BRECKENRIDGE—Good-ol’ cheeseburgers and hot wings are ever-popular aprés ski fare, but several factors are driving a big change in Breckenridge’s restaurant scene.
Consider the tarragon créme fraiche mayonnasie shrimp rolls at Matt Fackler’s newest eatery, Twist, on South Ridge Street. Or the lamb lollipops at chef Scotty B’s Ember on Adams Avenue, with garlic lentils, peanut butter chard and berbere tomato coulis.
These are two appetizer selections from a handful of newcomer restaurants in town that offer the eclectic flavors and high-quality ingredients expected in urban environs.
Chefs like Fackler and Scott Boshaw have been around for years — both worked as sous chefs at Café Alpine, one of the town’s former longstanding top-quality restaurants that closed in 2009. Fackler and wife Lisa opened their first restaurant, Relish, in 2006 and more recently added Twist with manager T.J. Messerschmitt. Ember opened in late 2009.
These “chefs with chops,” along with others at The Warming Hut and Modis, bought last year by Justin Guadagnoli, are part of what’s driving a more sophisticated dining scene in Breckenridge, according to Ken Nelson, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association and co-owner of a business group that runs four local restaurants.
Nelson and his partners, which include brother and CIA Hyde Park, N.Y.-trained chef Todd Nelson, opened eclectic sandwich shop Park & Main in June. Instead of turkey on rye, find capicola and fontina with hot cherry peppers and arugula in a panino at the La Cima Mall location.
“There’s much more of a focus on higher quality food,” Ken Nelson says, giving credit to chefs with talent that have blossomed in town. “A lot of it comes down to skill and training, that they’re able to put together menus that resonate with people.”
For those who have lived in town for years there’s now a choice — sometimes a hard one — instead of automatically heading to long-time successful establishments such as the Hearthstone at its historic South Ridge Street location.
These chefs are meeting a new demand in Breckenridge, a trend toward more conscious consumption that hit dining scenes everywhere in America several years ago. Old stand-bys are still popular but restaurant-goers increasingly look for fresh and organic, locally grown and creative, says Blue River Bistro co-owner Jay Beckerman.
“We really embraced the farm-to-table concept of utilizing products grown in Colorado and supporting those farmers, doing as much as we can to focus on that,” says Beckerman, who purchased the Main Street restaurant with business partner Matt Schuwerk in 2001.
Under Chef Brandon Farr, the Blue River Bistro’s menu evolved to incorporate local and regional items such as Colorado lamb racks and Idaho-raised trout, plus state-grown produce in season. The concept extends behind the bar with Frisco-made tap beer and bourbon distilled less than a mile away at the Breckenridge Distillery.
“People are coming in from all over the country and the world to experience what Colorado is all about,” Beckerman says. “I believe it’s our responsibility to showcase what this state has to offer in the food and beverage world.”
Yet Breck’s expanding grown-up restaurant scene could not find success without sophisticated visitors looking for this type of dining experience. Local restauranteurs say those visitors were drawn not by the dining, but by upscale lodging developments.
The Grand Timber Lodge and Grand Lodge on Peak 7 built by the Millisors and partner Mike Dudick, and Vail Resorts' One Ski Hill Place at Peak 8, are a few examples of lodges driving a higher-end clientele looking for dining experiences to match their chosen accommodation.
The restaurants are stepping up and providing those guests with that experience, all the while creating what looks suspiciously like a boom. Breckenridge’s restaurant sales broke tax collection records last year and downtown commercial vacancies are virtually nil, despite a slow national economy and tough snow conditions.