Aspen Times Weekly: Dude, Where’s My Food?
Mon.-Sat. 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
At 11 p.m., when most kitchen staff are mopping up messes and throwing in the towel after another hectic service, Bryan Bennett has just fired up the grill.
Co-creator, with brother Eric, of Aspen’s newest — and now only — late-night food-delivery service, StoneyRidge Fridge, Bennett is jamming to the sweet sound of sizzling bacon when I join him behind the counter of his pop-up kitchen last Thursday. I enjoyed a light dinner heavy on the wine with coworkers some five hours ago, and have rallied with rosé at baca girlfriend’s locked boutique ever since. My senses may be fuzzy, but I’m acutely aware of Aspen’s inconvenient truth: only a few restaurants remain open right now — and not for much longer. So, with hunger pangs creeping upon me like dubious dudes in the depths of Escobar, I arrive at StoneyRidge Fridge to see what it takes to feed the ravenous masses that stumble home after a big night out.
As Bennett shows me, running a borrowed kitchen with a sole sidekick — tonight, deliveryman pal Kyle Piorkowski — ’til 4 a.m. is cake. You just have to be the kind of person whose work groove winds up while most people are dozing-drunk or fast asleep. A night owl, hoot hoot!
“I was ambitious about starting this,” says Bennett, 25, recalling the wild party scene and plethora of early-morning eateries in South Florida, where he lived before selling everything and driving to Aspen four winters ago. “I’m used to staying up all night. I worked third-shift jobs in the past. Instead of going out all the time, why not give people something they’re asking for in town? As soon as midnight rolls around, your only option is pizza, (and) Mill Street Melts, but they just do grilled cheese. If you want a burger, where you gonna get it? We’re filling the gap, and hopefully people are happy.”
Judging by an ever-ringing phone, locals are digging StoneyRidge Fridge’s menu, crafted for maximum munchies satisfaction. Most popular, by an avalanche, is the B.A.N.wich (Breakfast At Night Sandwich): hashers, bacon, fried egg, and white cheddar between thick slices of brioche French toast, served with pure maple syrup sauce. Elevated cuisine it ain’t, but boy, does it obliterate hunger during the hopeless hour of 3 a.m.
“Breakfast is my favorite meal, and I loooove French toast,” says the self-taught cook, former server, and massage therapist. Bennett’s already envisioning other sweet-and-savory stacks, maybe laced with strawberry sauce or studded with blueberries.
Similarly, the B.A.N.dito Burrito wraps a choice of chicken, bacon, or ground elk with scrambled eggs, cheddar and Jack cheeses, French-fry hash browns, mango-habañero salsa, and sour cream in a flour tortilla. StoneyRidge serves French toast sticks, mini pizza bagels, and Philly cheesesteaks with peppers and onions on fluffy Italian bread. Chicken wings are boneless (“When you’re wasted, you just wanna eat the whole thing, anyway,” Bennett quips), dredged in a secret breading for maximum crispiness, and served with a variety of dipping sauces—from bourbon barbecue to mango habanero. (Shout out to Bennett’s roommate Gerard Beattie, a Ritz-Carlton chef who inspired those.)
Sure, the food seems stupid simple, but Bennett did his homework. “A lot of my stuff is based on statistics,” he explains. “I researched bestselling late-night food. It’s about ingredients: people want anything with cheese, that’s why we put four kinds on our quesadilla.”
Commanding a butter-slicked flattop, Bennett cracks eggs singlehandedly and crushes hand-cut fries into oblivion. Both are standard toppings, along with sautéed mushrooms and cheese, on StoneyRidge burgers, made of elk, not beef.
“Even though our food isn’t extremely healthy, we use healthy options,” Bennett says, wrapping two burgers in brown butcher paper and tucking them in to-go boxes. “People love elk around here. It’s healthier, lower in fat. We wanna set ourselves apart.”
Piorkowski, who’s been manning the phone and mixing beats in between deliveries, staples StoneyRidge loyalty cards to the bag, and disappears again out the door.
At half past midnight, two acquaintances with slits for eyes stroll in to say hi. Perched on stools, they watch Bennett construct a mound of fries smothered in cheese, bacon, and jalapeno purée, and the Lainie, which layers not one, not two, but four thick strips of bacon with slices of vine-ripened tomato, white cheddar, and organic field greens on inch-thick slices of griddled sourdough from Louis Swiss Pastry.
“I don’t mess around,” Bennett says, pushing the masterpiece toward his now bug-eyed friends. “That’s a BLT.” Exclamations ensue, followed by satisfied silence.
Though StoneyRidge Fridge is technically open for delivery only (free to Aspen, Highlands, Marolt Ranch, and the A.B.C.; see “Special Delivery,” opposite page), passersby pop in like moths drawn to a flame. Long past his bedtime, an older gentleman with a shock of gray hair tucked beneath a hunting cap shuffles through the door. He double-orders the Campfire Pizza — sauce, pepperoni, and two cheeses grilled between Texas toast — a blaze-free nod to Bennett’s camping trips in his native Ohio.
Oft-ignored options appear no less tasty: organic quinoa pasta with bourbon-sautéed eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and marinara; the Veggie Love salad sprinkled with organic cherry tomatoes, shaved almonds, julienned carrots, quinoa, dried cranberries, hemp hearts, avocado, and sweet balsamic dressing. Passionate about cooking thanks to his mom, a home economics teacher, Bennett even makes individual cheesecakes from scratch using organic honey graham crackers or crushed raw almonds (GF) and raw, non-GMO coconut oil as the crust. Three cherries on top, always.
“Our motto is ‘Delivering what’s great, extra late,’” Bennett says, aware he’s filling the post-witching-hour niche left vacant last year by Wally’s, run by friend Derek Koster. “They had great food. Maybe he didn’t like the hours? I don’t know. One night my bro saw Derek out and he basically said, ‘Town is yours now.’”
Finally, it’s 3:45 a.m.: Bennett’s cue to lock the doors, crank the tunes, and shut down StoneyRidge Fridge, until the moon rises again.
Bacon, boys, and 3 a.m. French toast dance parties: enough for Amanda Rae to consider a career switch to nocturnal line cook? email@example.com
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