Cooking With: Mountain Tap Brewery on Yampa Street in Steamboat Springs |
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Cooking With: Mountain Tap Brewery on Yampa Street in Steamboat Springs

Upon first glance, Mountain Tap Brewery may seem like the typical biker-hiker-watering-hole with fresh IPAs and mouthwatering pizzas, but wait. There's more.

The taste at this particular watering hole is calculated down to a science.

Brewmaster and owner Rich Tucciarone utilizes his food science and fermentation degree in the brewhouse, while chef Chereen Leong Schwarz puts her food science and Culinary Institute degrees to work overseeing wood-fired cooking in the kitchen.

"I find that I most utilize my science background when troubleshooting," said Leong Schwarz, who also did a stage (cooking internship) with the "the wood-fire oven king" chef at Basta in Boulder. "I try to think critically and figure out why things happen from a scientific perspective."

Equipped with a wood-fired oven – that's bordered in colorful tiles burning between 700 to 1000 degrees in various zones – Leong Schwarz said this is the primary vessel each dish on the menu is designed for. Mountain Tap doesn't even have a grill or fryer.

Wood-fired cooking with its incredibly high heat can provide challenges for a chef. The coals, Leong Schwarz explained, need to maintain the floor heat of the oven. But, there also needs to be convection heat coming from the frame, because if not, the heat from above won't melt the cheese and the bottom will be burnt.

"It's about finding the right balance with the fire, coals and distribution of heat," she said. "It's always interesting."

One item on the menu that was added this winter, the Rocky Mountain Trout entree, has quickly become a local favorite, according to Mountain Tap co-owner Wendy Tucciarone.

"The idea for this dish emerged when I was thinking about wanting to combine a protein that emphasized the Rocky Mountains," she said. "This dish works really well in the wood fire and is quick, only 3 to 4 minutes in the oven. It's fresh, light but still hearty enough to be a meal.”

Mountain Tap also focuses on trying to locally source anything not house-made.

To go along with the trout dish, Rich Tucciarone recommends the "Get Out" beer, which offers complementary flavors and also has palate-quenching acidity that cuts through some of the oils to reset taste buds for the next bite.

When it comes to the recipes, this brewmaster said it's a science and art form to come up with creative recipes that can be realistically executed.

"Brewing is all about science," said Tucciarone, who earned his food science and fermentation degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and attended the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology. "It is critical to know where your raw materials are coming from and as much as possible about them and the growing conditions. Water, malted barley, hops and yeast all work together to make beer, but how we work with them and control the process is the difference between 'just beer' and 'great beer.' The scientist in me comes out when I start to talk about beer. I could go on and on."

Typically, Mountain Tap has about 12 brews on tap featuring a wide variety of everything from a crisp hoppy German-style pilsner to a Lager and even a "Passionate Pedal," a crisp refreshing wheat beer.

In celebration of its one-year anniversary, Mountain Tap will feature the specially brewed Anniversary IPA brewed with seven grains, seven hops and 7 percent alcohol to celebrate the fact they opened on July 17, 2016.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

Opening Saturday, Steamboat’s Cloverdale Restaurant to offer a new kind of fine dining experience

Amid the pandemonium of a kitchen preparing for opening night, a seemingly obscure reminder remains to be seen.

"Listen to the mustn'ts child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen child. Anything can be."

These words by Shel Silverstein have guided owner/chef Patrick Ayres, along with his team, to make Cloverdale Restaurant a reality.

Just drive by the new fine dining restaurant's historic residence at Ninth and and Oak streets, nestled in the old town neighborhood and concealed from the steady rush of traffic — a hidden gem awaits the arrival of guests.

Saturday, Cloverdale Restaurant will officially open to the public.

Built in 1918 by celebrated local builder Art Gumprecht, the restaurant will be the first of its kind in Steamboat, offering a locally-based, farm-to-restaurant, fine-dining experience.

Upon stepping through the entryway, the decor reflects the restaurant's logo, a Colorado's sagebrush.

"The idea behind the whole restaurant is Colorado," Ayres said. "So, we're trying to use as much from our farm as we can and as much from Colorado as we can."

