Spending several days with friends in their home between Carbondale and Aspen, we dined out in the area more than we had previously—and noticed a lot more options too. I did zero research, taking cues only from our hosts, fellow food lovers who regularly scope out the local food scene, but wanted to share our thoughts on some of our eating adventures.
Pour House (Carbondale)--A friendly bar, with bar food. Overall, I’d rate this OK+. The Reuben was very good. The green chili was pretty good as well. Burgers—two—were ordered, one medium rare, which came rare, and one medium, which came medium well to well. Although the menu warned against ordering anything more than “medium,” the range between M and MR was vast. The burgers did have nice grilled flavor, and accompanying house-made, hand-cut potato chips were good and remarkably greaseless.
Phat Thai (Carbondale)—very nice Thai food, especially for a small town. Wish we’d been more adventurous, but we opted for safe—fried spring rolls; red curry mussels; “phat thai.”
Taqueria El Nopal (Basalt)—four people, about $20; how could you go wrong? Very good tacos—we tried the carnitas and asada—with a nice selection of add-ons at a condiment bar, including four or five salsas. A (gigantic) torta, with excellent bread and layered thickly with meat, was delicious. I’d return in a heartbeat; excellent value.
Downvalley Tavern (El Jebel)--I could have been happy eating just the “Friarelli” peppers appetizer (whole mildly hot peppers, grilled, served with feta crumbled and aioli), but we also had a great arugula salad (though initially I thought it sounded too busy) with sliced dates, almonds, goat cheese, prosciutto. Two of us ordered Chicken Milanese, a very nicely breaded and sautéed thin cutlet, with a light sauce w/capers; another ordered what she always does and always loves—pasta w/lamb ragu; my husband thought his steak (NY strip) and the sides (creamed corn, onion rings) excellent. Nice meal.
Brunelleschi’s Pizza (Aspen)—We stopped in for a quick lunch. (As the only two people in the place, we didn’t-- depending on one’s perspective--get to see/have to endure the restaurant’s reputed expertise at entertaining kiddies.) We shared a spinach salad with nice, fresh ingredients—goat cheese, candied nuts, and a citrusy vinaigrette, and very large hunks of (oddly steaming hot) beet. The beets cooled; the salad was good. We shared a pizza with mushrooms, onions, and prosciutto. The crust, akin to a large, thin multi-grain cracker, was unlike any pizza crust we’d ever had, but we quite liked it, especially in that it made for a very light pizza. We left satisfied, not overstuffed. I’d read a lot of carping about the price of this particular pizza, and after adding the ingredients, it was indeed a pricey small pie--but everything in Aspen is overpriced (except the Music Festival's Friday afternoon concerts—what a bargain!), and it didn’t sting as much since we shared one.
We also popped in to the brand new Whole Foods in El Jebel; being from New Orleans, we smiled at the irony of WF personnel hawking a special on Louisiana Gulf Shrimp (music to the ears of our friends). At the Aspen Farmers Market, we purchased some delicious Haystack cheeses, notably a runny round (“Snowdrop” or “Snowflake”), which was amazing later with the Palisade peaches we found there. We also scored a carton of tiny multi-hued cherry tomatoes, so sweet I was tempted to eat them like candy. They starred in lovely salads for the next couple of days.
I must give a shout out to two other standouts: the grass-fed lamb loin chops (from Crystal River Meats in Carbondale) were possibly the best lamb I’ve ever tasted. And outside of corn in the Midwest in August, picked and cooked within a couple of hours, I’ve never had sweeter, fresher tasting corn than the Olathe we were lucky enough to enjoy a few times. Of course, dining al fresco in that gorgeous landscape enhanced every bite.