A guide to alfresco dining in Vail, Beaver Creek, Edwards, Arrowhead, and Avon
Fortunately, indoor lunching is not mandatory in the mountains. In fact, Alfresco dining is a brilliant way to get a meal and a view all at the same time, and there are countless opportunities to enjoy Vail's award-winning fare covered only by the blue dome of sky, or possibly an umbrella, around mid-day. To please the outdoor diner who lives within us all, we present the insider's guide to outdoor lunching in Vail, Lionshead, Beaver Creek, Arrowhead and Avon.
Day or night, shoulder season or Fourth of July, there are always more than a few locals inside this welcoming, comfortable pizza bar, because locals have the time to seek out good food, good service, and good value, and they find all three at Vendetta's. The deck is centrally located in the Vail Village, yet it maintains a sense of tranquility because it is tucked away behind the bar, along the pedestrian Wall Street. The food is absolutely fantastic, from the quick slice of pizza through the pan roasted grouper to the veal picata and baked salmon. Hearty and flavorful, it could go toe-to-toe with almost any Italian in the Valley … and yet the plain, easy-to-read numbers on the menu (could that be the price?) are even more refreshing than the Italian spices which garnish their extensive menu.
Overlooking Gore Creek and the Gore Creek park and promenade, Sapphire counts as beach-front property in Vail, with sunny views of Vail's kayak park and the gurgling streamwater nearby. Images of ocean living aren't difficult to conjure here, where the menu is as fresh and enticing as a Sunday at Pike Market. The deck alone is a reason to visit, but one would be amiss to deny at least a few of the fresh oysters on the half shell, perhaps paired with a refreshing wine. Same goes for the shrimp and crab claws, which along with the oysters make for a meal all their own out on the patio. Landlubbers can satiate themselves on an Angus burger and little ones can enjoy a brioche grilled cheese sandwich, but a day on the deck at Sapphire is truly about the market selection of seafood.
Up the Creek
Pedants have no place in this long-loved, well-established work of simple culinary art on the bank of Gore Creek. Located a few steps from the Creek's grassy banks (underneath Sapphire), Up the Creek allows its well-crafted dishes to speak for themselves, the subtlety of their taste as understated as its chefs. In keeping with the general feel of the place, the service is attentive without being obsequious, so that everyone feels at home and relaxed as they watch kayakers and fishermen make their way along the clear, blue-ribbon waters near at hand. Replete with sunlight and space, it is (indoors and out) perhaps the place in Vail which most closely approximates the clean, well-lighted space written of by Hemmingway. Nothing on the menu is overreaching or overly complex, rather it's the attention to portions and flavors that make the tortilla soup, roasted turkey and brie, lobster mac and cheese, and ruby trout among the most popular dishes in town.
Long the epicenter of the Vail Village, Pepi's brings true Old World history and hospitality to the crossroads of Bridge street and Gore Creek Drive. Local character is as strong as the sunshine on the spacious deck, where Pepi Gramshammer, a famous Austrian ski racer, and his evanescent wife Sheika, keep the long-lasting local spirit alive with ample help from their lovely daughters.
The Gramshammers present three tiers of meal choices, beginning with stolid American lunches, the foundation of which is built on excellent hamburgers, Ruebens, and Tuna melts, and rounded out by Cobb, Greek, and Caesar salads. Those on the lookout for something more complex can maneuver into the tier of Smoked Salmon or French dip. The top tier, and the specialties of the house, come from the family's deep Austrian heritage, where gemischter salat teller, wurst, knodel, and strudel are the order of the day.
The landscaping alone is reason to visit the Wildflower deck where, in homage to its name, the most stunning presentations of flora outside the Betty Ford Gardens is on display. Aspen trees and grassy knolls give the Wildflower a secluded feel, even though it's near the heart of Vail Village, and every bit of décor and decorum follows suit. Wildflower is colorful, bright, and welcoming, to the point where one might almost think the menu would be outshone by the atmosphere … but that is most certainly not the case.