The 32-seat restaurant — including the seats at the bar and the 10 upstairs in the private dining room — was crafted by designer Vertical Arts using Ayres' vision. It allows the historical features of the existing structure to be showcased, while also modernizing a traditional farmhouse. This motif extends to the wine cellar, where Cloverdale will feature a ratio of 70 percent old-world and 30 percent new-world wines.

Cloverdale Restaurant (photos)

One of Cloverdale's main philosophies, Ayres said, is quality.

"It's about shear freshness," Ayres said. "There's no way to get something as fresh as going out and picking it that morning. Every single thing in here is picked for quality. Every cocktail and every dish will be made with the best ingredients, and every wine is picked meticulously. Every single one of us is passionate about restaurants. It's what we do and have always done. I think that might be what sets us apart."

The head staff includes Cody Robison as the wine and service director, Brian Sites as the sous chef, Russell Goodman as the pastry chef, Kyle Currell as the bartender and Britni Johnson as the farm manager; each was selected to be an expert in his or her field, which Ayres said complements another element of his philosophy for Cloverdale: collaboration.

"At end of each night, we’ll sit up stairs with staff and meet to talk about what's coming up the next day. I want to have the cooks tell me their ideas, what they think they can do with it," Ayres said. "This collaboration and openness makes them way more passionate about what they are doing, which is what we're all about."

Not only that, he requires both the front of the house and back house staff to work at the farm a few days each week so they’ll know exactly where the food on each dish comes from.

"The idea is, I want them to buy into everything and have more care with what they're working with," he said. "It makes our staff much more knowledgeable about the food and where it's coming from. They know exactly what variety it is and how long it took to grow or harvest — the whole story behind it."

The original name comes from the farm property, built in 1902 and known as Cloverdale Ranch. The Bartholomew family, who owned the ranch, moved to town from Cloverdale, Kansas, hence, the name. Ayres said he wanted the name to have meaning instead of just grabbing something out of thin air.

Just outside town, off Colorado Highway 131, the Cloverdale Restaurant Farm is overseen by Johnson, who is a Master Gardener and also serves as farm manager. She is usually seen attending to the 40 different varieties the provide the restaurant with fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, honey, eggs, bees and goats (for milk and meat).

This is the farm's second season, but its first season growing specifically for the restaurant. Johnson was hired in spring 2016 by Ayres, and though she has had experience working in Bozeman on 12 acres of a diversified vegetable farm, she has also performed hours of tedious research and put in the time to learn by doing.

"Any farmer will tell you that working on a farm will be a great experience, but, at same time, you have to take the leap and go for it, because you will learn through doing," she said. "Farming is problem solving … it's inevitable, because farms have microclimates that you are always having to adjust to your specific location. You can rely on others for advice and resources, but the answers are never black and white. Sometimes, you just have to do it yourself."

Last year, she was the only employee but now has four part-time employees working on about two-thirds of an acre, and they hope to grow into two acres of cultivated space in the next few years.

Soil health and land stewardship is of utmost importance to Cloverdale Restaurant's farm, so no herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are used. Instead, they find ways to work with nature. This is particularly important, given the 59-day frost-free growing season.

Hand weeding, the use of beneficial plants and insects, application of annual soil amendments, crop rotation, cover cropping, crop diversity and minimal tillage techniques are a few of the practices they employ, Johnson said.

Items such as Radish, Wood Sorrel; Frosted Greens; Potato; Wild Gooseberry; Moon Ranch Lamb; Sienna Peas; Blossoms; Dry-Aged Duck; Hakurei Turnip; and Rhubarb, Sweet Alyssum are a few of the creative concoctions Ayres and his team will have on their ever-changing 1o- to 14-course menu.

"Food unites all of us," she said. "It's common ground from just the simple nature of it being a community-based effort. It's about giving back to the soil as much as it is about giving back to the community."

Ayres said the dishes will use little protein except what comes from having food sourced from the farms, however the restaurant will be able to feature a wide variety of vegetables throughout the year. Ayres said a restaurant of this concept, combined with fine dining, is not something Colorado has seen.

