By Maya Silver | Editor
Sometimes, residents of and visitors to small towns–including some of Colorado’s ski-centric mountain communities–must settle when it comes to dining out. We can usually count on a great steak or a fantastic cut of local wild game. And strong cocktails that–coupled with the high altitude–knock you on your feet? Not a problem. But fine dining? Different ethnic cuisines? Cutting-edge techniques? Perfect execution? Flawless service? You might want to look elsewhere.
Not, however, in Steamboat Springs. In the past few years, excellent dining options have become almost as reliable as a heavy snowpack in this northwestern Colorado town–or so went the rumors. We decided to see for ourselves, and found the buzz to be well-corroborated. We packed as much eating as we possibly could into a single weekend. By Sunday, we still had more spots on our list to try and more dishes to try at the spots we visited.
We’ve rounded up the nine most compelling reasons for a food lover to visit Steamboat. You might be so busy eating your way through your culinary itinerary, that you forget to indulge in the outdoors, too. While you’re there, be sure to ski Steamboat’s ample powder in the winter, sample the hot springs year-round, and–when the weather is warm–grab a bike and a trail map from Orange Peel Bikes.
1. Carolina barbecue sauce-smothered ribs
We don’t need to tell you that the meat on the Ribs at the new Low Country Kitchen just collapsed right off the bone (of course they did or we wouldn’t be writing about them). But we do need to tell you about the sauce: piquant, vinegary, just the right amount of heat, and eye-pleasingly orange. It’s hard to stop at just one or two ribs (even if it’s only an appetizer)–or five, or ten …
Also not to miss at Low is the Chicken Biscuit–a dissolve-on-your tongue buttery crumb biscuit with fried chicken, housemade pepper jelly, and Creole aïoli. A tomato-bacon gravy takes the Shrimp and Grits–milled to order by Anson Mills–to a must-try level. And we care not if you’re a professed beer or wine drinker; you’ll want to order one of the house cocktails. The Raspberry Smash tastes like a raspberry picked fresh from a branch and won’t do you in with too much sugar.
So what–you might wonder–is this authentic and incredible Southern fare doing in Steamboat? Ask Katy and Brian Vaughn, restaurateurs who are doing more than their fair share to revolutionize local dining here. Katy comes from Chattanooga Tennessee, while Brian hails from Louisville via New Orleans. Naturally, proper Southern cooking flows through their veins, but then, so does cutting-edge American cuisine at Bistro C.V. and, soon, experimental Japanese at the forthcoming Yama. More on those concepts below.
2. The Three C’s (that’s Crispy Curry Cauliflower)
We’ve all had an inventive vegetable dish–the kind that makes you declare you’d eat vegetables all the time if they always tasted so good! The one we tried at Aurum was top-notch. The orchestration of flavors and textures was both spot-on and surprising. The cauliflower was delightfully crispy alongside crunchy pine nuts, juicy golden raisins, and the sweet heat of shishitos. The whole thing came together with curry seasoning that worked its way into every fiber of floret, and a sweet and sour reduction that kept the dish saucy through and through.
3. An oh-so-cozy country breakfast
The Creekside Café & Grill reminded us of the type of down-home, unpretentious breakfast/lunch spot that you’d find in a great college town in the hills of New Hampshire, or of the type of place that the characters in a romantic comedy might visit daily for coffee and bacon. It has that everyone-knows-everyone-else, settle-in-for-hours vibe that makes you feel so at ease as you enjoy breakfast. Plus, there’s a creekside patio oozing with flowers that will call your name when the weather’s fine.
The menu covers all standard breakfast fare, but has the most fun with Benedicts, of which there are 10 varieties. We tried the Florentine, which came with legit, thick-cut ham that made a mockery of the rubbery version we were expecting. Snag a bag of granola for the road–it’s addictive and makes a great gift, too.
4. An oversized Arrachera Cheesesteak Sandwich served on a cutting board
Warning: after eating a sandwich at The Paramount, most sandwiches will seem rather lame by comparison. These creatures of beauty come on rectangular cutting boards with steak knives. The first slice of sourdough bread boasts a staggering pile of ingredients–a heap upon which the second slice of sourdough leans. The bread hails from Denver’s Izzio’s Artisan Bakery, and no one has to tell you that all the other ingredients are fresh and housemade–you’ll be able to taste it from bite number one.
