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Jimmy’s – An American Restaurant & Bar

In a town where restaurants come and go, Jimmy’s – An American Restaurant & Bar, has stood the test of time … and for good reason.

Located in an upstairs spot overlooking Aspen’s Restaurant Row, Jimmy’s is king. Proprietor (and namesake) Jimmy Yeager says the key to success is good food.

“We’ve changed the menu over the years, but we’ve never changed our commitment to serving the freshest food, prepared in the best way, to our guests,” he says.

And now there’s even more reasons to visit this cornerstone of Aspen’s culinary scene — when Yeager closed down Jimmy’s Bodega at the end of summer, he moved the team and many of the coastal-themed menu items to Jimmy’s.

It’s a blend of styles chef Mario Hernandez has seamlessly melded into two visions: “I like to stay true to our menus, but also make the changes we need to keep it fresh — and with having both the Jimmy’s and Bodega styles at our fingertips, it’s been a really great process,” he says.

On the appetizer and soups/salads menu, for example, Jimmy’s Famous Crab Cake and the Mad Dog Ranch Salad — longtime favorites — are listed side-by-side with Bodega offerings such as Clam Chowder and Salmon Crudo.

Moving to the entrees, you can never go wrong with staples like Rocky Mountain Ruby Red Trout or Bodega’s Sablefish a la plancha or one of several steak offerings (our recommendations: The Colorado Tomahawk, or pair a Blackened Petite Filet with a broiled New England lobster tail for a surf & turf like no other in town).

Of course chef Hernandez is

never satisfied. On this winter’s menu are items including an organic seared salmon, vegan roasted Portabello mushroom and sides like maple and bacon Brussel sprouts that he has tweaked to perfection.

“The way I work, I just keep trying new things as I get an idea,” he says. “Sometimes they are inspired by something I’ve tried, but often it’s the result of what’s freshest, what’s unique, what can we bring to the menu to create new experiences.”

Want more experiences? Jimmy’s is now home to Bodega’s Raw Bar and its mouth-watering selection of Seafood Plateaus. Pair any or all these items with a choice from Jimmy’s wide selection of wine and cocktails and you’ll see why Jimmy’s remains a local favorite.

clockwise from top: Salmon Crudo with jalapeño emulsion, lemon zest, shallots, cilantro, radishes, housemade potato chips; Seared Organic Salmon served over a green apple & chestnut purée, sautéed brussels sprouts, turnips & bacon, brandy gastrique, paired with a Japanese gin and tonic; Roasted Chicken served with sautéed wild mushrooms & spinach, crispy fingerling potatoes and salsa verde.

Woody Creek Distillers

The minute you walk into Woody Creek Distillers tasting room, one thing is clear: Mixologist Christian Wilhoft loves his job.

“How can you not be psyched to create craft cocktails when you’re working with some of the best spirits around,” says Wilhoft, who has transformed WCD’s cocktail menu into one of the most innovative and sip-worthy ones in the midvalley. “But it’s more than the drinks, it’s the whole atmosphere.”

Indeed, the sign behind the bar does seem to say it all: “Drink Happy Thoughts.”

And what a happy process it has been for the locally owned business. Woody Creek Distillers was established in 2013; since then, the company has grown exponentially. Currently its products are available across the country. And the distillery has received numerous recognitions and awards for its two different kinds of vodka and its rye whiskey (WCD also produces a gin and a rum).

But the crown jewel of Woody Creek’s portfolio has to be its distillery and tasting room, located in Basalt’s Mid-Valley Design Center. Rustic, yet modern, the tasting room invites visitors and locals to see how the distillery operates, while also enjoying the fruits of those labors.

“We want people to come here and feel at home,” says tasting room manager Tracey Snow, noting that while there is no food service at the distillery, guests are welcome to bring in their own cheese platters, dinners, or whatever takeout they like. “It’s a unique experience to see where the spirit in the cocktail you’re drinking is made.”

In fact, Woody Creek Distillers makes nearly everything in-house — the spirits, the infused spirits, an array of bitters, syrups of all stripes, even its own tonic water.

“Really, our cocktail menu is worth the trip to Basalt; you will not find anything like it anywhere else,” says Snow. “Or, you can always just enjoy a flight to get a taste of all that we offer.”

For example, a small tasting of any three spirits is just $12; fleets are also on the menu. And, the distillery is also home base for sales of its bottled spirits and gift boxes, which range in price from $40 to $150 (custom gift boxes also available).

“We like to think that we do more than just make spirits,” says Snow.