"I think people will be surprised but excited," he said. "Expect a lot of variety and different techniques and products. A 12-course meal doesn't actually take as long as you think. We move quickly, and some dishes are small, one-bite dishes, while others are more substantial. It's our job to make sure you're full, but not disgustingly full. We want you to leave satisfied, and that's part of our job with portion sizes.”

Kid friendly, parent approved restaurants in Steamboat Springs

Sunny days by the river and beautiful evenings on the restaurant patio — it's officially summer in Steamboat! As any parent of a toddler knows, going out to eat can quickly become this week's latest torture event. Let's face it: Who wants to sit at a table alone while your partner chases down your little love before all hell breaks loose? It's not exactly the happy hour of your earlier days. Don't despair! I've found some of the happiest spots on the block for parents and their little rascals.

Steamboat base area
You may have spent some time at the "beach" along Burgess Creek at the base of the ski area. If so, you know this is a fabulous spot for kiddos. With water, rocks and sand, there is no better combo to entertain the curious minds. Match this with the fabulous eats at the many nearby restaurants — including Gondola Pub & Grill, Bear River Bar & Grill, Paramount, Los Locos and Slopeside Grill — and you have a perfect combo. You may still have some moments of eating alone, but you will be in good company.

Rex's Bar & Grill
If your child is anything like ours, the car seat is one of her least favorite places. It ranks right up there with shots and diaper changes. If we can avoid the drama of driving, we are happy people. Living on the east side of town, this spot is our bike-to favorite. Beyond the ease of the commute, Rex's has a dynamite setup for families. A large grass area provides lawn games for all ages, including adults. The children's menu is awesome and includes Freya's favorite, mac 'n' cheese. (Often finished by dad or yours truly.)

If you're looking for a perfect downtown spot with a deck that overlooks the Yampa River, Aurum is my pick. Mix the ideal location with a grassy area for kids to romp around and you have a happy family. With a fabulous happy hour menu and friendly staff, this is a a great place to nominate someone you love to chase your kids.

Check please!

Caroline Lalive Carmichael moved to Steamboat with her family in 1995 and joined the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. After one season, Caroline was named to the U.S. Ski Team and competed for 13 years, attending two Olympics. After retiring in 2009, she returned to Steamboat as a coach. She and fellow Olympian Nelson Carmichael were married in 2012 and welcomed their daughter, Freya, in 2015. 

Originally published at

Cooking With: Phenomenal Falafel offers creative taste to Steamboat in new location

On one of Bob and Katie Samardzic's excursions through Maui, an idea for a new endeavor emerged.

It all started with the taste of a falafel sandwich – one they couldn't forget.

"We had this curry sauce from a falafel we tried stuck in our mind for years," said Katie Samardzic. "It was the inspiration for our Indian-inspired recipe, the Punjabi."

Always tasting, testing and willing to try something new, the Samardzics own Phenomenal Falafel and recently moved their business to a new location for their Mediterranean-style restaurant, 1117 Lincoln Ave.

After moving from a food truck five years ago to their pop-up location at Sweet Pea in the winter of 2016, they moved into their new space about three weeks ago and plan on expanding and building upon their creative recipes for a menu that will feature their regular sandwiches, sides, wraps, salads, plates, and now, dinner.

"Some of the items you see on the menu came together really quickly while others took a bit of time," said Bob.

Their falafel mix – the vessel that is the base for most of their recipes – includes Garbanzo beans, red onion, garlic, cumin, cilantro, parsley and their "super spice mix" which is part of their “secret” tried and true recipe.

To make the falafel, the mix is put through a grinder to create a meal substance that is then made into little balls. For the last step, they put the falafel balls into a fryer and then those are used in a variety of their recipes.

"It's universal ingredients from around the world," Bob said. "You can draw a line connecting all the places that we represent and see the similarities in culinary traditions."

But the "wow factor" of their operation, Bob said is in the toppings, relishes and pickles. Those include the tahini, tzatziki, Thai slaw, avocado cream and mango-habanero "chutney."

An idea that turn out so well was the falafel breakfast burrito.

But then the Samardzics have favorites like the Punjabi, which features a spicy pico, curry yogurt with over 18 ingredients.

