Breakfast And Lunch And Dinner In America

DATELINE: 9th July 2018

Vail, CO

Pepi’s Bar And Restaurant is a little bit of Austria in the Rockies. OK, sorry, let’s track back a little. The Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer is a little bit of Austria in the Rockies. Pepi Gramshammer was a member of the 1960 Olympic Ski Team, and saw the birth of Vail, effectively an Alpine-themed Milton Keynes, as an opportunity. 54 years later, it’s still there, the cheerfully orange frontage inviting you in as an antidote to the blando corporate blah on show elsewhere.

It’s unapologetically Austrian, offering schnitzel, spatzle and hearty rib-sticking winter fare all year round. As a stop off for lunch on our way through from Great Lakes to Palisades, it suited rather well. There was a sense of history and personality to the place, a sense of ‘fuck you, I was here first, and the big orange building stays.’ It’s an attitude that the rest of Vail could do well to copy or at least look at.

We snagged an end table on the terrace (which I have a nasty feeling was reserved for someone else but hey we got there first and we were English and polite therefore fuck youse) which made the hangout much more choice. We watched the rich and privileged of Vail waft past, sweetly invulnerable to the world around them.

Pepi does a damned good Reuben. You don’t have to unhinge your jaw to eat it.


DATELINE: 9th July 2018

Grand Junction, CO

When a place gets independently recommended by three different sources, you know you have to check it out. Bin 707 in Grand Junction got shout-outs from our next-door neighbor in Grand Lakes, a random lady at the World’s End brewpub down the way, and our hosts at Palisades.

Sure, ok, you have our attention.

Tucked into the business district of Grand Junction, Bin 707 is a gem of a place that you could walk past and miss and that would be a fuckup on your part. Highwalled, with a long low patio that allows you to make the most of the hazy 25 degree evening, Bin 707 is serious about their provenance. Local first, then state, then national. Which means Colorado lamb and pork is strong on the menu, with some great river-food in support. Alongside an amazing porchetta with green chili and hominy, and a lamb tenderloin so tender it almost melted on the fork, we enjoyed a glorious bavette that succumbed to the blade like a giallo victim, and duck breast that offered the perfect payoff between fat, crisp and melting tenderness. Stretch hit the jackpot, though. A simple Thai-spiced bowl of mussels won with the sweetest, plumpest bivalves I’ve ever tasted. The only criticism–more sourdough toast needed to soak up the precious juices.

Oh, and the beer menu was genuinely intimidating. In a good way, I mean. Thank the gods that our friendly and knowledgeable server could guide my way.

Relaxed, confident, delicious. You guys have to try this place out.

DATELINE: 10th July 2018

Clifton, CO.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you play it right, it can be the only meal of the day. If you want a serious, old-school American carbo-load, then Starvin Arvins on the main drag through Clifton is a must stop.

It’s dark wood and cozy booths. It’s stuffed animal heads on every wall. It’s stacked platefuls of food for absurdly small outlays of cash. It’s more coffee than you can drink in one go, and I never thought I’d write that sentence.

At Starvin, your waitress will be bright, blonde and heavily tattooed and it’s not a hipster affectation. At Starvin, I finally saw the point to breakfast. Here’s the buffer zone between you and the world. Here’s where you armour up against the challenges ahead.

A plateful of hash browns, cheese, sausage gravy and a cats-head biscuit with home-made peach and strawberry jelly on the side. Whatever else happens in your day, you know you’ve got breakfast right at least.

Fruit And Fibre? Bitch, please.


DATELINE: 10th July, 2018

Palisade, CO.

One last thing, that isn’t breakfast, lunch or dinner, but needs to be raised to the group. The Grand Junction area is incredibly fertile, and Palisade, our base for this week, is rich in fruit of all kinds. It’s a big wine-growing region, and you have to know we’ve been tasting our faces off. The Dry Rosé at Grand River Winery is a crisp, flinty revelation.