Spend some time at Woody Creek Distillers and you’ll see why she’s right.

Prices: Spirit tastings and cocktails, $8 during happy hour, 4-6 p.m. daily; bottles of vodka, $6 to $120; bottles of rye, $27 and $49; bottles of gin, $23 and $35; apple brandy and pear brandy, $49. Tours by appointment ($10 for tour only; $30 for tour/tasting trio/specialty cocktail).

Ambience: The tasting room combines rustic warmth with state-of-the-art architecture and design for a relaxed vibe.

Signature drinks: The Orchard, with muddled apple, Woody Creek Vodka, all spice, ginger, lemon juice; Madame Butterfly, with muddled tarragon, Woody Creek Gin, ginger, anise, lemon, butterfly pea flower extract; and classics from Old Fashioneds to Manhattens to Sazeracs.

Riviera Supper Club and Piano Bar

Want to enjoy the whole dining experience? The Riviera Supper Club and Piano Bar will provide patrons with a multifaceted combination of cuisines, libations and entertainment all in one setting.

“The unique thing about this place is that in 1947 it began as a supper club; we are still following the model as a supper club today,” co-owner Jonathan Gorst said.

Open seven nights a week, the Riviera provides free entertainment from piano players to a Broadway show every three months.

Gorst and co-owner and chef Travis Owen focus on the on the whole dining experience.

“Jonathan and I have put everything we are into this restaurant,” Owen said. “The Riviera has become the culmination of our paired visions of exquisite cuisine alongside incomparable musical talent.”

Having traveled throughout the country and the world, Gorst, a former “Phantom of the Opera” musical director, brings his flair for entertainment and showmanship to the supper club.

“I love having people take in an evening at the restaurant,” Gorst said.

Owen and Gorst’s mission since taking over the Riviera in 2016 had been to locally source food.

“We’ve been building partnerships with different companies, farms and suppliers that are local,” Gorst said.

“You’ll find that our kitchen is a very complex blend of artistry and local ingredients.”

Owen’s path to the Riviera began 28 years ago next door in what is now CO. Ranch House and was then Tony Rosa’s Peppo Nino Italian restaurant.

“I fell in love with the bustle, the noise, the havoc, and the magic of the kitchen,” Owen said.

For Owen the science of food and flavor is an intriguing combination.

“I get excited how odd flavor combinations that don’t sound like they should be complementary are because of the molecular makeup of the ingredients,” Owen said. “I love that a seaweed extract can be used to create pearls of different liquids that look like caviar; that a special tapioca maltodextrin can absorb oil to the point it becomes powder but returns to a liquid once it touches one’s tongue.”

The Riviera menu is always evolving as chef Owen brainstorms new ideas to bring to the restaurant’s patrons.

“I have a notebook on me at all times where I can jot down ideas,” Owen said. “Our Boozy Burger was the byproduct of a four-in-the-morning dream I awoke from and wrote out what I was eating in the dream.”

With the fall menu they are doing a beef wellington, a very traditional dish that you don’t find at many places in the valley.

“We like to kind of dabble between moving forward in the American cuisine and holding onto some of the traditions,” Gorst said.

Along with the nightly live piano, the restaurant is also known for hosting murder-mystery dinners, and their quarterly Broadway-inspired meals.

The Broadway series is the marquee event at the Riviera, including a seven-course dinner inspired by the show, or from the region it is set in.

Gorst plans to reprise a production of “Les Miserables” in January.

Prices: Mid-range. Ambience: This iconic restaurant, originally established in 1947, features a refined, relaxed dining experience with live entertainment seven nights a week. Signature dishes: Avocado toast, gravlax and bagel and mussels with Thai red curry broth.

Venga Venga

Best Place to Après Ski,” “Best Patio,” “Best Margarita,”and “Best Happy Hour” in The Aspen Times Best of Aspen Snowmass awards. Need we say more?

Situated slopeside at the end of the Snowmass Mall, Venga Venga’s patio is a place where imbibers and families alike can coexist to the sounds on busy days under the Colorado sunshine. The patio overlooks the slopes and features an indoor-outdoor bar, where après-ski deals provide a delicious sampling of the restaurant’s modern Mexican cuisine and tasty margaritas. An inside dining room offers a more elegant dining option popular at dinnertime.

The après and cantina menu, from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, offer a great value, and there’s live music during Happy Hour Thursday through Saturday. Classic margaritas are $8, but my favorite was the hot-pink prickly pear-blueberry version for $8 — with Sauza Blue tequila, prickly pear, blueberry-infused tequila and fresh citrus. It paired perfectly with the al pastor pork tacos in corn tortillas with fresh pineapple — just $3 each or $9 for three during après. Many other appetizers and tapas are half-off during après, too.