In the future, the couple hope to expand Phenomenal Falafel to other ski towns, but for now, they look forward to offering new and creative falafel recipes to Steamboat Springs.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

Carl’s Tavern has new owners

Carl's Tavern will reopen under new ownership early next week.

The restaurant at the corner of Seventh and Yampa streets, which is named after Carl Howelsen, the Norwegian ski jumping champion who brought skiing to Steamboat, has been shuttered since April when former owner Collin Kelley closed its doors prior to the sale of the business and its real estate on the bottom floor of the Howelsen Place development.

The business transaction was finalized Friday, June 16 with Scott Engelman and David Jones, who co-own Truffle Pig at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, purchasing the restaurant that has anchored the east end of Yampa Street since Carl’s first opened in April 2011.

Carl’s features a horseshoe-shaped bar with nine high-definition TVs for sports enthusiasts as well as the "Antler Room" with everything from darts to shuffleboard to pool and booths. The restaurant’s gastro pub fare ranges from "The Business," a local spin of poutine, and a variety chicken wing flavors to filet mignon.

"We like the concept, we like the menu and we like the whole vibe down there as far as the restaurant goes," Engelman said. "It's a go-to spot that's very approachable both from a menu selection and price standpoint. We want to keep it Carl's, but we can take some of the expertise that we have at Truffle Pig with our chef and myself and apply it to the needs of Carl's to help it evolve into what we believe it can be."

Engelman and Jones  don't want to make Carl's Tavern into another Truffle Pig. It’s their vision to forge fresh relationships with vendors and staff and generally retain Carl's Tavern atmosphere and food while making strategic changes that will enable them to execute food out of the small kitchen in a more timely manner.

"Collin has done a great job creating a concept that has a lot of people going to it, and it's doing relatively well revenue wise," Engelman said. "We think we can step it up a couple notches and make it more profitable and make it a better environment for both the staff and the customers."

Since opening the restaurant in the spring of 2011, Kelley created many memories over the years from Kentucky Derby parties to Carl’s five-year anniversary party, which involved cooking over 2,000 chicken wings with live music from the Old Town Pickers – one of the first bands to play there and the last.

Kelley said he chose to sell the restaurant so that he could have more time with his kids following his recent divorce.

"I put everything I had — my heart and soul — into that place," Kelley said. "I will miss Steamboat and want to thank everyone for nearly seven years of support. I'm proud to leave behind something that will hopefully be part of Steamboat's legacy for years to come."

Kelley said he will be moving to Denver to be an active father and plans to try something outside of the restaurant business.

Jones, a well-known St. Louis restaurateur, opened Truffle Pig in 2010. In 2013, Engelman joined Jones as his operating partner.

Engelman has an extensive background in the hotel and food and beverage industry, with experience working at Club Med to The Little Nell in Aspen. He also opened hotels in Miami and Las Vegas for the Hyatt hotel chain and also served as corporate director of food and beverage for Luxury Resorts (The Blackstone Group).

With an understanding of Steamboat's seasonality, labor force and winter and summer clientele, Engelman said he and Jones were able to shape Truffle Pig into the restaurant it is today. Since taking over, he said minor adjustments to the business model resulted in Truffle Pig’s sales increasing 120 percent and employee turnover decreasing to an historic low.

After stabilizing operations at Truffle Pig, the business partners were looking for restaurant opportunities downtown as a way to create a business balance.

"Acquiring Carl's and having a location downtown gives us some advantages operationally and allows us the resources of tapping into a different season and market," Jones said.

Jones said having the restaurant close before the purchase allowed for a clean break in operations.

Currently, Engelman said they are working on cleaning the restaurant, making repairs and conducting training with the staff prior to the doors re-opening next week.

"We don't want the clientele to feel alienated by the changes," Engelman said. "We want them to embrace the changes as something that will enhance the experience at Carl's. It's not our intention to reinvent the wheel, we just want to make it better. It doesn't matter what business you're looking at, anything can be improved upon."

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

Steamboat’s Cupcake Mini Bar opens at new location

What is it about gourmet cupcakes that make them so irresistible?

Perhaps it's the cake-to-frosting ratio – it has to be just right to get an equal amount of sweet or tangy flavor. Could it be the decadent concoctions full of elaborate variations? Or maybe it's the convenience, no fork or plate – just a personal serving of sugary goodness.