But oh, the fruit. Summer season peaches are absurdly juicy and full-flavoured, spilling honeyed nectar down your chin with every bite. The Bing cherries on offer at every stall are so sweet and rich, almost alcoholic in their roundness and complexity. We spent money at Get Peachy, but you can do as well at Nana’s Fruit and Jam Shack, Herman’s Produce… oh, man, you honestly can’t go wrong.

Five-a-day never felt so easy.


DATELINE: 8th July 2018

Shadow Mountain Lake, Great Lakes, CO.

The Trail Ridge Road is the highway that allows visitors into the Rocky Mountain National Park. Carved out of virgin land between 1928 and 1932, it is the highest continuous motorway in the United States, taking brave travelers on a twisting trail up to 12,200ft above sea level.

It’s not the M4, Readership.

Continue reading High.

Road Apples or Travels With The White Buffalo

Dateline: 6th July 2018

En route from Denver to Great Lakes, Co.

I place the hat upon my head. It grips across my brow, sweet as the hand of a lover on the curve of the back of my skull. The brim is as wide as my palm. It is a warm cream in colour, made of finely woven straw, with Native American symbols scribed around the brim. It feels right from the moment I put it on. At home, it will always look faintly ridiculous. Here, it just seems to sum up the moment and the location.

‘Yes’, I say, standing at a mirror in Rosemount Western Gear, Wazee Street, Denver, probably in the same spot that Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan have stood when trying on clothing there. The place has reputation to spare. It could care less about this skinny, nervous Englishman in the cowboy hat.

‘Yes’, I say again, to no-one that’s listening. ‘Yes, this is the one’.

In Boulder, Colorado, we chose to have a drink at the roof bar of a sports bar on Pearl Street. As the waitress ran off with our orders, the heavens opened. We huddled under as much shelter as we could muster, watching the sports channels frizzing in and out as the rain came down like hammers and nails.

They were bringing the food orders out under umbrellas for a while, and not quite getting it right, rainwater dripping on the burgers. No-one seemed to be complaining–it was just such a relief to see rainfall when a Stage 2 fire ban had led to campfire embargoes across the state.

Ten minutes later, there was a flawless blue sky and thirty-degree sunshine again.

Route 119 dries up a little east of the Continental Divide. If you want to go any further west into the Roosevelt National Forest, your options are limited. Your best bet is to start hiking from the trailhead at Eldora. Frankly, all we wanted was something to eat.

Hawkeye had decided to take a punt on a road out of Boulder, just to see what would happen. He got more of a workout on his shoulders than anticipated, as Route 119 twisted up through the hills. We stopped at a rocky brook, where the canyon walls rose up stark and white on either side. Cold Colorado rain melt surged and bubbled around the scree.

‘I bet I can get across that,’ said Stretch, clearly stir crazy after the switchback ride through the canyon. He had that look on his face, stone cold serious with a mad twinkle in his blue eyes. We had to talk him down. ‘We’re not losing you to the Colorado River two days after your sixteenth birthday,’ Lady Red scolded. Stretch settled for moody posing on a sharp rock in the middle of the stream. Instagramtastic.

He totally could have made it, though. The kid’s a goddam grasshopper when he gets the mood in him.

But that was hours ago, and the sky was falling, and we were running out of battery power, any kind of usable GPS, and energy. The end of Route 119 at Pederland came as a blessing. A ragtag of shacks and repurposed trailers, with a very definite boho vibe–the sort of place to run to if you feel that Boulder is a little too mainstream. A couple of brewhouses, a smokerie, a Nitrogen Ice Cream Experience.

Screw that. There was a dinky Thai place on the edge of town, tucked alongside the roundabout. It didn’t look like much, a little tired and tatty on the outside. But inside it was clean, cozy and comfortable. And the food was on point–bright, sharp and fragrant. You could tweak the heat levels to your liking. We all steered away from Thai Hot. The green curry was the best I’ve eaten in a very long time.

Our server was brisk, precise and the absolute spitting image of young Sigourney Weaver. A little terse at first, but she warmed to Stretch, who is always courteous at table. ‘Young sir’ soon got special treatment. Sigourney gave us hiking tips for the area, and wished us well as we mounted up to wind back down the mountain in the deepening night.

