Food Matters: Old Snowmass Market elevates a gas station into a gourmet destination
Old Snowmass Market
26800 Highway 82, Snowmass
Conoco at Snowmass Creek Rd. Junction
Mon-Fri 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. (6 a.m. soon)
Sat 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sun 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Eating cake in a convenience store with a respected Spanish chef: This is just one pleasant surprise during an impromptu stop at a gas station on Highway 82. Javier González-Bringas, chef-owner of Tempranillo Restaurant in Basalt, slices off a piece of homemade blueberry Bundt cake, which we eat standing up in the middle of the Old Snowmass Market, here at the Snowmass Creek Road (CR-11) junction Conoco.
Together with his wife and business partner, Laura Maine, the restaurateur leased the space in April 2019 and spent one month renovating the interior with new flooring, distressed grey barn wood accents, and a stainless-steel open kitchen. Now the shop prepares and serves Latin and European specialties for workers and travelers. Such as this cake, which is light and springy but tastes rich and buttery, studded with sweet purple blueberries.
“We use our own chicken eggs!” notes González-Bringas, who lives with Maine on a 13-acre ranch in Missouri Heights, along with a flock of more than a dozen chickens and a drove of 18 pigs they raise for pork. The recipe, he explains, was created by the couple’s teenage daughter, Carmen González-Bringas, 14. Now, with the ninth-grader back at boarding school in Javier’s native Madrid, he bakes the cakes each week. Wrapped slices (also in lemon-ginger and chocolate-orange) beckon from the cash register alongside empanadas and more traditional service station staples: wiper fluid, tissues, plastic sunglasses, and cigarettes.
Overhead, placards suggest gourmet food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s a burrito and taco bar stocked with up to 10 prepared proteins, beans and rice, plus potato, egg, bacon, and chorizo for breakfast burritoes ($7.50-11). Ten specialty panini ($10.25-$11.25) are stuffed with combinations such as Cubano pulled pork, Italian chicken with grilled vegetables, and Spanish caprese (Serrano ham, mozzarella, basil pesto, balsamic glaze). Laura’s favorite layers smoked turkey, applewood smoked bacon, Brie, pears and raspberry jam.
“There aren’t any that don’t move,” says manager Denise Farver, who each morning preps the panini, which turn crispy after four minutes on the press. “We make everything to order. The idea is to offer something that is not premade (in) a place where people don’t have to go to the grocery store and spend that time.”
As we’re chatting around 12:45 p.m., two paint-splattered construction workers linger on red diner stools at the central community “table”—more like a kitchen island of reclaimed barn wood topped with dark granite. Before them, paper boats hold remnants of the store’s bestselling combo: a bottled beverage paired with a massive burrito, stuffed upon request in a 12-inch flour tortilla handmade in Grand Junction. (Tacos, $3, are served on a double-layer of small corn tortillas.)
“Normally when you buy a burrito, it’s made early in the morning and held under the lamp for hours, know what I mean?” González-Bringas says. “Here, it’s fresh. (At) Tempranillo, we do great food for people with a lot of money. We always wanted to do great food that isn’t expensive for the workers.”
Old Snowmass Market’s style is “more Latin,” but touches of Tempranillo’s Mediterranean fare infiltrate the à la carte menu. The chef’s albondigas, authentic Spanish meatballs in tomato-garlic-red wine sauce, are served in panini or tacos. One “daily special” is always chicken tortilla soup, a robust purée of charred vegetables, chicken stock, and those corn tortillas, warmed to order and topped with cheese. “I want to have a smoky flavor,” he explains, “so I put peppers on the grill and try to burn the skin. Chicken, boiled in stock, (is) chopped, added. I want to do the best, that is my goal.”
Pork from the family ranch finds its way into carnitas and green and red chile; eggs are also used in Argentinean empanadas, the dough hand-rolled and stuffed with ham or chorizo and cheese or spiced beef. “In Spain we don’t do as much beef in the empanadas, we use tuna,” González-Bringas explains. “But here, people with fish is a little … sketchy. It’s a cultural thing.”
Just like at Tempranillo — four miles down the highway on Midland Avenue in Basalt since 2006, where González-Bringas and Maine recently enclosed the sides of the historic train station’s wraparound patio and installed infrared heaters for expanded outdoor dining — “We have special things from Spain: Ibérico ham, great cheeses,” the chef continues. “I wanted it to be like a modern boutique.”
Hard to miss at the Old Snowmass Market is the impressive cheese case displaying about nine imported cheeses, seven or so kinds of charcuterie, and assorted olives, nuts, and rustic crackers. Farver, a former Tempranillo bartender who joined the operation a few months ago, is in the process of creating cheese and charcuterie “kits” and, perhaps, platters and boxed lunches come summer. She’s also working on sourcing a list of grocery items: eggs, butter, milk, bread.
“People love the barbacoa, the cheeks of beef, and buche, the walls of the stomach of the pig,” González-Bringas continues, gesturing to the taco bar with house-made pico de gallo and spicy salsa. “It’s much more tender. Also, we do tongue, lengua, more in the Spanish style with tomato sauce. So much flavor.”
Soon he’ll add an egg-bacon-chipotle breakfast panini, among other fare. All around us is a curated selection of chips and snacks; a wall of soda, tea, and bottled beverages; traveler toiletries; and novelty ice cream. Boulder Organic Ice Cream may supply more scooped ice cream soon. Drip coffee holds court until about noon, then an espresso machine turns out hot drinks popular in afternoon.
“We are considered essential,” Farver notes, of how business has changed since COVID-19. “Our morning, 6:30-9:30 a.m., is our packed time. When people come in, they say, ‘I thought this was just a place to get gas. I’m coming back!’ This is the last stop before they get into Aspen. People know about the other store (the second Conoco heading east, also owned by local restaurateur Ryan Chadwick), but it’s not as extensive as far as being able to service food.”
Two years ago, Maine remembers not really wanting to, well, operate a gas station. Tempranillo has built a loyal clientele for nearly 15 years, after all. One year into the coronavirus pandemic, though, the Old Snowmass Market has morphed into much more than a pit stop.
“It’s a community place (with) good, healthy, fresh food made for workers,” Maine muses. “I love it here. The energy is so fun.”
“2023 predicted to be the Vintage of a Lifetime in Napa Valley,” proclaimed the headline this week in a press release sent out by the Napa Valley Vintners, the trade organization that represents the growers and producers in America’s most famed wine region. If there is anyone more optimistic than winemakers, it is the group that represents them.