Aspen’s Best: Food and Drink |

Aspen’s Best: Food and Drink

Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Showing its versatility, the Little Nell landed atop not only the pricey eats category, but also in the most basic of foods: the burger. Here it was Ajax Tavern, located in and operated by the Nell, taking honors for its double-double, modeled after the In-N-Out burger, but made with locally raised Milagro Ranch, grass-fed beef. Not far behind were the old standbys at the Woody Creek Tavern and Hotel Jerome. No one mentioned missing Cooper Street’s burger special, though the defunct Red Onion did get some love. On the up-and-coming side was Snowmass’ Sneaky’s Tavern, which had one supporter.

When price is no object, diners went with Colorado-oriented cuisine over French or Japanese. The Little Nell’s Montagna, guided by the gifted local-food advocate, chef Ryan Hardy, won in a close battle over the French-inspired Cache Cache. Another Rocky Mountain-focused favorite, Pinons, earned plenty of support. Sushi fans split their votes between Matsuhisa ” which took third overall ” Kenichi and Takah Sushi. In a sign of things to come, perhaps, one midvalley eatery ” the Spanish restaurant Tempranillo ” got one nod. Welcome Basalt, to the land of expensive dining.

It’s tall. It’s frothy. Always on ice, never blended. And they never resort to an orangey injection of Grand Marnier where it doesn’t belong ” in a classic margarita. Su Casa gets the nod for the Best Margarita (they also make a strawberry version) and we at The Aspen Times can understand why. Staffers have been known to gather in the subterranean restaurant off Hyman Avenue ” or in its outdoor courtyard in the summer months ” to partake of a happy hour margarita or two (or three). As Aspen’s favorite places continue to disappear, it’s a pleasure to hoist a glass to the staying power of Su Casa. Also earning a nod from readers: The Cantina and, to a lesser extent, Zocalito and Jimmy’s.

After a challenge from Bonnie’s last year, the Sundeck is back on top among local ski-area eateries.

The venerable location at the top of Aspen Mountain, which underwent a major remodel a few years ago, continues to wow locals and visitors alike with its mountaintop views and, apparently, its food. With 33 votes, the Sundeck received more than double the tally of any other on-mountain restaurant; Bonnies on Aspen Mountain, Cloud 9 at Highlands and Gwyn’s at Snowmass all registered 14.

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Other vote-getters included Ajax Tavern (even though it’s not really an on-mountain restaurant), the Merry-Go-Round at Highlands, Sneaky’s in Base Village (again, not really an on-mountain restaurant), the brand-new Sam’s Smokehouse at Snowmass, Up 4 Pizza at Snowmass, Buttermilks Cliffhouse, and Bumps, also at Buttermilk.

That’s a nice spread, we felt, and it points out that the food and drink always tastes good during a day of skiing.

As sometimes happens, those voting for Aspen’s best get stuck in a single track as far as grabbing a quick meal is concerned, and for 2008 that track leads directly to the door of the Grateful Deli, 233 E. Main St.

Now in its first full year of existence, the Deli pulled in more than twice the votes of its nearest competitor, beating the Big Wrap 54 to 24. No one else even came close.

With a menu of sandwiches that echo with the names of Dead tunes (Shakedown, Bertha, Pigpen, Dark Star), veggie alternatives, as well as great meats, salads and sweets ” not to mention a smile for customers even in the depths of the lunch rush ” deli owner Joe Freeman and his crew have what Aspen likes for lunch.

OK, we have to admit this one’s a bit skewed. The choices for outdoor dining in Aspen in winter are ” obviously! ” few and far between. And clearly the winner in this category is a reflection of this fact. Nevertheless, Ajax Tavern is a perfect place to dine al fresco, winter or summer. With its slopeside location, expansive deck and excellent food and drink, it really it is a winner. But we wonder, if our poll was taken in summer, who would have won? Perhaps one of the runners-up, like Takah Sushi, Jerome, Cantina or D19? Alas, we will just have to say congratulations to Ajax Tavern while seeking new outdoor dining hotspots once the snow has melted.

Whether fueling up for a day on the slopes of shaking off a few too many from the night before, Aspenites love a hearty breakfast. And the place to best place to get one:

Poppycocks, in the heart of downtown. The reason, we surmise, is simple: big portions, small prices and a lot of homemade goodness on the menu. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to start their day off with a fresh fruit smoothie, stuffed crepe or macadamia nut pancakes with a side of pistachio sausage?

Of course Aspen is no one-pony show, so there were plenty of other nominees in this category, including perennial favorites Main Street Bakery, Hickory House and Weinerstube in Aspen; Breakfast in America in the midvalley; and, for the high-rolling breakfast crowd, Montagna at The Little Nell.

Aspenites are a diverse crowd, and the award for Aspen’s Best Bar proves it, with a three-way tie between Cache Cache, Double Dog and Eric’s. Think about it ” these three bars cater to three distinct crowds: Cache Cache, an upscale French bistro, draws a decidedly classy crowd; Double Dog, a pub in the traditional sense, is the perfect watering hole for those seeking draft beer, shuffleboard and live music; and Eric’s is where the young and hip tend to congregate (see Best Place to Find a One-Night Stand if you don’t believe us …).

But fear not if these are not your favorite haunts, some 20 other bars earned at least one vote in this category, reinforcing the fact that Aspen really does have something for everyone. Drink up!

Last year, this category was a tie. But the ranks have shuffled and Ink! pulled ahead in 2008 with 26 votes to Zele’s 19.

Zele, of course, has that sunny corner patio going for it, but Ink!, though buried in a below-grade spot, certainly offers the richest brew.

And, in a sign of a strong up-and-comer, Parallel 15 logged an impressive 17 votes in its first year of business.

Other vote-getters included Main Street Bakery, Paradise Bakery, Saxy’s in Basalt, Dos Gringos in Carbondale, and Starbucks (which has locations in both El Jebel and Aspen).

However, locals clearly prefer their local, independent coffee purveyors, which we applaud.

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