We call her The White Buffalo. A GMC Yukon XL running on Utah plates. She’s a big-nosed, broad-shouldered heifer. Long in the beam, which has made parking in the Denver Metro area something of a task. But there’s room for all five of us, plus all our luggage, and she bears us around the state without a murmur of complaint. Most importantly, she has cup holders and charging points to spare.

She has the odd niggle. The brakes are mushy and vague. She struggles a bit going downhill, twitchy on the low gears on a 6% gradient. But then, aren’t we all. The quirks are what give The White Buffalo personality, and what makes us love her all the more.

Red Rocks, for me, was always seared into memory from the U2 concert screened as Under The Blood Red Sky. An epic setting for an extraordinary gig. Say what you like about U2, but there are moments where they are untouchable. Their Red Rocks gig was one of them, a pivotal moment in their path to global ubiquity.

The Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater is a must even if you’re not seeing a band there (and worryingly, the roster does skew heavily towards dreadful jam bands like Umphrey’s McGee these days, which somehow seems appropriate for a 420-friendly state like Colorado–if baseball is a game you can only enjoy while drunk, jam bands are an experience that only becomes bearable when thoroughly baked). Great swooping waves of crimson sandstone crash and boom across the landscape, and they all have names and personalities. Creation Rock. The Seat Of Pluto. The Cave Of The Seven Ladders. Mythic, mysterious, awe-inspiring. Going off-trail and trying to climb these vast structures is strongly discouraged. Lose your footing here, and you’re on a death-slide to Pancake City.

The Amphitheater is worth the climb. A natural bowl surrounded by curtains of stone. Behind Stage Rock, you can see the mesa marching away, back towards the towers of downtown Denver on the horizon. At the top of the bowl, it becomes a view from a classic Western.

On non-concert days, there’s always a bunch of ripped dudebros and perfect-toned princesses using the steps of the Amphitheater as a jungle gym slash yoga studio. You need to be pretty well beach-body ready to be doing this in public, though. Your average person flubbering up and down the steps would seriously put you off your lunch.

Before you hit the road again, the Colorado Music Hall Of Fame is worth a look, although fame is a questionable quantity if you’re not famous outside Colorado. Flash Cadillac, anyone? John Denver gets a room to himself, naturally, and I found myself strangely moved. You might call him bland and twee, but there’s a heartfelt honesty and positivity to his music that makes me smile. Somehow, it speaks volumes as the White Buffalo guides us onto country roads.

Georgetown is one of those small towns that adapted to changing circumstance by using its history as a commercial resource. Downtown is a cheerful slumgullion of old clapboard buildings and Italianate hotels, all offering tours and shopportunities. Squeezed between I-70 and the mountains, it’s very much a place to pass through, have a snack or an ice-cream, enjoy the scenery and move on. You can, if you want, take a steam-train ride through the heavily wooded hills, which will take an hour out of your day. Can’t say I felt the urge. But by then we had been burning black-top for hours.

I sound like I have a downer on Georgetown, and that’s a misrepresentation on my part. It’s open, welcoming and friendly (a little too friendly, as the gentleman from the local arts society kept TLC and Lady Red in his gallery for a good twenty minutes yakkin’ away while they both became increasingly desperate for a pee). The outskirts are a little tatty, but give a truer picture of a community making the most of what’s around. Mining may be a spent force, but there’s a ready stream of money surging past on the highway.

Route 40, up through the Berthould Falls, road like a snake twisting up through the green walls of stacked pine to either side. To one side, Mount Eva, Mount Flora, James Peak rolling off below us. To the other, Stanley Mountain, and you have to crane your neck to catch the top of the tree line. The pines stab up into the sky, an army of armies, jabbing massed spears at the clouds. We’re at 8,500 ft above sea level. It’s not just the altitude that’s taking our breath away.

And finally, we hit the lakes. A very different feel to the urban niceties of Denver. A low, warm, woody shack with the Colorado River running just past the back porch. Yes, we have a back porch. Our host gave friendly but not-to-be-ignored warnings. ‘A bear hit our dumpster last night, and the moose are pretty nosy right now. Just pay attention and don’t leave any food outside, and you’ll be awesome!’