Modern Mexican cuisine is a theme at many of chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s establishments, but each place does it a little differently. Chef de cuisine Eddy Chimal said there are a lot of creative twists on many classic dishes at Venga Venga, but much of the inspiration is from traditional Mexican food.

The chicken zarape features tender grilled chicken breast topped with smoky bacon and three sauces — chipotle adobo, chipotle cream and tomatillo sauce, served with creamy cotija rice and refried black beans. It’s a comforting, hearty dish, great after some powder turns at Snowmass.

The more traditional al pastor tacos come with adobo-marinated pork and pineapple topped with onions and cilantro like you’d find at a street cart in Mexico. Roasted pork carnitas and carne asada served with chimichurri sauce are other big hits.

On a warm, sunny day, opt for the stuffed avocado shrimp salad with greens, citrus-adobo shrimp, corn relish, cilantro pesto and pickled onions — full of vibrant colors and flavors.

Chimal stresses that just about everything is made in-house. From the creative sauces to the pickled onions, the ingredients are fresh.

Guests can customize their guacamole, prepared tableside, with as much citrus, onion or hot chili as desired.

Listen to the live music happening daily, and belly up with a margarita at one of several patio tables with fire pits while the kids roast marshmallows and build their own s’mores. Venga Venga has managed to achieve an atmosphere that truly welcomes people of all ages.

Prices: $12 – $26 Ambience: Mountain-side causal with great patio. Signature dishes: Chile Relleno, Shrimp Enchiladas.

Market Street Kitchen

Mawa McQueen had no intention of building her booming catering and locals’ favorite Aspen restaurant business, but the forces behind the Element Hotel in Willits wouldn’t relent.

And, recognizing the potential to share her culinary philosophies — fresh, healthy offerings with little foodie fanfare attached — to a new market, she finally embraced the offer. And like all things Mawa, she charged forward with passion, professionalism and a knack for pleasing the palate.

“This place chose me,” Mawa says. “And why not? It’s been a chance to branch out a bit.”

With that statement, Mawa — an Ivory Coast native who was raised in France and opened her first Aspen business in 2007 — took her signature cuisine and changed it up.

“Healthy and fresh, that’s my ingredient for success in everything we do,” she says. “But here I decided to do more of a street foods thing.”

Indeed the menu — from breakfast to lunch to brunch — is rooted in themes of Mexican and Parisian food stands.

Cases in point: the “Tacolicious” menu of tacos ranging from roasted cauliflower and Portobello mushroom to pork “mojo” and braised beef shortib.

And then there are the crepes.

“These are not your ordinary street crepes — these are healthy, rich and delicious crepes,” says Mawa, who attributes her ever-expanding culinary prowess to her continued travels abroad. “For breakfast, lunch, whenever … crepes are great food.”

On the must-taste list at Market Street Kitchen (and we’ll let you do the guessing on what treats lie inside): the Parisian, an Argento and, of course, Mawa’s Green; try them in the organic, buckwheat — and gluten-free — variety for an extra two bucks.

Enjoy all of this, and more — from rice bowls to guacamole tastings — in the sleek indoor seats at Market Street with a fine glass of wine, aqua fresca or housemade mimosa and you’ll agree Mawa made the right move by branching out to the midvalley market.

Prices: Breakfast, $9.95 to $13.95; lunch, $5.95 to $15.95; brunch (Sundays only), $9.95 to $17.95 Ambience: Modern, clean café with inviting patio and bright indoor seating. Signature dishes: Mawa’s Green Crepe, with avocado, baby spinach, basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and a free-range egg sunny side up; fresh mango with chili-lime salt; “In Guac We Trust,” freshly made guacamole in various variations, served with corn tortilla chips; watermelon chia aqua fresca, with watermelon, chia, lime and mint.

The freshest food, including an array of crepes and unique breakfast dishes, make Market Street Kitchen the perfect place
to start your day.

The Red Onion

In a town where the dining landscape seemingly changes overnight, the historic Red Onion is the place you can count on — for lunch, apres-ski, dinner or late night.

“We might be one of the last places in town that’s truly local,” says co-owner Brad Smith. “And we like that; we aren’t changing our philosophy of serving good food at reasonable prices in a fun atmosphere.”

