Well, I’m back, as promised, with a lot to tell you about a beautiful, beautiful state I wish I could live in year-round, one that captured my heart with its larger-than-life mountains and golden aspens and friendly people and better traffic and meal after meal! after meal! of incredible food.
The truth is, after five days of bakeries, restaurants, sightseeing, walking — and, of course, the mountains! oh my gosh, the mountains! — I got pretty comfortable out west. I kept telling my friends Wendi and Michele, whom I traveled with, that with every new place we visited, Chicago became more blah. I mean, what have we got? The skyline?
Let me tell you, while we were descending over the Windy City Monday afternoon, the John Hancock building had nothing on the Rockies. NOTHING.
What with the series of trips this year (Washington D.C., Wisconsin, Maine), I should be used to detaching from a place when it’s time to come home. But instead, all that’s been running through my mind lately are thoughts like, why wouldn’t you live somewhere that offers 300 days of sunshine?
Near garden of the gods? Surrounded by snow-capped mountains? Where there is no end of good food or natural beauty, with less congestion and plenty of places to park downtown (as long as you have quarters)?
Oh, take me back, Colorado. Take me back. So.
While I work on remembering all the good things about This Place Where I Live, let me tell you all the amazing things about That Other One That I Love, you know, just in case you ever get to go there, and I hope you do, but more than that, I hope you BRING ME WITH YOU!
We arrived Wednesday night, when it was very dark, and all I could see were blips of light on the horizon, signaling where the city was. Before even checking into our hotel outside Denver, we drove straight to Steuben’s for comfort food in a diner atmosphere, and we ate, people, we really did, enough so we were patting our bellies and wondering if we’d ever be hungry again. (Oh, we would.)
My job on this trip was to pick restaurants, and this was a task I took seriously. The best meal was, hands down, at Bistro Vendome the last night, an adorable French bistro tucked away from the hanging lights on 16th Street.
We split the Steak Classique with crispy, herb-covered fries and the Truite en Croûte de Pistaches (trout encrusted with pistachios and spice, topped by new potatoes, asparagus, bacon, onions, red pepper and parsley oil) and were also given amuse-bouches of some kind of potato soup that was hot, creamy and filled with flavor.
Dessert was a chocolate velvet tart topped by fleur de sel, a strawberry rhubarb crepe with buttermilk ice cream (my favorite) and a caramel espresso creme brulee. I cannot tell you how much I loved this meal.
Even beyond the bistro, though, this entire trip was a food fest of sorts, and here are some highlights of the places where we ate:
Snooze, Denver, wowed us with a caprese benedict and ginger-peach pancakes topped by streusel, which I will be thinking about for a very long time // At Lucile’s in Denver on Sunday, we met my Twitter/blog friends Kendall, who had not only recommended this place but many others, and Randy (and his wife and adorable daughters) and liked the food so much, we went back the next day to the one in Boulder.
After you spend a morning walking around Golden, it’s nice to stop and refuel at the quiet Cafe 13, where I ordered macarons and my friends split a delicious scone they let me sample. // The German Rheinlander Bakery in Arvada not only makes a huge selection of pastries and cakes that are soft and flaky and packed with sweetness, but there are two large sections of gluten-free options. And while I don’t remember what this thing Michele ordered was called, I would like to taste another one, right now. // It would be easy to be overwhelmed at Das Meyer Fine Pastry Chalet in Arvada, where we picked up pastries one morning, and not just because of the heavily floral, 1980s-style decor. The pastries are amazing. Both our spinach-feta and apricot choices were perfectly soft and flavorful, and the service was excellent.
Snacks and Lunches:
In Manitou Springs, we stumbled upon Coquette Creperie when looking for a light meal after coming down from Pikes Peak, and we split an Argentinian and a Cheeky Monkey (nutella and bananas!), licking the plates clean, and the server was practically part of our table by the end of the meal, as friendly as could be. // Glacier Ice Cream has a stand on Pearl Street in Boulder, where I bought a kid’s-size cone with fresh peach ice cream, and I loved every bit. // Wendi got gelato at Two Spoons, also in Boulder, and especially liked the pistachio.
Adam’s Mountain Cafe, Manitou Springs, is a lovely place that celebrates the slow food model. We shared crostini with figs and pears and senegalese vegetables in a peanut sauce, the later of which led one unnamed party at our table to say that was “the best bite of celery I’ve ever had … usually it has peanut butter on it,” so obviously that alone made the trip worthwhile. // In Boulder, we missed The Kitchen’s lunch menu by a few hours and opted out of their higher-priced dinner in favor of Boulder Cafe, where we caught up with my college English professor, Mrs. Templin, and her very sweet husband. Bonus: before 6 PM, appetizers are half the price here.
Are you still with me? Because, despite how those last few paragraphs may seem, we did other things besides eat, I promise. This below picture is at garden of the gods, but believe me, it does not do the place justice.
I am head-over-heels for those deep red rocks with jagged edges, surrounded by paths you can walk on, while you feel so incredibly small, the whole thing is awesome, in the truest sense of the word. If I am ever missing, and no one knows where I could be, look there.
Other Colorado Highlights: a Rockies game, thanks to free tickets from a friend; a trip up most of Pikes Peak (the very top was closed because of snow/ice); winding trails and steep (!) cliffs along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, which Wendi so deftly drove us through; downtown Denver; beautiful Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs; weather that ranged from snow to heat to icy breezes to a light chill — but with all sunshine, no rain, not once; and good conversations, the luxury of having someone make your bed each day, the chance to get away from all we have here and see more of what we don’t know.
I guess I’m half-kidding when I say I want to move to Colorado (OK, and half-serious!) because, as much as I loved it, I think what I loved most was getting to see it all with people I like, bunking in a hotel room together, eating together, laughing together and sharing our lives.
And that? Can happen even in Chicago. It does every day — even if it’s as simple as calling a friend, getting Starbucks at lunch while you joke about your fingers freezing from the cold, sending an e-mail or even, you know, reading a blog.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.