And to be fair, we are. Writing in the sunshine, surrounded by greenery under blue skies? This is a feeling that can’t easily be beaten.

Me and Stretch and Hawkeye and Lady Red and TLC. Spittin’ the pips from our road apples all the way from Denver to Shadow Mountain Lake.

Fire In The Sky

DATELINE: July 4th, 2018

The rooftop terrace of 856 Kalamath Street, Denver, CO

At 9pm, the sky lit up. As if on cue, across the city blooms of red and green and blue and white popped to life, bursting out of seed heads that sent up smoke trails across a dry-scumbled horizon line. From the big displays at Mile High Stadium and Coor’s Field, to the backyard Independence Day family cookouts, millions of dollars was literally going up in flames. Continue reading Fire In The Sky

Freedom, Independence etc.

Two days in America, when it is at it’s most America. Let freedom ring, or something.

A small detail of the decorations in our Kalamath St. Residence.

‘You can give peace a chance. I’ll cover you if that doesn’t work out.’

Texas plates, natch.

The next few were taken on a stroll down Santa Fe Avenue. Details of street art.

Detail of the art outside Chuey Fu, Denver’s leading Lanitx/Asian joint. Try the char sui burrito. Thank me later.

Celebratory fireworks at Civic Centre Park, Independence Eve, approximately 9:50 pm, at which point we had been in position for three hours and 20 minutes. Not entirely convinced the wait was worth it, although there was a great deal of kaboom packed into ten minutes.

Denver Botanical Gardens, earlier that day. Pixel art by Mike Whiting, which worked rather nicely in the space. The Gardens are lovely, by the way. Very heavily recommended.

4th of July parade, the Park Valley community, East 23rd St. It was hot. Damn hot. A lot of the floats were firing full-spec water ordnance delivery systems into the crowd. We were grateful. Worth checking out Cake and Crumbs Cafe on Kearney St.

Spotted these fine gentlemen at Union Station, who seemed to be enjoying their Fourth Of July in high style. Cheers to them, and to you all.

Sunday Kitchen

The plan was to get some art in us. A drive out into the country, to enjoy sculpture and installations in the grounds of a beautiful old country house in the Oxfordshire countryside.

The Vibemobile had other ideas. Normally she’s a joy to drive—speedy, agile, comfortable, above all reliable. But earlier in the week she over-heated and threw up an un-nerving engine management light, refusing to run above 20mph without shuddering. Double-plus ungood. I booked her in to see the car doctor, but we faced a sad fact. No car, therefore no car ride out into the country.

Oh well. A quiet Sunday at home, then. Or an opportunity to noodle around in the kitchen. Which, as any smart cookie will realise, is a grand way to get your dinner game in place ahead of the week looming up on the horizon. If you’re like me, it’s also a rather good chance to clear out the food in the fridge that will turn into unsavable sludge if I don’t act fast. Buying food and then throwing it away uneaten is a cardinal sin, and one that’s easily avoided.

The salad and veg drawer in my fridge is a place where terrors lurk. Today, I faced carrot fear. A significant portion of the bagful I’d bought last week were halfway to primordial ooze, liquefying from the inside out. I issued a curse to the vegetable gods, binned the rotting half, and quickly diced the remains. Bagged and in the freezer, they’d last long enough to add to a mirepoix or for a quick and easy carrot soup.

Readership, do not discount frozen veggies. They are, in many cases, preferable to fresh—particularly if the freshies just get ignored in the bottom of the fridge. Food heroes of mine like Jack Monroe and Nigel Slater are advocates of the humble bag of Bird’s Eye peas or sweet corn. My sister-from-another-mister Sandi takes it further—she buys fresh, chops and freezes her veg. If you’re a busy beaver during the week, an hour or so at the weekend with a knife (or if you’re really time-poor and not too anal about the appearance of your soffrito, two pulses in a food processor) can save you all the time you need come dinner time.

