Food & Wine Classic: New Aspen restaurants open in flurry of offseason activity
June 14, 2018
If you haven't visited Aspen since last Food & Wine weekend, welcome back and buckle up! Locals can tell you that much has changed on the restaurant scene, but change is good — trust us.
While a handful of beloved haunts are gone forever (R.I.P. Peach's, bb's, Over Easy, Justice Snow's), plenty of new joints are poised to transform downtown. There are a pair of recently minted brewery taprooms, fresh options for coffee and breakfast, Asian fare galore, one hard-rock cocktail bar, a celebrity chef residency program, plus a girl-gone-wild speakeasy opening soon.
WHERE THE BEER FLOWS
Last fall, Aspen Brewing Co. (ABC) announced the closing of its postage-stamp-sized taproom. One block over, Peach's Corner Cafe closed abruptly. Panic ensued — until ABC owner Duncan Clauss revealed that Aspen Tap would open in the former Peach's space.
Nearly three times larger than ABC's old tasting room, the plus is the prime patio seating with an Aspen Mountain view. The bar boasts 15 ABC brews on tap, many exclusively (including the summer seasonal Cougar launching this weekend), as well as wine, Colorado spirits, soda and kombucha.
From the kitchen comes bratwurst, bruschetta, beer-brined chicken tacos, kale Caesar and more by chef Graham Williams (formerly of shuttered Town in Carbondale). Daily breakfast service at 8 a.m. features Rock Canyon Coffee espresso, Louis Swiss and Sweet Coloradough pastries, smoothies and hot dishes.
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The Aspen Public House now commands the bustling Wheeler Opera House space that was previously home to Justice Snow's. A downtown outpost of Capitol Creek Brewery in Basalt, the "New American upscale gastropub" serves apps, salads, burgers and entrees by chef Robbie Kostrba for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, along with eight draught beers, wine and cocktails. Exposed 130-year-old brick walls and 30 feet of community tables lend a vibe fit for a vibrant late-night scene.
Helping to fill Aspen's caffeine cup is a cool coffee shop called LOCAL inside Maker + Place. Influenced by Amsterdam hybrid stores, where shopping and workspace converge with hospitality, LOCAL occupies a corner of the chic boutique that curates home goods, design ware, jewelry and gifts from craftspeople around the world.
Lounge on couches or at the community tables while sipping Carbondale's small-batch Cilundu Coffee and noshing on avocado toast, quinoa-veggie bowls, forbidden black rice porridge or Boogie's tuna melt. Following the Maker + Place philosophy, everything is made with ingredients curated from Roaring Fork Valley farmers, ranchers and artisans.
Marble Bar Aspen, in the Hyatt, is shaping up to be rock steady. Made of stone from namesake Marble, Colorado, the bar is a fitting spot to enjoy summer cocktails showcasing Carbondale's Marble Distilling Co. award-winning spirits. Sample infusions of seasonal fruits and herbs, plus newly released Fightin' Whiskey — made from triticale, an Italian wheat-rye hybrid grown locally. Classic weekend, the signature Moonlight Bonfire Iced EXpresso cocktail will provide a quick jolt in between events.
Never been to Kemo Sabe? It's worth a trip for the impressive 1863 bar, imported from Denver, Pennsylvania, and installed upstairs when the Western outfitter moved locations on Galena Street in September. The cowboy mecca might sell custom hats, boots, jewelry, clothing and vintage ephemera, but its new mission is to create a party. Woody Creek Distillers, a partner of the haberdasher, may be on hand over the weekend to help do just that.
"We want to bring the island to the mountains," said Paula Rungsawang, chef and co-owner of Tiki Mana Island Grill, which has opened next door to her already popular Thai eatery, Bangkok Happy Bowl. Tiki Mana prepares Hawaiian poke bowls, grilled meats and fish, fish 'n' chips and a plethora of island specialties — many vegan — for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A colorful happy hour daily (4 to 6 p.m.), features tropical drinks and coconut shrimp served by bartenders in flowered shirts, natch.
After a $1.2 million renovation by owners Charlie Huang and Frank Lu, Asie on Main Street has morphed into Jing ("gold" in Chinese). Focus is on Peking duck, lobster dumplings and Thai basil chicken, and there's a raw bar staffed by six sushi chefs. Two new dishes you gotta try to believe: Frank's Kale Fried Rice and Sushi Pizza.
Tanuki To Go, a rock 'n' roll Southern-Asian street food popup operating from the kitchen of Bootsy Bellows by chefs Jonathan Leichliter and Adam Christopher Norwig, was easily spring's most popular new kid in town. Now Tanuki's back alley takeout and chef's table — an only-in-Aspen experience — is growing to feed the masses. House of the Rising Tanuki-San features a vegetable-centric menu of fusion fare and sit-down dining in the nightclub lounge, as well as ample sidewalk seating.
YOU KNOW THEIR NAMES
Toro, a Pan-Latin concept by celebrity chef Richard Sandoval, took over the flagship restaurant at Viceroy Snowmass, replacing Eight K and beloved chef Will Nolan (now at The Madeline in Telluride). Off to a solid start, Toro's menu reads as a slideshow of Sandoval's travels through his native Mexico, the Caribbean and South America, where Japanese and Chinese influence is strong.
Chef Matthew Accarrino of Michelin-starred SPQR in San Francisco will be in town as Chefs Club Aspen rolls out a new chef residency program this weekend. The innovative format allows visiting chefs more time in the kitchen to hone their menu — in this case, Accarrino's Californian spin on regional Italian cuisine.
IN THE WORKS
Want more? Aspen's longtime local fave, Little Annie's Eating House, will be reborn as a Rocky Mountain outpost of Clark's Oyster Bar in Austin. And work continues on Main Street's Oakville Grocery Aspen. (This despite the passing of Napa Valley and Aspen food and wine magnate Leslie Rudd, owner of Oakville Grocery, in May.) Partner David Roth, formerly of Peach's, is overseeing renovation of the 1884 Main Street Bakery building, closed since 2016.
And a couple of places are going underground. Bad Harriet, a subterranean bar in the old Aspen Times building next to the Hotel Jerome, plans to open July 4 with DJ music and saucy cocktails in honor of Jerome Wheeler's mischievous wife. Longtime Aspenite and Hollywood actor Roger Wilson has grand plans for 7908, a supper club with live entertainment that fills the hole left by Finbarr's, set to open in July.
This story was originally published in the Food & Wine Classic preview, which is available online at aspentimes.com/magazines and in Friday's newspaper. Amanda Rae's Food Matters column runs in the Aspen Times Weekly, which comes out every Thursday.