Food Matters: Pack It Up
Aspen Time Weekly
The Artisan Gourmet
Picnic Dinner to Go
Herbed rotisserie chicken,
three quart-size sides
$35; serves 2-4
300 Carriage Way
Meat & Cheese Restaurant
and Farm Shop Grab and Go
Two cheeses, two meats, crackers, jam, mustard, pickles OR sandwich with fruit and chocolate almonds
319 E. Hopkins Ave.
Aspen Kitchen Picnic Basket for Two
Market salad, house ricotta,
mole sausage, Cajun popcorn,
house bread, bacon peanut brittle bars
$100; serves 2
Marc Ellert-Beck: firstname.lastname@example.org
515 E. Hopkins Ave.
St. Regis Aspen Resort
Breakfast baskets, $35+ per person
Lunch baskets, $65+ per couple
Grazing baskets, price on request
315 E. Dean St.
If you’re like me, you may be wondering: How is it mid-July already? There’s no denying it: We’ve reached the apex of summer. Town is bustling, trails are crowded and everyone’s talking about how hot it is outside (except maybe the Texans). Now is a good time to revisit our summer goals: Have we gotten out on the water yet? Seen a play or ballet? Gone to the rodeo? Learned to fly-fish, finally? Hosted a barbecue?
One thing I always make time for in the summertime is eating outdoors, and more often than not that includes a side of live music: free Snowmass concerts, evenings at the Benedict Music Tent, impromptu jams in the park. But with so much to experience before the September chill sets in, I have little time (OK, or motivation) to prepare and pack dinner to take along.
Also, I try to avoid cooking in June, July and August. I might throw together a cold salad or gazpacho for dinner on a weeknight or cut up fruit and crudité to eat with cheese and crackers, but rarely do I turn on the stove mid-summer. My apartment gets way too hot if I use the oven before sundown.
Enter the pre-prepared picnic spread. A number of restaurants and markets in Aspen and Snowmass help take the guesswork out of picnic planning by offering everything from wrapped meat and cheese to stuff in a hiking sack to full gourmet meals with disposable plates and cutlery to serve atop a picnic blanket.
“I love to be able to create a true dining experience, yet from the comfort of a hillside,” says Steven Sterritt, executive chef of The Artisan at the Stonebridge in Snowmass. “We can transplant everything we do great here at the restaurant and package it to go. Most people think cold-cut sandwiches or hamburgers, hotdogs as a picnic, but I like to take it up a level and do whole birds with sides.”
He’s talking about The Artisan’s Gourmet Picnic Dinner to Go: a 24-hour herb-marinated whole rotisserie Colorado chicken with three freshly prepared sides. (Currently those include garlic whipped mashed potatoes, napa cabbage slaw, and smoked Gouda mac and cheese with candied bacon). Packaged in ecofriendly, biodegradable containers, the meals serve two to four people (three people heartily, in my experience); at $35, it’s a deal almost too good to be true in these parts.
I picked one up recently to take to the Benedict Tent with a girlfriend and a bottle of wine, and we both agreed: Even though I hauled out to Snowmass to get it, the ease with which we swanned onto the lawn, threw down a blanket and unloaded a full dinner spread within minutes of showtime could not be beat. (My only qualm: Our package didn’t include sauce, which would have enhanced the poultry, flavorful as it was. Sterritt says a simple, herbed pan sauce will be included going forward. Some bread to build small sandwiches would be nice, too — I’ll ask for a side of the restaurant’s pillowy batons of Provençal olive fougasse next time.)
What’s more, everything on The Artisan menu is available for carry out, Sterritt says. His charcuterie board, for instance, features Serrano ham — “the Cadillac of ham,” he says — plus compote of local strawberries macerated in a bit of sugar then preserved in cold-pressed lemon olive oil.
“It’s lemony, citrusy, smack-you-in-the-face-fresh flavor,” Sterritt says. The strawberry-Serrano pepper jam, cooked down with balsamic vinegar and thyme, is fantastic, as well.
House-smoked chicken drumsticks — Frenched into mini “lollipops,” marinated and smoked in-house — are also a favorite, portable option, along with blistered shishito peppers, citrus-marinated olives, grilled artichokes, spinach-feta dip and elk carpaccio. The restaurant also offers a half-rotisserie chicken prix-fixe for individual diners, with charred spring onions and cashew-jasmine rice, plus a wedge or Caesar salad or loaded baked potato soup to start, and dessert, which may be ordered for takeout, as well.
“It’s real food of substance and high-quality,” adds Sterritt, who has revamped the The Artisan menu into one of the most approachable out there in Snowmass in the two years he’s been at the helm. Picnic options were a no-brainer for Snowmass shows, especially. “We’re trying to outreach to the local market,” the chef says. “This is a great way is to get our food out there. Let us do the cooking.”
Meanwhile in Aspen, picnic options abound. Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop stays true to its name and assembles charcuterie spreads with sister business Avalanche Cheese Co. meats, house-cured olives, condiments and other accoutrements, as well as grab-and-go meals that include either a ciabatta sandwich (turkey-Brie, ham-Gruyère, roast beef-cheddar) with seasonal fruit, and chocolate-covered almonds or a combination of two cheeses, two meats, crackers, jam, mustard, and pickles ($18, serves two).
Aspen Kitchen offers picnic baskets with a gourmet spread of salads, signature snacks and bread ($100 for two); ditto at the St. Regis Aspen Resort (breakfast, lunch, grazing). Guests of the Limelight Hotel and the Viceroy Snowmass may choose from a menu of luxe options for day hikes or evening picnics … but you gotta be a guest. Premade cheese platters from City Market or made-to-order plates from Clark’s Market, along with a loaf of bread and a carton of fresh-cut fruit, will feed small groups on a budget, too.
When just a sandwich will suffice, I head over to Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop for a baguette stuffed with porchetta or sliced meats (the Secret Sandwich) or a no-frills sub or focaccia panini at Grateful Deli or the Butcher’s Block. Hit the trail to a favorite secluded spot. Food always seems to taste better in nature, right?
Eating outside in Aspen, it seems, may be most likely to happen if you don’t feel the need to prepare it yourself. Since most restaurants in this town offer takeout, a quick phone call and pickup may be all that stands between you and a gourmet dining experience en plein air.
Better hurry, though: Winter is coming!
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Although travel restrictions are easing, this is still not the time to be winging one’s way to an international vineyard. Instead, for now, world wine experiences are best served either virtually, vicariously or simply inspired by what’s in a glass.