I thought about the whole veg-prep thing, and considered that while chop-and-freeze is a valid time-saver, I might as well take the process a little further. I sliced up the saddest looking of my onions, and threw them into the Instant Pot (I need to talk about the transformative effects of the electronic pressure cooker on my kitchen life, but that’s for another time) along with the sad remnants of last night’s bottle of wine, a knob of butter, a glug of balsamic, salt and pepper. A 30 minute cycle, and this unpromising array of leftovers had transformed into a sticky-sweet-sour dollop of deliciousness I could use as the basis for a sauce, over a quick dough base for a take on pissaladière, over sausages… you name it. Not bad for five minutes of attended work.

I was on a roll now, but it was lunchtime. In a shocking move, I’d bought squidgy white bread from the garage the day before. Normally I’m against this sort of thing, but laziness trumped my best bread-making impulses. Besides, I fancied dirty sausage sandwiches.

Another refugee in the fridge was a pack of vac-packed frankfurters from Aldi, one of those impulse buys you can’t really explain to other people or yourself after the fact. I realised, when faced with squidgy white bread and mechanically formed sausage-style product, that I had subconsciously guided myself towards a recipe I’d spotted on the foodie-web the previous week. It’s deliciously evil.

Take your bread, two per person for a light lunch. Decrust, butter and spread on a dollop of ketchup or mustard or both. Add a sausage, and roll up, squishing the package shut. Slap on some egg-wash, place the roll-ups on greased foil and bake in a hot oven until crisp. Probably ten to fifteen minutes should cover it.

Dirty, dirty sausage sandwiches. If you really want to filth it up, slap on a slice of plastic cheese before you roll up the bread.

For god’s sake, have a salad alongside.

The oven was still on. It seemed wasteful to switch off. I was on a roll. I was having too much fun to stop now. I was looking at the most humble of leftovers with fresh eyes. The rubble on my worktop from lunch had potential. White bread crusts and a bit of beaten egg. Add one to the other. Douse in the last scrapings of the rind of parmesan in my sad-looking cheese tray in the fridge (you may detect a theme coming up when it comes to my neglectful curatorship of the interior of our trusty Liebherr). Bake for twenty minutes until crisp.

HAH. Posh breadsticks. They’re snappy and a bit dense in the middle. Never throw away bread, Readership. There’s always crumbs to whizz up. There’s always croutons. You can always make something out of nearly nothing.

And of course, the oven was still on, and I had courgettes and peppers in the fridge that wouldn’t last the week. Sliced, tossed in oil (Morrisons do an amazing garlic-infused rapeseed oil in the world food section that is dirt cheap and incredibly useful for traybakes), salt, pepper and dried herbs. Or fresh if you’ve got ’em. I started the veg at the same time as the breadsticks, gave them a stir once the sticks came out, and gave everything another twenty. The courgettes and peppers had caught in places, were still soft in others, and had become fragrant, sweet and moreish. Stirred through pasta (perhaps with some of the sweet onions I made earlier) or at room-temperature alongside some fish or chicken, they’re a seriously good standby.

The oven was still hot. The fridge has been restored to sanity, but I wasn’t done yet. There was a butternut squash in the store cupboard that had been waiting patiently for months. Time to let it shine.

I love squash. It’s super-forgiving. You don’t even have to peel it. Top and tail, quarter it lengthwise, then deseed it with a spoon. I put it back into the sheet-pan that the courgettes and peppers had cooked it (still hot, still seasoned with roasted flavour) dashed over a little more rapeseed oil, salt and pepper, then roasted for an hour. I can make a soup, perhaps with some of the carrots and onions from earlier. Maybe as part of a mash topping for a fish pie. Just alongside something porky. As part of a curry with some chickpeas. Possibilities abound. Dinner time has got that bit easier this week.

I think the Vibemobile might have done me a favour.

Chicken Two Ways: Soho, Memory and That Whole Proust Thing

I turned my back on Soho in October 2016, twenty-seven and a half years after I first walked through the door of TVP in Golden Square. I started as a runner, one of those fresh-faced types that would grab coffee, fetch lunches and ferry videotapes around. There–videotapes. Shows you how long ago it was. Continue reading Chicken Two Ways: Soho, Memory and That Whole Proust Thing