two years to find our niche. We don’t want to compete, we just want to add on to what’s going on.”
New this season, The Edge is offering a tapas menu from 3 p.m. to close. The small dishes can “get the meal started, or they can be the meal,” Mazzio said. And they can be a good way to try the menu without breaking the bank. The Edge is also offering burgers, brats and pulled pork in its Mountainside Grill on its slopeside patio from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The staff at The Edge says guests stop in four or five times during their vacation because they can’t get enough.
“I had someone from New York tell me that this restaurant could be anywhere in New York,” Mazzio said. “I was insulted. … Just cause we’re not in New York doesn’t mean we’re not good.”
Will Nolan started working in the kitchen at the Viceroy four years ago and worked his way up to executive chef. Sitting in an office isn’t much for him though; you can still find him in the Eight K kitchen more often than not, unless he’s snowboarding.
“When I got to Snowmass, you could definitely tell Snowmass was … on the verge,” Nolan said. “A big changeover was happening.”
To Nolan, the dining options in Snowmass are elevating. It’s common consensus though that the Eight K restaurant at the Viceroy raised the bar initially when Nolan came on.
Nolan studied at a Le Cordon Bleu school in Portland and has worked in upstate New York, Portland and upscale restaurants in New Orleans. Although he has a fine dining background, when he came to the Viceroy, he just wanted to “cook good food,” he said. Nolan is a native of New Orleans and incorporates southern Louisiana tastes in his food.
“We take really upper-end cooking techniques, styles, even products and incorporate a southern Louisiana twist to it,” Nolan said.
Eight K can get diners in, out and back on the slopes quickly or it can be a place to relax and eat at a more leisurely pace. The Viceroy also houses the slopeside restaurant Nest, which was recently overhauled to become a gastropub serving house-made hot dogs and sausages and Colorado beers.
Nolan tries to incorporate local ingredients as well, buying meat from Emma Farms and cheese from Avalanche. Included on the Eight K menu are trout, elk and other dishes that visitors associate with Colorado. Nolan said he loves to take “dishes that people have heard about” and add a twist, creating menu items such as jambalaya-stuffed quail.
“If you love what you do and you cook good food, it’ll come through,” Nolan said.
“My favorite are the people who say, ‘We’ve been coming here for 15 years,’ or ‘We live here’ and they’ve never heard of us,” said Chris Blachly, who has been chef at Il Poggio for 24 years. “And they’re pleased. … For some people it’s just assumed that they have to go to Aspen.”
Il Poggio only serves dinner and is very successful in the winter. As for a lot of Snowmass businesses, summer is a harder nut to crack, but Blachly said this past season saw improvement.
There might be a lot of people in the dark about Il Poggio, but once they try it they return again and again. One of Blachly’s secrets to success is his staff, many of whom have worked there almost as long as him.
“I think people like coming to work here,” Blachly said. “If it’s a good work environment, that translates into good food, good service.”
Blachly graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and started working in restaurants while he was studying. He interned with the American Culinary Federation and worked at Aspen restaurants Charlemagne and Andiamo, the latter in order to receive some Italian training. After Il Poggio went through six chefs in its first year, Blachly was hired, and over time he took over ownership as well.
“It’s a lot of hard work and there’s definitely luck involved, and certainly having a great staff makes a difference,” Blachly said. “I think we’re pretty straightforward in what we do.”
Il Poggio changes its menu items from time to time, but there are some things that “we just couldn’t get rid of because people would be up in arms,” Blachly said.
Over the years, Blachly has seen other restaurants in Snowmass come and go. When he first started there was a plethora of dining options, then there was a phase when there were very few, he said.
“Now things have gotten better,” Blachly said. “It’s not like it’s more competition. It keeps people in Snowmass.”
“I understand the glitz and glamour of being in Aspen.
My real take is: We’re just trying to do honest food.
There really isn’t that glitz and glamour here.”
– Chef James Mazzio, The Edge