Walking in to Cupcake Mini Bar's new location at 635 Lincoln Ave., the delectable sweetness of the chic boutique-style café instantly makes your mouth water. And then your eyes graze the display case.

Flavors of strawberry lemonade garnished with a white chocolate straw, raspberry chocolate with fresh berry puree in the middle, Reece's, Oreo, vanilla, chocolate and vegan chocolate – all made from scratch. How will I ever decide which flavor to try?

From 8 to 10 a.m. Friday, you’ll have a chance to try to the bite-sized delights as the Cupcake Mini Bar will be serving up free mini cupcakes accompanied by Steamboat Coffee & Tea Company coffee.

"I love this," said Brandi Eliason, who owns the shop with her husband, Dave Eliason. "I love the creativity of it, taking simple ingredients and making something that tastes and looks amazing. The possibilities are endless."

Trained as a pastry chef at The Four Seasons Jackson Hole, Brandi Eliason said owning her own boutique bakery was always a dream.

"I wanted to have a boutique bakery where people know the things here were made that morning and that someone put a lot of love and time into it," Brandi said.

Running short on time and need to find a last minute gift? The Cupcake Mini Bar may be just the place to look.

This one-stop-shop Eliason envisions will not only provide a delicately wrapped indulgence, but will also showcase Etsy-esque handmade gifts from local artists such as cards, candles, jewelry and more.

Previously located at the corner of Oak and Fifth streets, the Cupcake Mini Bar was originally owned by Cassie Crooke and it opened as a boutique bakery specializing in mini cupcakes, custom-made cakes and cake pop cookies for any special occasion or celebration.

“I immediately knew Brandi was the right fit to take on Cupcake Mini Bar,” Crooke said. “I was impressed by her extensive experience as a pastry chef, but more importantly, I realized she had the same vision to create this special experience, something I had dreamt up in 2012.T he new bakery is in a great location, and she has transformed it into a true cupcake cafe.”

Brandi said they will continue to create custom event and wedding cakes along with a few of the recipes Crooke originally developed from her background of baking in Los Angeles.

All of their recipes are made from scratch and are made with a variety of fruit purees and pastry creams. Eventually, they’ll offer booze-infused cupcakes with flavors like margarita, Bailey's and Champagne.

About 10 to 12 different variety of cupcakes will be sold daily. There will always be vanilla, chocolate, vegan and gluten-free options on hand, Brandi said. The assortment will also include freshly made crème brûlée, cream puffs, fruit tarts and different flavors of French macaroons.

"My signature style is to use fresh ingredients and take inspiration from wherever," Brandi said. "I'm adventurous to try new things and make things look different.”

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email @Audrey_Dwyer1

Antlers Café & Bar reopens for the summer season serving up nostalgia for Routt County

At the end of Main Street and Moffat Avenue, a historical icon stands within the town of Yampa.

Hikers, anglers, hunters and even skiers may have fond, childhood memories of visiting the restaurant as a source of an authentic western dining experience.

Paying homage to its past, while embracing a new chapter, head chef Spencer Harden and manager Kari Harden officially opened the Antlers Café & Bar this weekend for the summer season.

"We want people to take a ride out here for a different kind of experience," Spencer Harden said, "because we offer something nostalgic here that you can't find in Steamboat."

Built in 1906 and listed on the Routt County Register of Historic Places and the state Register of Historic Places, Antlers Café & Bar has been known as an icon of the valley's western heritage.

Initially, it served as a saloon, pool hall and gambling establishment; it was transitioned into an authentic western restaurant when Charles Hamlin and John deNeufville purchased the building from Mike Benedick in 1997.

With a "middle of nowhere feel" visitors who come in search of Antlers will have more to talk about on the way home than just the location and cuisine.

Inside, antlered trophy animals mounted on the walls include a Colorado mountain catfish, a mountain lion's head and a fish's body, a mule deer and a mule paired with deer antlers, all working together to keep the venue true to its namesake.