And while you might think you already know The Onion from its nearly 125-year reputation alone, think again. Yes, it is one of Aspen’s oldest establishments, famous for its historic red-brick building and original back bar, but did you know that as far back as the mining era The Red Onion was one of the town’s three fine-dining restaurants? People came to The Red Onion for a genuine Aspen dining experience, not just a beer at the bar.

Of course, a beer at the beer is part of what’s kept people — locals and visitors alike — coming back as Aspen transformed from a sleepy mining town to a world-class ski destination.

“We’re real people here — our bartenders are local ski celebs, our servers are longtime locals — and we think that’s what keeps our customers coming back night after night, year after year,” says co owner Mike Tierney. “Just look around at the history on the walls here.”

But The Red Onion’s legacy hasn’t fully developed yet. Today, Tierney and Smith, along with chef Ricardo Madrigal, formerly of the Roaring Fork Club, want to reintroduce Aspen and its visitors to local eatery with a thoughtful menu of elevated American fare that goes far beyond typical bar food.

“I am inspired to serve food that goes beyond wings and fries,” Madrigal says. “So I will be taking some of our big plates and making them stand out a bit more; refining our traditional dishes to make them a little better.”

For example, Madrigal has reinvented two mainstay main dishes: the trout and the schnitzel; this season’s version of the trout has it served stuffed with crab, while the panko-crusted schnitzel is now a chicken dish.

Of course you can’t stray too far from tradition at this iconic Aspen eatery. The Red Onion burger — one of the best in town — is still a hearty half-pound of Angus beef, served on a Kaiser bun with cheese and all the trimmings; choose from more than six side dishes, and it’s truly a classic.

Also classic Red Onion (and a rarity in Aspen): the entire menu is served throughout the day in both the dining room and bar, with a total of 100 seats.

Plus, the bar at The Onion boasts one of Aspen’s most extensive selection of whiskeys, as well as a full cocktail menu, wine list and beers both on tap and in the bottle (yes, even PBR still has a place at the Red O.)

“We’re old-school Aspen,” Smith says. “A cowboy mentality in an upscale town — it’s a mix that seems to work well.”

Price: Appetizers $3.50 to $12.95; soups and salads $5 to $16.95; burgers and sandwiches $14.95 to $19; entrées $23.95 to $30.95. Weekday $9.95 lunch specials. Ambience: Casual, family-friendly, an Aspen classic. Signature dishes: Baked spinach and artichoke dip; the Red Onion cheeseburger; crab-stuffed Rocky Mountain trout; green chili and cheese grits; Mexican chocolate cake.

Mawa’s Kitchen

With a mix of cultures influencing its cuisine, Mawa’s Kitchen is a bright and beautiful display of fresh,
tasty food without a lot of frills.

Mawa McQueen, the chef and owner, likes to note that there’s nothing “foo foo” about her menu. She takes pride in using fresh, nutritious ingredients.

“No foam and all that,” she says. “No fuss with the ingredients.”

The results are creative and packed with flavor — with prices that won’t break the bank.

McQueen was born in Ivory Coast and grew up in Paris. Her cuisine melds together African, French and American influences. She takes seemingly simple ideas like tartines — French, open-faced sandwiches on fresh, rustic bread — and elevates them beautifully. The avocado version, for example, packs a hint of curry flavor with cilantro, pomegranate and lime. A hummus version comes with roasted red peppers, capers and olives.

McQueen is firm in her dedication to quality. For privately catered events such as weddings or private dinners, she caps the number of people at about 100 because anything beyond that hurts the quality of the food, she says.

She started her catering business in 2007 and expanded to private dinners in 2014. She remodeled her commercial kitchen space in the Aspen Business Center to include a dining room in November 2015. It’s a cozy space with an open kitchen that guests walk through as they enter the restaurant.

Mawa’s is now offering a weekend brunch, featuring classic dishes with her own twist. Her smoothie bowl ($12) is a delightful blend of avocado, kale, a little honey and almond milk or rice milk. She tops it with chia seeds, granola, banana, kiwi and raspberry. Another smoothie bowl features almond milk, peanut butter, dark cocoa powder and avocado, blended and topped with banana, dates and honey crisp puff cereal — a protein-rich meal with good fats, she notes. It tastes like creamy chocolate peanut butter pudding.

Gluten-free breads — all made in-house — are available for dine-in or takeout, and she offers gluten-free desserts, too — don’t miss her delicious carrot cake.

In a hurry? Order takeout sandwiches, salads (salmon Nicoise, quinoa and arugula, and others) or her popular lunch box. And orders over $100 get free delivery around Aspen and Snowmass.

“Food is not complicated,” she says. “I’m not fancy. I like good, healthy food.”

