Everyone Here is High!: Eating Crested Butte

12 Sep

I came home tonight with a handful of beets in my shopping bag – the Mister and I are doing our level best to eat better, in part due to my upcoming participation in the Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure (shameless plug). As I sit listening to them roast, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of eating what is normally considered a cold weather food at the tail end of the worst summer in Texas’ history. But it is getting cooler, however incrementally, and waking up to lower temps reminds me of my summer vacation to Crested Butte, Colorado. A friend and I did the 14-hour road trip in one day, and after crossing three states and climbing 12,000 or so feet above sea level, I was determined to put down some tasty local fare. Unfortunately, the beets I’ve got roasting in my oven will likely be better than just about everything I tried while breaking down the Butte.

To be fair, I didn’t try every single eatery in town – but the Butte is less than 1,500 people, so I think I can safely say I tried a good assortment. But on our first night, I was relegated to cheese and crackers because we rolled in around 10:00pm and everything was shut down for the evening. Rule number one of visiting a small town: make sure your car snacks can ultimately create an entire meal, or you’ll be left high, dry and hungry as hell. My first meal was at the Steeping Room, and the entree was largely mediocre (turkey burger?). My soup, however, was a green chili corn chowder that was pretty tasty, but as un-photogenic as my meal was forgettable. The same can be said for lamb sliders at a 9380 Prime (in the Elevation Hotel) and a burger and fries at the Gas Cafe, a filling station/restaurant hybrid that seems to take seriously the art of not caring. The burger was huge, messy and overcooked.

I had good – but not great – fried chicken at Slogar, but left more disappointed simply because the place had so much hype (as do most of the restaurants in CB; as the place attracts primarily skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers, I wonder if there’s some sort of connection between extreme sports and bad food). While Slogar does have a full menu, their most popular item is the fried chicken family style deal, which offers each person four pieces of chicken and unlimited sides – mashed potatoes, coleslaw and biscuits with honey butter. While everyone around me was in heaven, I tasted little to no seasoning on the chicken and no butter on the mashed potatoes. And coleslaw? Why was that even on the table? The same could be said for the starters, which were pickled vegetables, tomato chutney and cottage cheese. WTF? I have no problem if a restaurant above the Mason Dixon can do southern food with style, but you run into a fundamental problem when the chef has never been out of the Rocky Mountains.

This is more beautiful than any of the food I had the first few days.

CB has solid pizza entries – we spent a glorious afternoon drinking local brews and eating pizza on the porch of Brick Oven, but I could well have been biased by the electric blue sky, 80-degree weather and cute waiter. Brick Oven has a great front patio where the majority of their traffic seems to stop; the inside looked open (and I know I saw a salad bar), but the patio is the place to be. It’s right off the street and affords great people watching. There’s also Secret Stash, which is the town darling. Housed in an old gold miner’s house, the inside offers an eclectic trip down memory lane… if you remember the Crested Butte of the early 20th century, when mining was the town’s lifeblood. We ate upstairs at low slung tables that required us to kick off our shoes and sit on the floor. The menu has your pizza standards along with a number of gourmet pies with crazy names, like the Pinhead Pesto and New Potato Caboose.

We tried the Notorious F.I.G., a thin crust pie with prosciutto, fresh fig and truffle oil, along with a mix of mozzarella, bleu and asiago cheese. It’s an award winning dish and one of their most popular – and it was easy to see why. The bite of the stinky cheese combined well with the sweet fig and saltiness of the prosciutto. The Klotzbach, with mozzarella, grilled chicken, tomato, feta, kalamata olives and red onion, was tasty as well, but all that pizza made getting up from the floor in the cramped attic space a bit difficult.

Riley was a bit suspicious of the pizza at first, but he ultimately enjoyed it.

