Stay the course: Red Mountain Grill is a welcome oasis
IF YOU GO…What: Red Mountain Grill When: Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Brunch Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Fried Chicken Thursday Night, $25. Lobster Saturday Night, $55. Takeout available Where: Aspen Golf Course 1000 Truscott Place More Info: 970-544-6336; aspengolf.com
When a colleague suggests brunch with views to the Aspen Golf Course, I don’t think twice. Have you sat on Red Mountain Grill’s spacious wraparound deck beside manicured lawns and placid water features fringed by tall trees? Here is the wide-open space so ironically lacking in our “secluded” Rocky Mountain town lately.
I knew that Red Mountain Grill served a wistfully good fried chicken sandwich, which I’d sampled last fall during football season. (The restaurant’s bar is a local gem for fans, thanks to cheap beer, craveable food, and plenty of seats within view of widescreens loaded with the NFL sports package.) So when I heard that chef and co-owner Jamie Ramey’s new weekend brunch menu touted a next-level chicken-and-waffle combo, I was game to try it.
Around noon we snag a table under a paisley umbrella on the patio. Small groups of golfers gather for cold drinks alongside other socially distanced tables of couples and families with older children. The gentle rustling of foliage and flowers is punctuated by the occasional crack of a golf ball or whir of a golf cart. Looking around, one thing stands out here, exactly two and a half miles from downtown: Space, glorious space!
The food arrives, and it’s Instagram-worthy. A knife is stabbed through the impressive hunk of fried chicken doused in sausage gravy with a waffle below. Turns out it’s a Liège-style Belgian waffle, which is prepared as dough studded with pockets of sugar that caramelize while cooking. Sweet, crunchy, savory, crispy, creamy and with two eggs on the side, the combo hits all the notes that one expects when tucking into brunch.
From-scratch fried chicken is chef Ramey’s specialty. His recipe is lightly double-breaded using buttermilk and spiced flour, lending an ultra-crisp exterior and moist, flavorful meat. (It also tops classic mac and cheese made with cavatappi pasta and bacon.) Every Thursday night, Red Mountain Grill serves a fried-chicken special with garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, cider coleslaw, cheddar-jalapeno cornbread, and choice of dessert for $25. Reservations are accepted and a smart move; ditto for Lobster Night every Saturday, which includes homemade clam chowder, potatoes, corn, bread pudding, and a glass of wine for $55.
“We sell out every time,” Ramey says of Lobster Night, a summertime staple at Red Mountain Grill at least seven years running. “Some people RSVP two or three weeks in advance.” Though it’s best enjoyed as a community experience, lobster dinner takeout orders have been popular lately.
The restaurant’s all-day menu spans just two pages and hits most major cravings: big salads served in wooden bowls and topped with added protein (including buttermilk chicken, natch); sandwiches such as a standout hot pastrami on rye and a house-made veggie burger (roasted peppers, chickpeas, and black rice, topped with grilled onions and cranberry sauce); and two half-pound burgers made with certified Black Angus beef and topped simply with cheese for $16 or more decadently with a fried egg and bacon for $18.50. Nine sharable plates include artichoke dip, buffalo or ginger-teriyaki chicken wings, barbecue pork nachos, and truffle Parmesan fries, plus fried green tomatoes and crispy cheese curds with marinara dipping sauce. Entrées popular around dinnertime include chicken Parmesan or eggplant pesto with linguine and tempura fish and chips.
Brunch, served on Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, boasts about seven items, including two types of eggs Benedict (smoked salmon on potato latkes or crispy prosciutto on English muffins) and country-fried steak and eggs. Cocktails are $8. Meanwhile, golfers pop in and out mid-match for handheld fare: the hot dog, chicken Caesar wrap, and grilled cheese.
“Golf is the perfect social distancing sport, we’re very lucky,” Ramey quips. “I think people like fact that it’s a little more laid back, you don’t have to pay for parking or wait to get a table. We definitely do get full, but it’s not quite the same (as downtown).”
Ramey and co-owner Richard Burbidge, who runs the bar and front-of-house operations and hops behind the line on occasion, acquired the eatery, formerly Shlomo’s on the Green, as then-managers in 2008. That was just before the Great Recession hit Aspen a few months later than the rest of the country. On a Friday afternoon in August 2009, Ramey explains, “there was nobody in sight.”
Clearly the duo has worked diligently in the last decade to build business and secure Red Mountain Grill’s reputation for solid food at reasonable prices in a beautiful setting. Golf’s popularity during our current crisis has helped, too. Strictly from a dining perspective, though, the restaurant’s safe status now feels like some kind of karmic reward.
“When we took it over, nobody wanted it,” Ramey says. “Golf course restaurant…you leave the roundabout outside of town…it wasn’t as busy as it is now.”