Food Matters: 6 reasons to love eating in Aspen
Small bites this week
Thursday, Nov. 22: Hickory House invites everyone to its annual Thanksgiving dinner from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. This will be the 22nd year of Hickory House hosting an event that has been going on for over three decades. It will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with 60 smoked turkeys, carved beef and all of the fixings. The meal is put on for donations only and all money raised is going to the Aspen Education Foundation.
Saturday, Nov. 24: Chef Jimmy Nadell cohosts The Pink Dinner at the Cooking School of Aspen, to benefit breast cancer research and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Foods with a rosy hue are on the menu: beef carpaccio, lobster bruschetta, tuna tartare, rock shrimp, pomegranates, hibiscus, raspberries, and roses, oh my!
The stoke showed up to Aspen Mountain last Saturday — a full five days before the slopes were originally scheduled to open. Winter is here, and for that we are thankful.
In the same vein, I spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving reflecting on the many charms of the Aspen food scene. Yes, our dining landscape is morphing at what seems like an incredible rate. But that means fresh energy and new flavor. Sure, some spots struggle with quality control, weighing down the overall average score of eating out. Yet a slew of longtime haunts have developed a formula that combines cool atmosphere with good service and solid quality to create an experience that justifies cost. Delivery options are pathetic, with laughably limited hours. The availability of local ingredients for preparing at home, however, is growing fast. Here are a few things for which I am grateful.
1. An Old Guard, Standing Ground
It bears repeating: Aspen is home to multiple restaurants that count time in decades. In 2018, Matsuhisa Aspen is celebrating 20 years on the corner of Main and Monarch streets (read my story about its adventurous design history in the new Winter Issue of Aspen Peak magazine). Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant turned 21 in June. Recently, L’Hostaria rang in 22 years with its annual Barolo Dinner. Pinion’s opened 30 years ago; Cache Cache and Mezzaluna Aspen both are heading into their 32nd season. All are merely infants compared with eldest statesman Hotel Jerome: J-Bar has served, quite literally, as the introduction to Aspen consumption since 1889.
2. New-fusion of Flavor
Joining certain restaurants that have drawn a following in just a few short months—lookin’ at you, Clarks Aspen and 7908 Supper Club—an influx of enterprises promises to revitalize what some see as a stagnant scene. Eleven Madison Park’s luxe Winter House (“A ‘Winter House’ Party,” Nov. 8, 2018) is set to open at a revamped Chefs Club with a St. Regis courtyard yurt village Dec. 15.
Betula will be brought to us in the former bb’s space by the owners of a St. Barts beachside haunt called Bonito; owner Juan Carlos Perez Febres says the interior will replicate “a modern, relaxed, Victorian…to give the impression that you’re in somebody’s house.” Sliding doors to the dining room will open to an already awesome rooftop terrace, and the menu will draw on chef-partner Lauren Cantineaux’s classically French experience at Daniel Boulud with time cooking in Venezuela and Miami.
Mawa McQueen will launch The Crepe Shack outside of the new ice rink in Snowmass Base Village, both unveiled during a grand opening celebration Dec. 15. And rumors swirl that the dead Aspen Kitchen may get a winter popup above the new Bootsy Bellows underground (Grotto), something is happening at Shlomo’s, and the former Ute City Restaurant space next to Steakhouse No. 316…will become a steakhouse.
3. Top Chefs Who Fly in to Throw Down
In 99 percent of my conversations with visiting chefs over the past six years, each subject makes a specific point: The chance to visit this mountain mecca is icing on the cake. Aspen is an easy sell, whether for a night or two; at Food & Wine Classic week; or during a monthlong engagement. A few to note: Michelin-starred chef Alberto Annarumma of Casa del Nonno 13 on Italy’s Amalfi Coast at the Cooking School of Aspen (Dec. 5 and 6). At The Little Nell, Denver chef Biju Thomas reprises his Indian feast Dec. 13; Alex Seidel, the 2018 James Beard Award Best New Chef Southwest, cooks Feb. 12; and Jean-Georges and Cedric Vongerichten team up March 8. Watch this column for details.
4. Local Eggs All Winter!
Kudos to the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus for stuffing its shelves with mostly local products—a good portion of it food. Personally, I’m delighted to report that the shop will continue to stock fresh chicken eggs—as well as meats, jams, jellies, and honey—delivered twice weekly from a Western Slope farm collaborative. While ACES at Hallam Lake carries eggs from Rock Bottom Ranch in spring and summer, cold temps in Basalt means reduced production among resident chickens.
“Our eggs are non-GMO, no soy, free range, from happy chickens with names, and always $6.50/dozen,” owner Shae Singer says.
5. Local Food’s Bright Future
Eggs also are in production at the newly rebranded Farm Collaborative, formerly Aspen TREE, located at Cozy Point Ranch out on Highway 82 adjacent to Brush Creek Road. This summer, farmer Cooper Means constructed new henhouses for 600 chicks lured from a farm in Delta, and he had big plans for a fruit orchard and vegetable crop production in coming years. Founder Eden Vardy says that an onsite farm market is in planning stages.
Bosq Aspen reopens Dec. 13, and this season chef Barclay Dodge will showcase a new multicourse tasting menu nightly in the dining room, “inspired and curated by what we are getting and working with à la minute,” he says.
Speaking of local food: Local Coffeeshop, currently dubbed “Mini Local” during its renovation before a grand reopening in early December, brings tamales and empanadas from Franck Thirion French Pastry in the ABC. If that sounds incongruous, you haven’t had the Euopean café’s incredible chicken tortilla soup. Get the Mexican treats at “Mini Local” while they last, alongside a full coffee bar (7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily).
6. Consistently Good, Cheap Sandwiches
The humble handheld lunch is a staple of any ski town, so I’m forever grateful to Grateful Deli for truckin’ on since 2007. Hundreds of patrons step into the postage-stamp-sized space each week to pick up a honkin’ sandwich on freshly made sub rolls or focaccia. I toggle among four favorites, but “Terrapin” grilled on focaccia is my go-to. Best of all, it costs less than 10 bucks and is big enough to make two meals.
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Many locations on Basalt Mountain were barren as recently as two months ago. However, nutrients unlocked during the Lake Christine Fire and a wet winter have sparked a remarkable recovery. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies is leading fire ecology tours to discuss the changes.