‘Best spot in the valley’lures restaurant to Basalt
The owner of one of Aspen’s most successful restaurants is preparing to open a completely different type of establishment in what some people consider Basalt’s prime spot.Walt Harris, owner of the 17-year-old Syzygy restaurant in Aspen, is finishing the remodeling of the old Rainbow Grill spot that was famed before it closed last year for the deck overhanging the Fryingpan River.”It’s the best location in the valley, as far as I’m concerned,” said Martin Oswald, chef at Syzygy and executive chef at the new restaurant.The two men will continue to run Syzygy as well as the new restaurant.The interior of the Rainbow Grill space was gutted along with the name. It will reopen as the Riverside Grill. Harris is shooting for an opening in late June. The grill will serve a light breakfast, lunch and dinner that features “small plates” and large appetizers.Oswald said he’s heard some fear and trepidation among midvalley residents that Syzygy would bring its high-end style and prices to Basalt. He and Harris are alleviating fears. They said they will bring Syzygy’s commitment to quality but be “value oriented.””We’re really going to make this affordable for everybody,” said Oswald, who Harris entrusted to come up with the menu, pricing and concept.The Rainbow Grill was a place that people wanted to love but couldn’t quite do it. Despite the excellent location, there were complaints about the service and the food. The space sat vacant last winter.The new grill will feature the same big bar as the old watering hole. “We still want to make it a great place to hang out,” Harris said.Oswald said he wanted to create a place where people could pick up coffee and a light breakfast at a counter then feel like they could linger and read the paper on the deck.The lunch menu will feature salads, sandwiches, burgers and pasta dishes. Prices are slated to be in the $7 and $8 range.The dinner will feature small plates that will be served family style in the order they are prepared. Harris said the food will hit the table as soon as it is finished. If a table ordered several plates, the food won’t wait until it’s all finished. Each dish will come out when it’s ready.Oswald said a person could make a meal from two or three of the selections – which include greens, veggies, fish and meat – and pay less than in many restaurants.He noted a small plate such as the beef tenderloin would feature a good amount of meat – 4 ounces, for instance. The beef tenderloin stir fry would come with shiitakes and peppers for $11.95.Oswald said he believes the Riverside Grill and another new eatery, the Dogwood Grill, will combine with the existing restaurants in Basalt to make it more of a destination that benefits them all.”The more restaurants, the more they feed off one another,” he said.That opinion was shared by Adrian Carpenter, one of four owners of the new Dogwood Grill in the Ute Center building, next to the Hestia restaurant.”I think Basalt’s going to become more of a destination,” said Carpenter. “Right now people are bypassing Basalt for Carbondale.”Dogwood Grill hopes to draw them in with a concept they say is unmatched in the valley. They are offering “Southern-inspired cuisine,” said Carpenter, a native of North Carolina. The restaurant opened in late May.The two new restaurants are part of a business surge that Basalt experienced in recent weeks. New openings and relocations include:• A downtown bookstore plans to open July 31. Fred Durham, manager of Town Center Booksellers, said he’s been “amazed” at the interest that’s been expressed by Basalt residents, especially for children’s selections.The bookstore will have 12,000 to 13,000 titles in its 1,800 square feet. Judy Palmer, a popular middle school teacher who retired this year, will head the children’s section, Durham said.The bookstore has already contributed to the town. The building in the heart of downtown has a new clock tower and architecture by Raul Gawrys that transformed a bland building into an interesting focal point of town.Durham said the bookstore will not have a coffee shop, as was once discussed. It will only offer complimentary coffee to feed into the sense of community the store hopes to build.Durham said there wasn’t enough room to properly run a coffee shop. “In an effort to succeed at both I don’t want to fail at both,” he said.• The Willits General Store opened six weeks ago while Willits Wine and Liquors popped into the scene two weeks ago. They are among the first buildings to open in the new Willits commercial core.Bob Hite, a co-owner and operator of the businesses, said the buildings will set the architectural tone for the remaining commercial development, the bulk of which is still to come. The general store is an attractive brick building with a vast porch. It’s very different from the “gray boxes” usually associated with convenience stores, Hite said.”We could have done a schlock job but we wanted to do something nice,” he said.Within the general store is Good to Go Pizza, which offers pizzas, salads and muffuletta sandwiches.The general store’s gas pumps are of an art deco style that are shielded under a canopy that looks like part of a train station. The business has an automatic carwash which recycles 70 percent of the water used.Hite said the liquor store will try to distinguish itself by offering exemplary service and extensive knowledge of wines.A grand opening will be held for the businesses Friday, June 25, but Hite said he’s already been astounded by the amount of customers just from word of mouth.Other businesses that have opened new offices in Willits are Alpine Bank, and Morris and Fyrwald real estate. Zele Cafe is working on the interior of its space adjacent to the bank.• In Basalt, a number of businesses have made changes. Java Joes and the Basalt Gallery relocated to Ute Center. The coffee shop relocated after a hiatus following its departure from its old home across from Basalt Town Hall.Fryingpan Anglers is in the process of switching locations from its old spot by Bristlecone Sports to new digs beside Bucky’s restaurant and Clark’s Market.Bandana Kids opened shop in Riverwalk last month.All the activity has got entrepreneurs excited about their prospects. “I just think Basalt is where it’s happening,” said Dogwood Grill partner Carpenter.Durham, manager of the bookstore and a longtime Basalt resident, said the small-business surge brings to mind the old days in the Roaring Fork. “It reminds me a lot of the enthusiasm that used to be in Aspen,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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