Cowboys Restaurant and Bar | AspenTimes.com

Cowboys Restaurant and Bar

Christina Patterson

Just when you think you know what to expect, something like this comes along. When it was decided that we would profile Cowboys in Snowmass Village this week, I must admit I thought I knew what I was in for. Ribs, of course, and baked beans, slaw, corn on the cob, dinner rolls, probably a buffet sort of arrangement with checkered tablecloths. Don’t get me wrong, I think that that is a fine way to eat, but it just so happens that that is not the grub offered at Cowboys.

Luckily I knew in the back of my mind that Cowboys was a fine dining restaurant, so I dressed appropriately. Not that it mattered, of course, as I could have worn my kickers and my rodeo belt buckle, assuming I had one, and been just as at home. I love this Valley.

Now that you have digested the fact that Cowboys may not be what you thought it was, let me take you to the next level. Cowboys is good. No, Cowboys is real, real good. The fine dining world is not an easy one to compete in in this neck of the woods, and Cowboys not only makes a good showing but is even, I would say, nestled up there at the very top of the crowd.

Owner Will Frothingham admits that the restaurant’s name came from his original partner, who was an Aussie with a fascination with cowboys and other things of the American West.

“We serve the food that the cowboy’s wish they could have eaten,” laughs Frothingham.

Yes, and I can almost picture a cowboy of days gone by taking a gander at the menu and getting a little excited for the change of pace from the usual beans: New York steak sandwich with caramelized garlic and onions, jack cheese and fries ($9.50), BBQ shrimp quesadilla with salsa fresca ($8), beef stew in a bread bowl ($8.50), spinach salad with smoked duck breast and warm champagne bacon dressing($9.50). OK, I guess I can’t picture Mr. Cowboy getting too excited about a spinach salad, but I think you know what I mean.

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During the apres ski hours, 2:30-5 p.m., Cowboy’s offers a lighter, scaled down version of their menu, perfect for saddling up to the old chuckwagon after a hard day on the range. And that probably won’t be my last bad cowboy reference, either. Sorry.

Dinner at Cowboys could very well knock your hat back (see?), especially if you have the good sense to start with the crab stuffed shrimp or the smoked salmon cakes (with a tortilla and lime salad and molasses vinaigrette). The peppered carpaccio of elk with parmesan and caper mayonnaise is also a good idea, as is the truffle scented wild mushrooms en croute.

“Yeah, Gabby … lemmee get another heaping ladle full of that there truffle scented wild mushrooms en croute. And some beans on the side. Whoo wee!”

See how fun that is? The dinner version of the smoked duck breast and spinach salad has mandarin oranges, feta, caramelized almonds and a raspberry vinaigrette ($12.50). It is truly stunning. The caramelized almonds are one of those unique tastes that will have you fishing around the dish wondering where that flavor is coming from. They also have a house salad with roasted shitake ($7.50) and a vine ripened tomato salad with a grilled sourdough goat cheese and tepenade crostade ($8.75).

Each night Cowboys features a wild game, fresh fish and vegetarian special, depending on the ways and whims of mastermind chef Ian Gunderud. More on him later. For an entree my companion had the chili rubbed rack of lamb with twice baked chorizo potato and cactus pear port demi glace ($28.50). This is a wonderful, creative dish that I wish I could say was like someone in my family used to make. I had the glazed Chilean sea bass with smoked scallop and shitake flauta and a mango coulis ($23). Beautifully presented, as all of Cowboy’s dishes are, and the absolute lightest, melt in your mouth piece of fish I have ever melted in my mouth.

Other entrees include the salmon roulade with sweet corn quesadilla, lemon fried potato sticks and three sauces, ($19.50), shrimp scampi over linguini ($21.50), a Dijon pork tenderloin with sopapillas, apricot and apple chutney, wilted greens and mole ($22), and New York strip with a caramelized onion and garlic demi and sweet corn hushpuppies ($25).

Chef Gunderud began cooking when he was 14, which means that he has now officially been cooking for half of his life.

“It is the only career I could ever imagine having,” he says. “I’m just so passionate about food and cooking for people.”

His passion certainly shows in the way he turns each plate into a work of art by painting with colorful sauces and adding whimsical garnishes.

“And, of course, we make sure that our food is just as dramatic as the plate.”

OK, you want drama? Check out the homemade peach cobbler, or the vanilla cheese cake with mango raspberry sauce, or the creme brulle, or the chocolate mousse. My companion certainly had that dramatic flair as he attacked my plate of cobbler.

Cowboys is also a full bar, and if you want you can get a few goodies, along the burgers and quesadilla line, served to you there. They have an extensive wine list, with an emphasis on California reds, and entertainment six nights a week featuring the likes of Thelma and Louise, Damian Smith, Jimmy Dyken and Haydan Gregg and others from night to night.

Cowboys is that rare combination of friendly, local and elegant, and may very well be one of the best kept secrets in the valley. I can’t help but think that if the cowboys WOULD have eaten food this good, then certainly the history of the American west would have read much differently.

“Would you care for some more creme brule, Mr. Cassidy?”

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