"Essentially, it's the same place everyone remembers and has fond childhood memories from," said Kari Harden, a Colorado native who grew up near Yampa. "We wanted to bring our own personalities to it but, more than anything, honor its past and preserve that. This is authentic Old West, and people love this place."

Making a menu that is accessible to both locals and visitors, the Hardens said the Bistro-style menu features rustic cuisine that fits the Yampa Valley. A few of the dinner items include classic steak dishes, a lamb pot pie, grilled Rocky Mountain trout and roasted chicken.

With a New Orleans culinary background, the "graduate school for the culinary world," Spencer Harden got his start working at the esteemed Emeril’s New Orleans restaurant, then moved to a variety of other restaurants during the past 15 years.

He said the menu will also include a different flair for those hoping to try something new, with dishes such as chicken and andouille gumbo, Bourbon and beer French onion soup and coconut shrimp options.

"We are bringing variety to Antlers, with an expansive menu and composed dishes," said Harden. "Before, it was choose your steak, and then you get a choice of potatoes and vegetables. Now, each dish has its own identity."

The restaurant will be open five days per week, Wednesday through Sunday, serving dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. The bar will open at 3 p.m.

On Monday and Tuesday nights, the bar will be open from 3 to 9 p.m. Throughout the week, Kari Harden said they will be offering a variety of live music, and on June 3, local musician Dave Moran will perform.

In two weeks, the couple said, they plan to begin opening for brunch, giving diners an opportunity to see more of the New Orleans influence in the food, with dishes such as traditional shrimp and grits. Other items they hope to incorporate in the menu include fresh fish specials, which will also include a New Orleans influence. They also plan to incorporate more locally sourced produce and meats from nearby purveyors.

"My hope is to have people who live in Steamboat venture out here to enjoy it and make this their weekly destination and, also, to have people from out-of-town come here and have a new experience, then remember it and come back years later as a place where they had fond memories of the history and food this place offers," Spencer Harden said.


Cooking With: Smell That Bread Bakery featuring its newly renovated location

Imagine, you're poised to indulge in an authentic pain au chocolat over a cup of steaming espresso.

On the cotton napkin, the decadent pastry is bronze colored with hundreds of thin layers visible on its surface.

Steamboat Springs, let me introduce you to our very own French-inspired boulangerie, the newly renovated Smell That Bread Bakery.

"It's traditional to grab a French baguette or French Jambone and walk around eating," said Juli Gordon, who owns the bakery with her husband, Sam. "That's what we wanted this to be."

This weekend Smell That Bread will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

The Gordons first opened the bakery in 2014 at 135 11th St. just behind Creekside Cafe. The business has grown in popularity as passersby caught a whiff of the tantalizing cookies and cinnamon rolls and came inside.

Following their vision to have a space dedicated to bread croissants and French-inspired pastries, the bakery has now expanded its downtown location to the space next door to offer a café setting.

"It started off with a speak-easy vibe with the Dutch door idea because no one could really find it so when they did, business just took off," said Sam Gordon.

The Gordons have perfected various recipes from their background at the San Francisco Baking Institute, and they make an assortment of 10 dough variations with five to six breads and four to five pastries. Baking begins at 3 a.m. each day.

One of the most delicious offerings at the new café are the tartine (open-faced) sandwiches featuring the star of the bakery's name — the bread. Variations include: the Sopressata highlighting the sourdough bread; radish, butter, roasted garlic, sea salt and chive on the pecan raisin sourdough; the Avocado smash with egg crumble, bacon, butter and shallots on sourdough; and the Berry compote, butter, chèvre and chives on pumpernickel.

On a daily basis, the bakery serves up a variety of pastries including almond croissants, stuffed croissants like the pain au chocolat or with ham and gruyere, Kouign Amann, laminated brioche, classic cookies, cinnamon rolls and monkey bread.

"This is not like your average sandwich shop where you can add avocado, bacon and pickles," Sam said. "It's very much about the baguette. It's simple and is really meant to highlight the bread. We wanted to present it exactly how it should be in the traditional sense."

Smell That Bread Bakery is also working with Seedhouse Coffee and Elk Stone Farm to contribute to local producers.

"It's different and simple," said Sam Gordon.