Price: $12 to $16 for lunch; $9 to $15 for breakfast/brunch. Ambience: Casual dining room for breakfast and lunch with natural light and lively kitchen. Signature dishes: French tartines — try the smashed avocado or the hummus and veggie; arugula and quinoa salad with pomegranate, squash and pepitas; homemade breads, soups and desserts.

Mawa’s Kitchen has become a local favorite for finding the freshest, house-made dishes for breakfast or lunch.

Home Team BBQ

Home Team BBQ has been serving up authenticity and reliably awesome food to a growing clientele in a hip and fun atmosphere since its Aspen debut in 2016.

While the barbecue offerings remain consistent with menus at
its other locations in South Carolina, Home Team Aspen has expanded its culinary choices since setting up as the sole restaurant in the Inn at Aspen at the base of Buttermilk Mountain.

“It’s a culmination of all the highlights, all the stars,” said operating partner Chris Lanter.

With chef Kyle Wilkins at the helm in the kitchen, the low and slow method of southern barbecue shines on the plate and is savored on the palate.

Home Team’s famous family
style “board” has all of the chef’s favorites — smoked wings and turkey, pulled pork, ribs and
linguica sausage.

Tuesday night’s fried chicken dinner is half of a bird, brined overnight, dredged in buttermilk and then fried for 14 minutes; the chicken leaves your fingers dripping in juices once it’s released from its crispy skin. It’s served with good old-fashioned Frank’s hot sauce, mashers with coffee gravy, slaw and a light and fluffy biscuit with hot honey sauce.

Rena Lanter, Chris’ wife, runs the wine program on the consultation of master sommelier Jay Fletcher. From $45 to $200 a bottle, Home Team has a list of 45 wines that can be paired with any kind of barbecue or menu offering.

The Home Team crew has come up with some creative breakfast items that serve those who are on the go and others who want to feast in a casual, laid-back setting.

Weekend brunch has gained a lot of traction with locals but be warned: it’s a tough choice between the Migas Tacos, the brisket and biscuit or the French toast, which is a play on their banana pudding. Then there’s the grab-and-go breakfast sandwich with eggs, cheese and Home Team’s house-cured, house-cut bacon (or sausage or ham) with a fresh croissant. Also on the go is a Greek yogurt parfait with blueberry compote and granola, and a sausage breakfast burrito.

“A good menu is when you can’t pick; it all looks good,” Lanter said.

Ashcroft’s Pine Creek Cookhouse

There’s no cell service here in the middle of the Elk Mountains, and that’s only part of the beauty of dining at Pine Creek Cookhouse. When you step off the horse-drawn sleigh, or pop out of your Nordic skis or snowshoes, stop and listen to the sound of silence — the lovely sound of nature, where not even a cellphone ring can interrupt it.

But there is one thing that can enhance the experience: a leisurely lunch or dinner on the Pine Creek patio. Begin with a starter such as the butcher and cheese plate, follow it with the gold-standard Cookhouse salad and then an entree from the diverse menu. Top it all off with good wine and a great dessert.

One thing you won’t find at Pine Creek Cookhouse is foam on your plate. When things started turning molecular in upscale kitchens across the country and in Aspen, Keating knew he needed to move to a place where he could cook simply. And now with friend and fellow chef Bill Greenwood at his side — who among other things is a top-notch butcher and professional forager — you’ll definitely find delicious, hearty food without a lot of fuss.

Take for instance, the selection of meats on the menu, from the Rocky Mountain elk cop to the Berkshire pork porterhouse to the always popular Kurt Russell Home Run Ranch beef patty melt.

Or, keep in mind that Sherpas from Nepal who used to work in the Everest base camps have been members of Pine Creek Cookhouse’s kitchen for decades. Their influences are scattered throughout the menu, but one of the most popular items going 30 years strong are the wild game momos, Nepalese dumplings made with buffalo, herbs and spices.

Pine Creek Cookhouse is one of the area’s oldest restaurants for good reason — there just doesn’t seem to be anything they’re doing wrong here. In fact, they get better with every passing year.

So go ahead, ditch your cell service for a few hours and enjoy a blissful day or evening of Nordic skiing, or the simple charm of a sleigh ride through the Castle Creek Valley, followed by awesome alpine cuisine in the heart of the Elk Mountains.

“When you’re surrounded by Mother Nature, everything else drops off,” Keating says.”

Hawaiian Iced Tea

from Woody Creek Distillers.

Read more about the Roaring Fork Valley’s food scene in the summer edition of EAT, available around town and online.