Colorado has a lot to be proud of with its breathtaking landscapes, talented chefs and thriving local food, wine and spirits community. We looked around the state for seven restaurants to consider when searching for quintessential Colorado eats and drinks, from new to longstanding favorites.
(photo credit: The Blue Star)
The Blue Star & Ivywild School, Colorado Springs
For nearly two decades, The Blue Star has set the bar in the Springs for regional fare that changes with the seasons. The restaurant offers intriguing combinations such as coffee-crusted antelope with ancho-coffee sauce and bison arepa (Venezuelan corn cakes) with red chili sauce. The private wine room accommodates up to 22 people for lunch or dinner, and guests can order straight from the menu.
This spring, Owner Joseph Coleman is expanding across the street to the former Ivywild School. Bristol Brewery will occupy a portion of the school building, while The Blue Star will operate a bakery, café and bar, charcuterie kitchen, coffee shop and event center for 200 people. Jane Hillson Aiello will manage the event space, restaurants and gardens on the old school grounds. As of press time, the property was still under renovation, but Hillson Aiello says the event center will retain its original old-school charm with children’s tile on the patio, a bar called The Principal’s Office and the large auditorium for events.
Canyon Chop House, Fort Collins
This Fort Collins steakhouse has a weekly grocery list from Colorado’s most notable farms: Hazel Dell mushrooms, Prairie Harvest meats, MouCo cheese and Adobe Milling beans and spices. Other partners include New Belgium Brewery, Odell Brewery, Funkwerks Brewery and Lombardi Brothers Meats. The restaurant offers pre-set, private dining menus with a choice of entrees including Colorado and regional venison, beef, bison, lamb and trout. Canyon Chop House has two private dining spaces: The Vault, a bank vault for six to 10 people, and The Canyon Room with space for 14 to 28 guests. The outdoor patio can accommodate up to 100 for receptions with cocktails and pass-around appetizers. The entire restaurant is also available for private parties.
Entrada, Gateway Canyons Resort, Gateway
One of Colorado’s most spectacular secrets is Gateway Canyons Resort, one hour west of Grand Junction. The resort, owned by John Hendricks, founder of Discovery Channel, is a Colorado gem that includes remarkable landscapes, adventure and fine dining. Executive chef Ron Rhiver, a southern transplant, marries Colorado ingredients with his home cuisine. The resort’s private dining menu from Entrada features Colorado lamb, Vista Ranch pork ribs and tenderloin and Charmoula quail. Gateway also has the casual Paradox Grille, a car museum, Palisade Event Center and outdoor areas for private events.
(photo credit: The Little Nell)
Element 47, The Little Nell, Aspen
The Little Nell has a shiny new restaurant, Element 47, named for the periodic table’s symbol for silver. Element 47’s menu focuses on local and seasonal food featuring quality ingredients with small, medium and large plates. The restaurant’s new décor blends Colorado cuisine with local hard surfaces of native stone, wood, blackened steel and leather. The restaurant has two private dining spaces: The Gallery and Ag. The first overlooks the courtyard and seats up to 12 guests. Ag has a glass wine wall and seats 20 to 50. Menus include a three-course option and a chef’s signature tasting. A full bar menu, canapes and flower arrangements also are available.
Seasons lives up to its name with seasonal ingredients from Mountain Roots Food Project and Animas Valley Farms; even some of the wait staff are farmers. The owners, Karen and Wayne Barger, and chef David Stewart offer a varied menu of grilled local meats that feature Colorado ingredients like Dove Creek heirloom beans, local roasted squash and house-made creamy chorizo. Seasons has two private dining areas: the Tasting Room for 10 people and the private Wine Cellar for up to 24. Private dining menus include a prix fixe menu with appetizers, salads and a choice of three or four entrees.
The Fort, Morrison
Since The Fort’s inception, when the late founder Sam Arnold bellowed "Waugh" (the mountain man toast), the restaurant has defined Colorado cuisine. Game plates with Colorado lamb, quail, bison and steak are mainstays. Adventuresome food lovers will want to try the bison marrow bones (aka prairie butter) and the Rocky Mountain oysters. Proprietor Holly Arnold Kinney takes great pride in sourcing local corn and regional chilis for sauces, glazes and salsas. The Fort has four meeting spaces. The Tower is the most intimate option for 16 guests and features a beehive fireplace and views of the city lights. The Grill is a semiprivate space for 32 guests that overlooks the dining room. Bent’s Quarters is a private space for 50 guests with brick floors, lodge pole pine and replicas of artifacts from the 1800s. The largest area for private dining is the St. Vrain Council Room that holds 100 and features a Western-style bar and beehive fireplace and opens to the main courtyard and bonfire pit.