Cooking With: Salt & Lime executive chef Vicki Connacher

— It's simple. It's fast. It's approachable. It's trendy tacos.

Drive by Salt & Lime and you'll see a new addition featuring a trendy big-city-style food truck concept of the modern taco.

Rex's Family of Restaurants opened its newest addition — Salt & Lime's Burrito Bar — with a soft opening on Cinco de Mayo, May 5.

Inside scoop:

Burritos: Instead of separate bites (you know, heaps of just rice, or just beans, until you even get to the veggie or meat part) spread out the ingredients to ensure you get each flavor and space in every bite.

Tacos inside: Each taco is presented as “the star of its own show” (one of chef Vicki Connacher’s culinary ideas) with personalities in the form of perfected garnishes and sauces.

Tacos outside: Served three at a time, you’ll see a more simplified version but with the same flavors and taste as the variations found inside.

Frito Pie: Salad meets nachos on top of star-shaped cutouts of Fritos bag for the Salt & Lime rendition of its own "walking taco."

What to try: Carnitas Taco and the Frito Pie

Be on the lookout for: Breakfast at the Burrito Bar starting Memorial Day weekend.

"We really wanted to have the ability to tie this corner in with the restaurant," said Nick Sharp, director of operations, about the Burrito Bar that is located right next to the main restaurant at 628 Lincoln Ave. "There are some really great Mexican restaurants in town, but this is authentic non-smothered Mexican cuisine featuring quality ingredients and fresh cocktails."

The outdoor spot was envisioned by Rex's Family of Restaurants owner Rex Brice, along with Sharp and executive chef Vicki Connacher, as a one-stop spot that originally started off as a taco stand.

Frito Pie Recipe from Burrito Bar


One package chili cheese Fritos

2 ounces of your favorite queso sauce

2 ounces of black beans

1 ounce home-made salsa

2 ounces of seasoned taco beef or grilled steak

I handful of shredded iceberg lettuce

A pinch of pickled escabeche peppers

1 ounce home-made barbecue sauce

1 ounce chipotle sour cream

Sprinkle of Mexican cheese

Garnished with fresh jalapeños

Step1: Open bag of Fritos and layer all ingredients in big bowl.

Step2: Enjoy while walking down the street to Steamboat Springs

Add the liquor licensing for a bar component into the mix of the 168-square-foot space, and the result is what Sharp said he hopes will be a central hub of activity downtown.

“It can be this outdoor place where you can get a margarita, hang out with a few friends and then be on your way to a barbecue or event," Sharp said. "It's evening culture and daytime culture as a fast lunch and eatery spot."

With the same taste and ingredients patrons can find in Salt & Lime, the Burrito Bar features a simplified presentation for tacos, served three at a time on a tray, and the burritos, served on 12-inch tortillas.

The space, which once was home to Tacos Del Barco, was known to have an ordering window facing Beau Jo's Pizza and a few picnic tables for seating near the raised flowerbed. Now, the patio has been transformed.

Following the curvature of the flowerbed’s brickwork, Brice began with a bar rail design so patrons could sit and watch the parade on Fourth of July or relax in the summertime sun to watch people passing by on the sidewalk. After the initial bar rail design was created, shade structures, wooden tables and seating was added.

To tie the restaurant and Burrito Bar together, the ordering window was moved to face Lincoln Avenue and access from the restaurant was created with the addition of the small staircase.

"The two work back and forth," said Sharp. "We wanted to create a focal point and also needed easier access, so the front of Salt & Lime and the front end of the Burrito Bar are one. If you're on the waiting list for the rooftop patio or for inside the restaurant, you can swing by the burrito bar and have a quick drink or appetizer while you wait."

One of the favorites on the progressive taco bar lineup is the Frito Pie.

The idea for the menu item started eight years ago on a girls trip to New Mexico, when Vicki Connacher, executive chef of Rex's Restaurants who also helped create the featured items on Salt & Lime's menu, found a taco stand behind a little café.

"I walked home with it [the Frito Pie] and found that it had so many different levels of creamy, crunchy, fresh goodness, and I thought, 'How can we put this on our menu?' This seemed like the perfect addition."

