Explore Booksellers and Bistro | AspenTimes.com

Explore Booksellers and Bistro

Christina Patterson

There are two things that I truly love: books and food. Sometimes even in that order. So you can imagine that I’m a sucker for Aspen’s own Explore Booksellers and Bistro.

Not only are there over 50,000 titles to choose from but upstairs you’ll find a “coffeehouse” in the biggest sense of the word. Sure, they have coffee. Organic coffee, no less. You can get an individual French press of French Roast or French Vanilla (with a few more to choose from) for $2.75. The French press is definitely the brewing method of champions.

But there’s a lot more than coffee happening at this coffeehouse.

For 22 years Explore has been selling books in Aspen. In an age when the independent bookstore is on the endangered list, it is truly a treasure. OK, I know this is a restaurant profile, so I’ll go easy on the book references.

Explore owner Catherine Thalberg had a love for animals and a devotion to their cause that led her to create in 1988 the caf» part of the bookstore. It remains the only vegetarian restaurant in the entire valley.

Not only is the food totally animal-friendly, but it’s also of the highest quality, mostly organic, and free from preservatives, pesticides, refined sugars (except for a few “decadent” desserts), and other icky things that are really not all that good for you.

Even the table water is filtered and de-ionized. I realize there are some who still think that “vegetarian” is synonymous with bland and skimpy. Well, Tough Guy or Gal, saddle up to a piece of Explore’s Pecan Pie ($4.50) – no dairy, no eggs, no refined sugar – and just try to say “bland” with your mouth full of that little slice of nectar. Oops. I skipped ahead to dessert, didn’t I? Let me back up a little.

Brunch: You can have a free-range egg omelet with toast, jam, roasted potatoes, and mixed greens for $7.95, or for the same price, you can have a slightly modified version with mushrooms, bell peppers, and tofu instead of eggs. Muffins are $1.75, and they go well with one of the coffees mentioned above.

If you were distracted by a book that caught your eye as you walked in, and you’ve inadvertently spent the last few hours in “browse” mode, a Hot Rueben Sandwich is probably just the thing for you – don’t ask me why, just have a little trust. On this Rueben, you’ll find grilled marinated tempeh sitting in for the meat, served with homemade dressing, organic sauerkraut, and your choice of dairy or soy cheese, organic field greens and roasted potatoes – for a mere $7.95.

If you need a veggie fix, take a trip to the salad bar, stocked with organic greens, fresh vegetables and dairy-free dressings. It’s $6.95, or $4.50 for a single serving, and includes a slice of whole grain bread. A soup-and-salad combo is $7.95. When we were there, the Soup of the Day was Corn Chowder. Mmm…

From the House Specialties page, you can set yourself up with a luscious plate of Pasta Pommodoro: linguine tossed with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic, and a slice of mighty tasty garlic bread – for $9.95. Or for a very tasty “meatless” burger, try the Garden Burger, a meat-free patty topped with cheese, tomato, sprouts, red onion, and some Dijon sauce served with roasted potatoes and field greens – $6.95.

Each day Explore features two specials, which rotate every two days (so you should phone up to find out what they are). Some of the 14 different specials include: Seitan Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms, Herb Crusted Tempeh, Portobella Mushroom Steak and Shepherd’s Pie with organic mashed potatoes. Each is $12.95.

To wash it all down, there are plenty of options – beer, wine and champagne (glass or bottle), Port, Sherry, Italian sodas, fresh squeezed carrot juice, fresh fruit smoothies, fruit juices, hot apple cider, and a nice selection of organic, black, green, and herbal teas.

There’s also a cappuccino machine on the premises, just in case.

Finally… dessert. What can I say? Chocolate Espresso Mousse Cake. Key Lime Pie (my favorite). Carrot Cake. Chocolate Fudge Cake.

Most of the desserts are made right in the back, some of them are eggless, dairy-free, and naturally sweetened with pure maple syrup, fruit juice or honey. And all of them are lusciously displayed in the beautiful display case in the main dining room. They’re in the $4.50 – $5.50 range. Careful, you’re drooling.

Explore is serene and charming and just as cool as can be. If you too are a lover of good books and good food, you should pay it a visit.

But before you mix your passions too closely, remember the words on the menu: “Food and drink do stain. Please… no books on table.”