Butch’s Lobster Bar
February 10, 2004
Hidden high atop Snowmelt Road in Snowmass Village is a wonderful treasure for the lover of seafood.
Park all the way up in Lot 13, walk past the small barely noticeable wooden sign that simply says, “Lobster Bar,” wind your way through the ordinary-looking lobby of the Timberline Condominiums, upstairs take a sharp left, and assuming you made reservations, you’ll be sporting a lobster bib in no time.
“This is basically an oyster bar that got big,” says Butch Darden, owner of Butch’s Lobster Bar. He’s not exaggerating about the big part. The restaurant itself is very big, in fact, and was very full the night we were there, although our waiter said it was a slow night.
honestly didn’t know that many people could fit in Snowmass Village. Before Butch’s opened in 1992, Darden spent eight years shucking oysters at his own little oyster bar in the corner of the Tippler. During the summers he worked as a commercial lobster diver in Cape Cod.
After the Tippler, he did a brief stint providing lobster dinners at the Grand Aspen, then finally started his restaurant in the Village. Combined with his Massachusetts upbringing, this experience makes him more than qualified for pulling off an East Coast restaurant in the middle of the Rockies.
“There’s no secret to doing lobsters,” Darden says. “But Cape Cod Little Necks, Top Necks, Ipswich Steamers … that’s what makes for a good authentic East Coast restaurant.”
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Those Little Necks (golf-ball-sized hard shell clams on the half shell or steamed, $8.99 a half dozen) and Ipswich Steamers (clams straight from Ipswich, Mass., with drawn butter and the clams’ own broth, $11.99 for a pound) are just two of the more than 20 appetizers offered on the extensive menu.
We pondered way too long before deciding on the Maryland-style Crab Cakes ($8.99) and an outrageous shrimp cocktail (large Mexican white shrimp, very tender, $7.99). In doing so, we had to pass over the Oysters Rockefeller (Cape Cod baked under a spinach sauce, topped with B»arnaise, $11.99 a half dozen), Nova Scotia Mussels steamed in a white wine butter sauce (one pound, $6.99), fried oysters, soft shell crab, garlic shrimp, and so on.
And we weren’t even to the entree part of the evening. Since we were at a lobster bar, we figured having lobster would be a good idea, but this was no easy decision and not just because the live Maine lobsters hanging out in the tanks near where we walked in are prepared either steamed, grilled, or baked and stuffed with a crabmeat/lobster stuffing.
No, the decision was difficult because of two other pages of sumptuous seafood delights available. On the suggestion of our incredibly patient waiter (although the place was full, the service was exceptionally prompt and friendly), we went with the grilled lobster (price varies with the market; ours was $26.99) and Chilean Sea Bass stuffed with crab and shrimp ($19.99).
Served with coleslaw, corn, rice, and the usual butter/lemon setup, the lobster was incredible. The grilling really adds to the overall flavor (and Butch admits that it’s his personal favorite). Also, I’d be failing you if I didn’t say that the Chilean Sea Bass is a dish you must have before you can declare your life complete.
Other possibilities: Mahi Mahi, grilled with garlic butter and topped with island salsa, $14.99; Bass Parmesan — fresh sea bass rolled in parmesan and pan saut»ed ($18.99); Grilled Top Sirloin with jumbo grilled shrimp, $16.99; Lobster Pasta — chunks of lobster over linguine with a shrimp cream sauce, $22.99.
To top it all off — as if it needs topping off — Darden is as concerned with customer service as he is with providing the freshest, highest quality seafood. “My responsibility is to make sure the customer is happy,” he says.
“If you’re going to go out and talk to people, you have to feel good about what you’re doing.” With head chef Peter Affolter overseeing the kitchen, Darden is freed up to interact directly with customers.
Throughout the meal, you can see him chatting at various tables, making sure everyone is taken care of. “I sincerely want people to leave here having had a good time and a good meal.” Butch smiles. We sincerely did.