Sharp described the Frito Pie as the $2.50 traditional Midwestern gas station lunch for the on-the-move, working-class customer. Open a bag of Fritos, add the gas station's rendition of chili, onions and cheese to dress the chips up, and voila, Frito Pie.

Some may even know it as a "Walking Taco."

"A lot of thoughtfulness goes into the food we put on the menu," Connacher said. "Each dish has its own personality. With this, everybody loves nachos, and this is a fun take on salad meets nachos."

"Cooking With" is Explore Steamboat's newest column, giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at a variety of Steamboat Springs restaurants and culinary inspirations. If you have a restaurant in mind, contact Arts and Entertainment Editor Audrey Dwyer at or 970-871-4229.

Cooking With: Natalie Niederhofer, Table 79’s Chef de Cuisine

The lamb dish features a masala spiced leg carved tableside, crisp red-skinned potatoes with herbs, sautéed vegetables and rosemary jus.
Matt Stensland

— Mosey on in. Take a front-row seat at the epicenter of Table 79.

The 84-seat eatery is referred to as "experience-driven." In other words, you feel the heat of the searing lamb as your taste buds start to stir into a frenzy of savory spices.

Hailing from the Metro-Detroit area of Michigan, Chef de Cuisine Natalie Niederhofer incorporates her Midwestern upbringing to create the modern, elevated comfort food of Table 79 with a focus on seasonality and local ingredients.

"We try and create dishes that either make me feel nostalgic or something me or another cook can brainstorm and feel passion about. But really, it's just from what I feel inspired by through one of the many cookbooks I read. It also depends on what is in season."


Roasted Leg of Lamb for Two (20-ounce portion)


  • 1.5 quarts buttermilk
  • 5 tablespoons of gram masala
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh cracked Pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix thoroughly
  2. Using a deep plastic container, submerge lamb into mixture, let sit overnight for at least 12 hours.
  3. Remove lamb, pat dry with towel. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  4. Roasted lamb at 325 degrees Fahrenheit about 3 hours. Every 30 minutes, baste with olive oil or butter.
  5. Remove when internal temp is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Let rest on a rack for about 40 minutes.
  6. When ready to serve, using a cast iron skillet, sear the fat side of the lamb on extremely high heat until fat is somewhat rendered and crispy and brown. Flip carefully
  7. Drain fat and deglaze with sherry. Use care, as this will flame up. Remove from heat, and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice lamb against the grain.


Sauted Kale

  1. Sweat shallots and minced garlic on low for 8 minutes.
  2. Add shredded kale.
  3. Cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Deglaze with white wine (about 2 tablespoons)

Crispy Potatoes

  • Dice Yukon gold potatoes.
  • Rinse well under cold water, removing all the outside starches.
  • Drain well
  • Toss in olive oil, dried oregano and basil, salt and pepper.
  • Roast in oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn heat up at the end to crisp outside.

Drink Pairings

General manager, craft cocktail engineer and wine connoisseur Nick Crawford shared his insights on which drinks to pair with the featured recipe.

Wine pairings by the glass:

Tuscan Donna Olimpia

According to Crawford, this is a Tuscan blend from Italy that includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Lamb, he said, is a fairly rich dish with lots of fat content, which is why you would want a wine that has more tannins and greater acidity to cut the richness of the lamb and bring out the best taste in both.

By the bottle:

A bottle from Spain's Montsant region is the Garnacha Syrah blend. A classic pairing along similar lines as the first option, with the addition of a tantalizing acidity, fruit and tannins.

Other craft cocktails to try:

Wenatchee Sour — a concoction that offers a unique, sour cocktail. Crawford said this recipe includes AppleJack brandy, Lillet Blanc, freshly squeezed lemon, bitter truth bitters and egg whites.

Oaxaca Negroni — this is a craft cocktail Crawford said is a fun take on the traditional Negroni. Using Bianco vermouth as opposed to the usual rouge or sweet made with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Contratto Bianco and Cocchi Americano

"Cooking With" is Explore Steamboat's newest column, giving readers a behind the scenes look at a variety of Steamboat Springs restaurants and culinary inspirations. If you have a restaurant in mind, contact Arts and Entertainment Editor Audrey Dwyer at or 970-871-4229.