Aspen Times Weekly: Grand Tastings, Aspen-Style
Ryan Summerlin June 20, 2014
Celebrated chefs. Master sommeliers. Entrepreneurial restaurateurs. No, we’re not talking about the cognoscenti in town this weekend for the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
We’re talking about the folks who make our little mountain town a world-class food and wine destination — each and every day.
Here, we’ll take you for a taste of what’s cooking, shaking and baking at local restaurants, cafés and bars, all just a few steps away from the Classic’s iconic white tents.
Jimmy’s Bodega Aspen: Seafood•Vino•Raw•Bar•Mezclaleria
When the crowds line up on the Mill Street mall this weekend, it will likely be as much to snatch a patio table at the new Jimmy’s Bodega as to stream into the Food & Wine Classic’s Grand Tasting Pavilion in Wagner Park next door.
Opened by Jimmy Yeager at 11:30 a.m. on Monday — after a Facebook countdown that had everyone clamoring to get in — it more than fills the gap left when Pacifica exited the high-profile space last fall. Like Yeager’s popular Jimmy’s An American Bar & Restaurant, which opened during the Food & Wine Classic in ‘97, Bodega is an instant hit.
Not surprisingly, cocktails are key. The must-do? A BOC on BFIC. Translation: A Bucket of Cocktails on Jimmy’s signature Big F-ing Ice Cubes. For each, five perfect, house-made craft cocktails (a Roaring Fork made with Woody Creek Distillery Rye, lemongrass, ginger and fresh lemon and a Vida Buena made with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Aperol and antica carpano, for instance) are bottled to order and arrive at the table ready to pour.
Spritzes, made classically with campari, or “Loco” with tequila, and served in wine goblets, are uncomplicated summer refreshers. More than 100 wines, champagnes and sparklers, and as many as 30 of Jimmy’s favorite mezcals and tequilas round things out.
For eats, chef de cuisine Bryan Nelson (formally of Pacifica) offers a full raw bar, Peruvian, Vallarta and Ecuadorian-style ceviche, and seafood-driven tacos and salads. Line up now.
Next to the dancing water fountain on the Mill Street mall, locals Scott and Carly Weber’s R&R (short for Rest and Relaxation) is shaking things up in the former Above the Salt locale.
To get ready for this week’s opening, the Webers put out calls to bartenders, chefs and other hospitality pros they’ve known around town. The couple also own The Regal nightclub and, over the last twelve years, Scott has worked front-of-the-house positions at restaurants such as Campo de Fiori, Matsuhisa and the former Lulu Wilson and Elevation.
Daytime, and well into the night, R&R’s patio, christened the Veuve Clicquot Lounge, is a comfortable gathering place complete with loungers sporting Veuve’s signature orange cushions and umbrellas, to pop bottles of bubbly. Inside, you can hop a barstool, or grab a seat at one of the tufted banquettes, for cocktails and an evolving menu of share-plates, salads and other healthy fare.
In the realm of ‘what’ll they think of next,’ town’s iconic Popcorn Wagon, on the corner of Mill and Hyman, is now home to one of Aspen’s ultimate pop-ups, Corey Leland’s Sushi Wagon. A long-time sushi chef at Matsuhisa Aspen, Leland partnered with the owners of R&R next door to get the wagon back up and running after Mill Street Melts went wheels-up after the winter season.
Step up to the window for spicy tuna, California, soft-shell crab, shrimp tempura and other cut, or hand-rolled, sushi rolls to go. Sno-cone cups of spicy shishito peppers are a must-try and there’s sweet Bubble Gum soda and Inari sushi for the kids. ‘Natch, the popcorn popper’s back in action, too.
A short stroll along the cobblestones on the Hyman Avenue mall, HOPS Culture taps heavily into the craft beer craze, and the tipplers at the outdoor bar and beer garden couldn’t be happier.
Owner Bill Guth tasted over 2,000 domestic and imported beers and ciders for the 200 or so he selected for HOPS — from Alaskan Smoked Porter from the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau to Wychwood Ginger Beard from the Wychwood Brewing Company in the United Kingdom — and he continues the process daily. As of this writing, 30 were available on tap, and 192 in bottles or cans.
