Foodstuff: An ode to the Aspen bar menu
Seeking out the best of what’s left of a disappearing Aspen delight
The illusive bar menu seems to be a dying art form above the roundabout, and the collective lament for its waning availability among our local and corporate restaurants alike has been shouted toward chefs – and other food gods – for as long as many can remember. Let us now pause to celebrate some of the remaining bar menus and the delicious bites they offer local, semi-local, and visitor alike.
Steakhouse 316 has one of the most consistent presences, not only on restaurant row, but within the city limits. With around ten seats, one can feel lucky to slide into a couple of chairs on an impromptu date night (or, when your spouse is out of town, squeezing into the lone open seat because you decided to take yourself out for dinner on a chilly Friday night). The current 10-item bar-only menu (no substitutions, no take out) has excellent offerings to choose from, combining dishes for any level of appetite you bring to the bar. You also have the option to order from the dining room menu as well, creating a “Choose Your Own Adventure” meal.
This is especially delightful when one’s desire for the umami combination of smooth and bitter Caesar salad (bar menu) and some of the only onion rings left in town (dining room menu), and the current by-the-glass Savion Blanc is really the only thing that will brighten your spirits. The combination is delightfully reminiscent of Rustique’s sorely missed and now-long-gone bar Caesar Salad (add fried calamari) paired with an ice cold glass of Sancerre – the stuff that bar menu dreams are made of.
Speaking of bar menu dreams … during shoulder seasons, Jing’s bar menu is hard to beat.
The drink specials are a pleasure on your off-season budget, as are the dumplings, appetizers, sushi rolls, and all the other tasty nibbles on the menu. The bar staff at Jing has always had some of the most kind humans working in service in this valley. And ordering a small feast of chewy, smoky har gow (shrimp dumplings), hot and silky fried wontons (think Crab Rangoon, but better), and the pristine brine and melon of Shigoku oysters pair perfectly with the white wine of the moment and the friends you can finally dine with now that high season has passed, is always something to look forward to during the crush of the holidays in Aspen.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the high season in Aspen when the town has her winter party dress on, draped in snow and glistening ice, shining like the mountain gem she is. But there does tend to be a point where longing for off-season begins to infect the working locals as quickly (as this neverending pandemic has recently). The longing for quiet streets, quicker commutes, and days off brings to mind the simpler times of the (shorter and shorter) shoulder season where another favorite bar menu emerges again like spring buds on the cottonwoods, at Mezzaluna.
There are some pretty great pizza options in our little mountain town (if you haven’t ventured to Propaganda Pie at the Gant, please do) but there is something deeply satisfying about meeting up after work at the Mezzaluna bar to split a pepperoni pizza and the simple green salad. The play between the creamy goat cheese and the bite of pepperoni? Delicious. Pair it with Colorado’s favorite: a $4 Coors Light, and dream of quiet summer hikes and slightly shaken lukewarm summit beers. Technically, this is really a happy hour menu, but when one is looking to accentuate the positive sometimes one has to bend the rules a bit.
Which brings us to aprés-ski menus. While we still cannot aprés at the Red O (ugh) there is still aprés to be had. The snow was marvelous, so you skied through lunch on the mountain. But now your legs are toast and you’re ready for a snack and a drink to hold you over until your dinner reservation. Meat & Cheese will revive and energize you enough to carry on past sunset. Here you will find one of the best by-the-bottle Pet Nat (Pétillant-Naturel, natural sparkling) lists a natural wine lover could wish for.
Pet Nat, wine made in the méthode ancestrale, are bottled before the primary fermentation is finished, so there is no secondary addition of yeast or sugar. This more unpredictable sparkling wine is Champagne’s older, less refined cousin. You’ll find lower ABV and less sugar in these often-cloudy and surprising wines. Split a bottle from the list and share the quesabirria tacos. Melt in your mouth brisket, crisp cilantro, rich consume all paired with a slightly funky sip of bubbly will fill and cheer you up enough to make that dining room reservation this evening, propel you on to your nightcap, and whatever mischief the evening may hold.
Get out there and explore the delicacies that the Aspen food scene has to offer, dine at bars and on patios for happy hour and aprés-ski celebrating the art of food. Food is, of course, the most filling of artforms.
Thera Freeman is fond of dogs, travel, and snacks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TACAW celebrates its nascent success via its very first anniversary this weekend. This means hosting an all-day Saturday bash made up of live performances, cocktails and locally sourced fare.
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