Former chef Rahm Fama always held his staff to the utmost quality standards at Wildflower, helping to put his restaurant, and Vail, on the map as one of the culinary world's brightest spots. He has now moved on to his own show on the Food Network, but Wildflower plans to continue with a menu worthy of his legacy. The highlight of the outdoor dining experience comes at the Sunday brunch, beginning June 13, where a plated-style menu will be presented along with music from Mickey Poage, who will bring jazzy morning brunch music to the patio during the 11:30-2:30 Sunday brunch.
This fairly new restaurant inhabits the prime real estate within the Vail Cascade resort. The spacious patio offers a view of ski runs above and the Gore Creek below, not to mention the inviting infinity pool near the creekside. One benefit of choosing is the variety of the menu. There are options to please all moods and appetites, even of a large group. The Mexican flare comes through in the nachos primo, which are some of best available, especially with the lime chicken added in (or green chili, if preferred). A burger or club sandwich dutifully fulfill the needs of those in search of a filling meal, which the chopped vegetable salad or chicken sandwich are available for those in the mood for something light. To truly sample the abilities of the chef, the seared ahi tuna nicoise or chipotle maple glazed salmon are in order.
It took a while for this new creation to find its identity, but with little adjustments and a lot of hard work, Centre V is beginning to come into its own. The terrace is, without question, a major force in Centre V's campaign to assert itself in the highly-competitive world of Vail fine dining – but it's meant to be a relaxing, casual place as well. Located within steps of the Eagle Bahn gondola, there is perhaps no more highly-sought-after real estate in the new Arrabelle hotel, lodging, dining and shopping complex. Centre V lives up to its billing with a menu that can satisfy those in search of Old World, French cuisine … and yet the terrace is the perfect place to relax with a stout after a bike ride down Vail mountain, helmet in hand and backpack slung over the metal-wicker chair.
The Chop House
Nearby to Centre V is the Vail Chop house, an offspring of its highly-successful counterpart in Beaver Creek. Unlike many of the upscale, white-tablecloth steak houses the world over, the Chop House manages to be very chic, clean, prim, and somehow very family-friendly. Sadly, the magician who travels from table to table entertaining kids of all ages isn't available during the lunch hour, but the magic of a view of Vail Mountain on a summer's day most certainly is. The Chop House patio also makes a nice hub for mom and dad to enjoy oysters on the half-shell, lobster, or steak, while the kids roam through the safe and entertaining shops and streets of lionshead.
www.mezzalunavail.comIn wintertime, it's possible (though not recommended) to ski right through the front door of Mezzaluna, where the wise and fortunate choose to take their mid-day lunch break. Switch the skis for a bike, or a fishing rod, or just plain hiking boots, and the same remains true in summertime. As far as patios go, it is very difficult to say that anyone, anywhere in the Valley can top Mezzaluna, where the spacious deck overlooks both Gore Creek and the stories Lionshead slopes, and the snowfields of winter are replaced by wildflower-laced meadows in summer. The atmosphere is festive, the thin-crust, oven fired pizzas are much sought-after, and the crab cakes and beef carpaccio come highly recommended as a starter.
The Beaver Creek Chop House
The first experience most diners have with the Chop House is during a day skiing Beaver Creek, when a much-needed rest spontaneously lands them on the unassuming patio located at the base of the Centennial lift. A cocktail here, some French Fries there, and pretty soon the quality of the food begins to gain attention. Before the gang has even realized where they are, they've fallen in love with one of Beaver Creek's pillars of the restaurant world. Like its counterpart in Vail, the Beaver Creek Chop House has a near-mystical ability to exude elegance while remaining eminently comfortable and welcoming. It's near impossible to go wrong with the menu, and for those looking for sliders, steak, or roast beef there's no question the Chophouse is the right place. But for lunchtime their slightly lighter fare might be best. Among these: the Tuscan-style grilled chicken sandwich, the Ahi tuna burger, the blue crab cake sandwich or the smoked turkey club croissant.