Inside, you can ogle the impressive lineup in the beer cooler, and peruse the menus and tap handles for the rest, before quaffing your pick at the industrial wood-topped tables or bar. For nibbles, try chef Sarah Helsley’s Little Piggies, Wagyu beef “dogs” from nearby Emma Farms Cattle Company wrapped in pretzel bread.
Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop
A bakery in miniature, with a head-spinning, you’ll-want-them-all assortment of cookies, macarons, pastries, breads and other treats, Annette’s is an Aspen gem.
While 40-year local Fino Docimo bakes in back, his wife, Annette, minds the shop, doling out tips on when to best pick up glazed, chocolate and custard-filled donuts (Thursdays at 4:00 p.m.; call ahead if you need a batch), a take on cronuts, called snonuts — croissant dough stuffed with custard and topped with lemon glaze (Fridays at noon), buttery chocolate-filled kouigin-amann (daily at 10:30-10:45 a.m.) and soft pretzels (Saturdays at 4:00 p.m.).
On the savory side, Annette’s does a brisk sandwich business as well. Pulled pork and the “secret sandwich,” which regulars know is a New Orleans-style muffaletta, are favorites. Daily specials are noted on Facebook and twitter. Sweet.
New York Pizza
Pizza-lovers craving the real deal need only to zero in on New York Pizza on the Hyman Avenue mall. Half-way up the “Stairway to Pizza” (so dubbed by Aspen Times editor Rick Carroll as a play on Led Zeppelin’s famous “Stairway to Heaven”), your mouth will start to water. By the time you spot “pizza-man” Earl Rodgers pulling a 24-inch “monster” pie out of the oven, you’ll be in full drool.
The situation is easily remedied by simply pointing at one of the half-dozen pies you can access by-the-slice, and then scarfing it down along with a local brew. Better yet, you can order a whole pizza of your own and do the slice-and-a-brew thing while you wait, at a table overlooking the mall.
Rodgers owns the place with Kevin Jones, and while the pair hail from Louisiana, both are smitten with New York-style pies. Theirs are hand-tossed and thin-crusted, and cut into generous slices — perfect for a NYC fold.
Purists go for a traditional cheese pie, but you can add everything from pepperoni to anchovies to pineapple. Other favorites are the White Garden (tomatoes, spinach, red onions, feta and garlic pesto) and The Works, which speaks for itself. Meatball heroes and eggplant Parmesan sandwiches are tasty, too. The topper? The doors stay open until 2 a.m.
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oi, Oi, Oi.” This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of this authentic, Australia-focused café on the corner of Durant and Galena, and it continues to get better and better with age.
Owners Victoria Haveland and John Beatty, from Vancouver and Sydney, respectively, see to it that “brekkie” specialties — bacon, a “gooey” free-range egg and bbq sauce-mayo on Turkish flatbread (the ultimate hangover cure, according to Haveland), vegemite on toast, and spiced veal sausage rolls, remain true to form.
But they’re also always adding to the mix. This summer brings Matcha Green Tea (the ultimate antioxidant) smoothies and lattés, house-made 12-spice Chai, baked beans on toast with poached eggs, Bircher Muesli made with caramelized apples, almonds and fig compote, and gluten-free orange-pear-coconut polenta cake.
Short blacks and flat whites rule on the coffee board. Later in the day, stop by for crostini and gazpacho, or a pour of one of Beatty’s hand-picked wines and spirits at the Sipping Bar.
Cash only. Grab a cup. Fill it up. Weigh it. Pay it. The “rules of Red Fox” are as simple as that, and the concept of the little corner stand on the Hyman Avenue mall side of the dancing fountain is right on the money.
Stop by for a palate-cleansing, self-serve cup of 100% natural Colorado frozen yogurt in daily flavors ranging from vanilla and chocolate to cookies ‘n cream, as well as an occasional raspberry lemonade sorbetto. Bins of toppings — granola and almonds if you’re watching your waist (doubtful this weekend), gummy bears and M&Ms if you’re not — allow for custom creations.
Now, don’t you wish you lived here?