The cheesesteak speaks a Philadelphian’s language with saucy flank steak; sautéed onions, peppers, and mushrooms; melty provolone; and garlic mayo. Other notables at The Paramount include the Cubano and the Crab BLT, as well as the Bloody Mary, which tastes like the best heirloom tomato ever, injected with vodka and heat. Oh, and did we mention that The Paramount sits right at the base area? Park your skis, waddle over, and aprés yourself into a coma.
5. The Alpine Slide
No, we’re not referring to the adult-friendly alpine slide on Emerald Mountain–though that’s a blast, too. Rather, we mean a chocolate confection by the same name. Daniela–along with her husband–is the owner of Homesteader, a shop of local gourmet goods and food on Lincoln Ave, Steamboat’s main drag. There, she sells her chocolates, which we advise you purchase by the bag-ful. The Alpine Slide features crunchy caramelized almond-studded shards of milk chocolate with a dusting of Himalayan sea salt.
6. The patio at E3 Chophouse
E3 is the name of a ranch in Kansas City that supplies all the beef on the menu at this newish chophouse. The ranch and the restaurant are owned by three brothers who are all current or former MLB baseball players. If you’re a baseball fan, you might be nodding your head now (we weren’t!)–yes, E3 is an allusion to error by the first baseman. There are few errors, however, in the menu or ambience at this lovely spot.
The patio is the type that lures you in with its charm and makes it nearly impossible to leave. The minute you think about asking for the check, the gentle flow of the Yampa River tells you to order another drink. As soon as you contemplate moving on to another spot, the singer crooning from his stool beneath a flouncing cottonwood tells you otherwise. So settle in and prepare to stay awhile, lingering over saucy sliders, the Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese, and whatever drink on the large menu strikes your fancy.
7. Dishes that double as art exhibits
There’s no need to visit an art museum when you can dine at Bistro C.V., where the inventive dishes double as little sculptural installations. The composition of each and every plate is a study in contrasting shapes, textures, and colors. Chef Brian Vaughn plates the many elements of each dish in such a way that it’s feasible to round up each component into a single explosive bite. Through streamlined presentation, he simplifies his highly complex dishes.
Upon a little round of sourdough buttressed by dabs of salsa verde, sits a strip of bacon nestled upon a thin sheet of guajillo katsup spread over a pillow of scrambled eggs and other-worldly Manchego custard. A smattering of greens over the whole compact creation echoes the green salsa verde and ties the dish together. The plating of the Wagyu beef sirloin almost reminded us of a post-modern orchestral piece, perhaps by the likes of the late Maurice Ravel. Each element of the dish–the wedge of gorgeous steak, a bright carrot, a streak of bourguignon broth–declared itself across the white plate like a stark musical note.
8. Deconstructed ramen at Yama
Often times, the word deconstructed is a red flag for a rendition of a dish that is less satisfying than the comforting original. Case in point: deconstructed s’mores. For example, we would choose a sloppy hunk of melted chocolate and a campfire-roasted marshmallow smushed between Honey Maid graham crackers any day over a deconstructed bruléed marshmallow dipped in graham cracker crumbs and sauced in dark chocolate. However, the deconstructed ramen at the forthcoming Yama was revelatory.
Chef Brian Vaughn gave us a preview of the Yama menu at Bistro C.V. and that night, we learned that it is indeed possible to condense the signature flavors of a bowl of perfect Ramen into a gel, and pair it with other elements–Wagyu carpaccio, arugula, and ramps–with excellent results. We can’t wait to see what other unlikely takes Vaughn has on Japanese cuisine when Yama opens this December.
9. The Beast and a Manhattan for breakfast
It’s easy to fall back on well-acquainted standbys in the morning–the basic eggs-bacon-toast combo, or a stack of predictably delicious pancakes. The alluring chicken and waffles, newfangled French toast, or breakfast burger tempt, but seem somehow indecent as a first meal of the day. But at Carl’s Tavern–a dining tribute to Carl Howelsen, a pioneer of skiing in Steamboat–we want to caution you against the safe choice, and implore you to try The Beast: hash browns, tender fried chicken, plentiful strips of bacon, and chunky housemade gravy topped with biscuits. If you can finish it, we commend you.
Sip it down with a morning Manhattan made with bourbon infused with bacon in-house, and garnished with a strip of bacon, and call off all bets for the rest of the day.