Food Matters: Offseason eats and events to seek beyond Aspen |

Food Matters: Offseason eats and events to seek beyond Aspen

Amanda Rae
Food Matters

My new hair stylist is based in Rifle, and when I tell people this, they always exclaim a response in some form of, “That’s crazy!”

While goods and services there seem to cost a fraction of what they do here in Aspen, any savings are likely offset by what I spend in gas (68 miles) and time (1 hour, 10 minutes each way) to make the trip. Though I enjoy buzzing to Glenwood Springs on a semi-regular basis for errands anyway — and really, what are a few extra exits off I-70 if not more time to think — the clincher for this Rifle jaunt every couple of months is that I get to eat at Polanka.

In April 2018 the beloved Polish eatery relocated from Sixth Street in Glenwood to Railroad Street in Rifle. The massive Grand Avenue Bridge project had shifted traffic from flowing right past Polanka’s door, tucked next to a cannabis dispensary with Chuck Norris signs, to bypassing the restaurant entirely. I remember dining in shortly after the reconfiguration was complete and feeling the frustration when a man working the counter launched into a tirade about how the long construction and road rerouting “killed” the business.

Now second-generation Polanka in Rifle looks as if it’s been located there forever. The Polish chef with scarlet hair who runs the show told me she prefers the bigger kitchen but the tradeoff is fewer seats. On a recent Tuesday around noon, the place was packed.

Polanka easily tops my list of offseason food cravings worth seeking out when hitting the road beyond Aspen city limits:

PIEROGI at Polanka in Rifle

Homespun food is as authentic as always at this quaint restaurant, now on Rifle’s main drag. Order the combo plate, which arrives loaded with a salty, savory, blackened-edge kielbasa sausage, a scoop of sauerkraut, one meat-and-rice stuffed cabbage roll, and six pierogi with bubbly-crisp fried exteriors. If you’ve never had this Eastern European carb-on-carb delicacy—pillowy dough sealed over a dollop of mashed potatoes, boiled like ravioli, and then sautéed in butter and soft onions—get thee to Rifle ASAP.

Just don’t make the heart-wrenching mistake I did on my first attempt to visit, on Wednesday, the only day of the week Polanka is closed.

PORK CHOP at The Way Home in Carbondale

Chef Flip Wise’s pièce de résistance during a recent tasting dinner hosted by Marisa Hallsted of The Mindful Vine at The Way Home in Carbondale: the juiciest, most succulent pork chop anyone at the table had ever eaten. Boasting a dramatic grilled crosshatch exterior around a brined, boneless cut of meat, the dish roused the sound of silence to our otherwise talkative group. Even cooler: the plate was made possible by heritage pig raised just a mile down the road on the 83-acre Gianinetti family farm.


Hallsted of The Mindful Vine participates as both yogi and sensory culinary guide in the upcoming Harvest Shakti Fall Retreat in Paonia (Nov. 7 to 10). The curated wellness escape features meals by a private chef, garden-view accommodations, wine tasting on an award-winning pinot gris vineyard, a “how to source locally” cooking class, and farm-to-table dinner, along with yoga, meditation and stunning autumn scenery. $1600, includes lodging, meals, workshops;

PHILLY CHEESESTEAK at Biggies Sub Shop in Buena Vista

It’s hard to not wolf down this East Coast-style sub, but slowing your roll makes savoring this sandwich last at least a little longer during a post-Indy Pass pit stop. Shaved steak, caramelized peppers and onions, and gooey cheese on a soft hoagie bun make this roadside treat greater than the sum of its parts. Add in sautéed mushrooms, spinach, hot peppers, or Pueblo green chili or sub thinly sliced and grilled elk meat for a truly Coloradical snack.

WINE CRUSH at Vino Salida Wine Cellars in Salida

The sweet 16th annual Tenderfoot Stomp comes to this Rocky Mountain winery on Sept. 28 and 29. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting sticky, and feel the cool sensation of grapes crushing beneath bare feet during the free main event from noon to 5 p.m. Then indulge in barbecue bruschetta and Mediterranean antipasti in Vino’s tasting bar, set to music by local minstrels.

FESTIVAL GUACAMOLE at Taco Party in Grand Junction

Another on-the-road revelation from a long-ago journey: freshly smashed guacamole decorated with a colorful smattering of crunchy radish tuiles, edible flowers, and puffed amaranth. The downtown restaurant’s evolving menu of six namesake dishes, served on tender tortillas, plus six appetizer plates, is creative and satisfying, and if pork posole is hot, order that, too.

FIESTA DE TAMALES at Basalt High School

Community convenes once again at this annual feast of traditional Mexican fare—tamales, pupusas, salad, oh my!—made with love by lots of local ladies. Held this year at Basalt High School on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. and featuring a perennial performance by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico, the event’s $20 advance ticket fee ($7 for kids) is funneled toward literacy nonprofit English in Action. $25/$10 at door; food served until 7 p.m.;