By far, my most memorable food experiences were at Lobar and Django’s. The former is a local sushi restaurant ranked highly by Ski Magazine… what? Since when does Ski Magazine review restaurants? Yep, that was my question, too. Lobar touts fresh fish arriving daily, which I don’t necessarily discount. But hippies making my sushi? Maybe I’m overly judgmental. The flavors were decent, but I felt a distinct lack of ‘sushi-ness.’ Yes, I had raw fish on my plate and wasabi burning my nose, but the atmosphere – the lounge sofa, house DJ and purple hues just seemed wrong. I looked over to the sushi bar and saw one too many long-haired ‘dudes’ wearing knit hats and hemp rope jewelry. And by one too many, I mean one guy. Plus, I was drinking a blackberry mojito, which was the night’s specialty drink. Lobar seemed to be trying desperately to be all things to all people, and it turned me off. The bright spot, however – the shiny, happy, goodness on my palette – was an appetizer called Crack Fries. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that no self-respecting sushi bar even has french fries on their menu. These things were amazing; homemade fries, perfectly crisp on the outside, seasoned with a thick coating of parmesan, salt, cracked pepper and white truffle oil. The salty pepperiness was elevated to new levels with truffle oil, and the parmesan added a wonderfully pungent undercurrent. We shoved them in our facehole as quickly as we could, and were dangerously close to getting another order. Maybe they were ultimately why Lobar’s entree was disappointing. Nothing – and I do mean nothing – could stand up to those crack fries.

Django’s, meanwhile, was nirvana. A wine bar located midway up Mount Crested Butte, they specialize in small, shared plates. The menu is seasonal and showcases a variety of different flavors, cultures and cooking techniques. They actually allow you a bit of a prix fixe deal – if you order one of everything on the (one page) menu, it’s just $249. I was thrilled with that deal.

See that on top? It's air. Tasty, luscious air.

My dining companion – who is a chick, but not one of Two Chicks – was not. We ultimately settled on eight plates, and to this day the decision ranks as one of my most difficult. The shrimp risotto with lemon and mascarpone air (nope, not a typo) was light and creamy with a nice finish of citrus. A smidge more and it would have been overpowering; instead, it really did serve to cleanse your palette. Cocoa butter seared scallops were served with a brown butter brittle, haricot verts and a Meyer lemon sauce – ho. ly. Crap. They were warm and buttery, and while I wasn’t in love with the lemon, the scallops were so damned good we ordered a second plate of them. The cheese plate was solid and featured an assortment of goodies: aged pecorino, an herbed cheese spread, goat cheese and brie, but another standout among this varsity squad were the mushroom croquettes, little fried balls of goodness with two different mushrooms mixed with cheese and onion and coated in panko. Seriously, how can fungus taste so good? Crunchy on the outside, piping hot on the inside, with just enough ooze to the cheese to catch a mouthful of mushroom.

The braised boar belly got up and slapped me in the face.

Since I’m a fan of pork belly, I was eager to try the braised wild boar belly, which also didn’t disappoint. The belly is the fattiest part of pretty much every animal, which is why it’s so deliciously sinful. Braising it imparts so much flavor and makes it falling apart tender. The boar was served with a date-cider reduction and a house-made coleslaw with brussel sprouts, dates and apples. If it sounds weird, that’s because it is. But weird was so damned delicious. The sweet tang of the date-cider reduction cut through the fattiness like a hot knife on butter, and the slaw offered a crunchy texture that worked really nicely. It was also extremely nice that our servers were both attentive and knowledgeable, and were able to offer up a smooth red wine with finishes of cocoa and cherry that married perfectly with the smoky braised game meat.

And did I mention django’s has an open kitchen, so we were able to watch the chefs work? I love that. I tried to be stealth in my photography, but I have no doubt I came across as a flash-happy stalker.

I'm a creeper!

We polished off the meal with a Mexican crème brulee, which, as it turns out, is actually different from your standard brulee. While your basic crème brulee is made with cream and a sugar crusted top, the Mexican variety is made with milk and a caramelized sugar crust on the bottom. It was incredibly smooth and still offered that familiar crunch, but wasn’t quite as sweet. A perfect finish to an absolutely incredible meal.

As I mentioned earlier, Crested Butte is a small town primarily geared to outdoor adventurers and wealthy vacationers. I saw far more Texas license plates than I’d ever imagined I would; considering our run of triple-digit temperatures, a 15-hour drive across two states seems a small price to pay to escape. There are several restaurants we didn’t get a chance to try, and it was such a cute little town, I’d be up for checking it out again – so long as I can end every night at django’s.

– B

Now you see it...

Now you don't.


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