The Golden Eagle Inn
The flower displays are splendid enough to make a visit to this deck, in the center of Beaver Creek village, worth it all their own. Be prepared for a fine-dining experience, and the prices that go with it, but the family friendly menu and the people-watching bring a casual atmosphere, too. The menu takes a cue from the natural surroundings, in particular with elk chili and elk meatloaf. Those familiar with elk's unique flavor won't be disappointed, but less adventurous appetites are more likely to find satisfaction in one of the many good salads available. In fact, salad is a fine art at the Golden Eagle, and even those who shy away from lighter meals should consider the Rocky Mountain harvest, or fresh organic salads.
Hyatt 8100 Mountainside Bar and Grill
It's a mountain-framed, alpine setting, but something about this deck encourages the Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, by the glass, to pair with one of the many suitable appetizers. With or without the wine, the options to go light are plentiful, leaving lots of energy for that afternoon hike on the nearby trails.
Those who want to know the origins of their meals will happily discover that 8100 lists that information on their menu. The smoked salmon comes from Lyons, Colorado, the seared beef carpaccio from Meyer Range Beef in Colorado … in fact, almost all of this diverse, flavorful menu comes from nearby food producers. It is in these small, thoughtful, efforts that 8100 manages to deliver a menu and wine selection that's truly in concert with mountain living. Arrowhead
Vista at Arrowhead
One of the main reasons this restaurant is overlooked is that many suppose that it is a private part of the Country Club of the Rockies at Arrowhead. All the more peaceful, then, for those who know that Vista is very welcoming, and very pleasant, for those who discover the tranquil deck overlooking the golf course there. The mussels aren't mandatory, but why deny a dish which is apropos to so many of the best main courses there? Followed by the cioppino or trenne pasta, the mussels do well, but it's also possible to chart a different course, opening with a baby arugula salad and pairing it with grilled baby chicken cacciatore.
The Valley became aware of Paul Ferzacca master-chef status when he assumed top status at La Tour, a French restaurant that is one of Vail's most highly-rated, storied, and revered restaurants. Less known was his ability to put together a mouth-watering pizza and spaghetti carbonara. ZaccaZa opened in Avon to much fanfare, and has been a favorite local's spot for lunch ever since – not least because of the spacious deck and occasional bacci ball contest which livens up the day.
One might think that a restaurant located at the base of a Beaver Creek gondola would rely heavily on winter fare and wintertime guests, but Avondale has been an outdoor affair right from the start, instantly capturing a cadre of locals who return time and again. On the banks of the Eagle River and, yes, at the base of the Riverfront Express Gondola, Avondale has scored a big hit with its mac and cheese, onion rings, and truly astounding pizzas. Created and served in a way that would make even the most traditional Italian sigh with a longing for home, the mushroom pizza with housemade ricotta and truffle oil is simply the finest gourmet pizza available for many miles in any direction, and could stand its own against any in Florence or Venice, Rome or Turin. The menu is best met by a sharing group, however, so that everyone can have a little taste of all the many treasures available on this well-constructed menu.
It's not in the Bible, but it seems pretty clear that on the eighth day, God created the Gashouse. Then Edwards sprang up around it. Either way, the Gashouse is a piece of living history, an oasis of Western ranching spirit that predates the bustling town which surrounds it. Placed on the edge of a pristine slice of Eagle River Preserve open space, the Gashouse deck is one of those places people come from far, far away to experience. This is a very family-friendly place to visit, and with cold beer and good margaritas, the taxi ride to and from is most definitely worth it. Big Rocky Mountain cuisine is what sets the Gashouse apart. It's possible to have a wonderful, light meal there, but lunch plans are often swayed by the aromas of the surf-and-turf special, which are known to waft quite effectively across the patio and change a person's mind. Also top-contenders are the famous fried chicken, philly cheese steaks, tuna melts, burgers, brats, and club sandwiches, but take a look at the daily special, and consider the crab cakes, before diving into any (or all) of these reasonably-priced options.
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