Crystal Palace Grille looks to fill void
August 1, 2008
ASPEN ” Taking up where a legend left off is never easy, and the proprietors of the recently opened Crystal Palace Grille are finding that they are no exception to that rule.
The CPG, as it is called informally, is the successor business in the space once occupied by the locally fabled Crystal Palace dinner theater, at the corner of Monarch and Hyman.
The old Crystal Palace was closed in April by its founder, Mead Metcalf, after more than half a century in business, mostly in one location.
Managed by Vince Lahey, formerly of the Genre restaurant, the CPG is a partnership between the building’s owner, Michigan businessman Linden Nelson, and Brad Smith, the chef at the Palace for its last eight years of operation.
“It’s difficult,” Smith said about trying to follow such a legendary operation. “We’re finding that out now.”
Lahey added, “The challenge we see is the town thinking the Crystal Palace is closed … the perception locally is that.”
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Citing what he called “all the press” surrounding the closure of the old landmark,
Lahey said, “Has that been driven home so far that people can’t believe there’s
anything than can open here?”
Reopened as a steak house on July 3, but without the trademark dinner theater that became an Aspen institution, the new eatery hopes to build a reputation based predominantly on the quality of the beef it serves.
The menu features two distinct varieties of lean, low cholesterol beef. One is known as Akaushi Kobe, a particular kind of cow from the Kobe region of Japan, which has gained considerable international celebrity, and Piedmontese, from a kind of cow that evolved over the course of 25,000 years in the Alps of northern Italy.
While perhaps less known to the general public, according to Smith and Nelson, Piedmontese is of the same quality as Kobe, and they said the CPG is the only restaurant in town that serves both.
Smith noted that not only do they serve the two high-quality styles of beef as steaks, but they cut them into veal chops, grind them up and make their hamburgers out of them, and he said all aging, cutting and grinding of the beef is done on the premises.
Nelson said he never had any plans to try to replicate the dinner theater experience, which was said by the fans of the old Crystal Palace to be the main reason they were saddened by the demise of the business.
“No one ever even approached me on it,” he said, although he had several offers from restaurateurs who wanted to move into the space and open up a branch of restaurants established elsewhere.
“I really didn’t want to do that, because I like to keep the local flavor,” Nelson said.
Gleefully referring to himself as “a foodie,” Nelson explained at one point, “The entertainment now is going to be the food.”
Smith said that, on top of the high-quality beef, “most of the produce we have is organic,” from regional sources such as Paonia, Palisade and Olathe.
And, said Lahey about the dining room that once hosted the theatrical performances,
“The room … is the most unique room in the world … all open, high ceilinged … you can look out and see the mountains,” a reference to one of the most significant changes made to the place. Where the windows opening onto Hyman Avenue used to be covered up by stained glass, mainly to cut down on outside lights hitting the stage, the windows are now clear.
In addition, Nelson sent to a firm he knows in the east four chairs to replace the old ones that Metcalf had been using, according to Nelson, since the place opened.
But, Lahey remarked, “If you never came in to the old Crystal Palace, we didn’t change a lot. You can still come in and see what you missed.
Located at 300 E. Hyman, the Crystal Palace Grille is open seven days a week from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. for dinners. The bar will stay open later, operating as a piano bar on Friday and Saturday nights and with an Open Mike Night on Mondays starting at 10:30 p.m.