When people think of Aspen they tend to think of beautiful mountains and even more beautiful snow bunnies. It is a town known as much for its celebrity visitors as it is for its quality of skiing, and sadly not enough for its food. Although it is the host of one of the biggest food and wine festivals of the year, Aspen is still completely under appreciated when it comes to its dining scene. From high-end super clubs to dive bars with organic comfort food, there is something for everyone. An example of local gem would be the Ajax Tavern in the Little Nell Hotel. Popular with tourists and locals alike, the tavern sits on the base of Ajax Mountain by the gondola and focuses on seasonal, local, organic produce. The location could be annoying except it’s not as loud as it sounds and makes for a beautiful après ski patio. The décor and vibe are as you would expect for the area: rustic chalet chic, with comfortable booths and wood paneling everywhere. While the restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and the aforementioned après ski, the menu differs little between the three. Like many popular places, the hostesses are fashionably disinterested but thankfully the waiters do their best to accommodate and be helpful.
After a long morning skiing we sat down for lunch and indulged in a creamy mushroom and leek quiche with tavern salad ($17), which had a great crust and was tasty if a little heavy. We also tried one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Colorado Lamb Bolognese ($21) and were impressed by the savory, tasty sauce. Its no wonder people love it. On another day for après ski the Hand Cut fries with truffle parmigiano reggiano seasoning ($17) went down crispily and happily, but sadly the Gruyere Fondue ($30) did not. With the fondue flavorless and almost molted, it was easily our worst dish there. They did take it off the bill.
For dinner, we loved the Crispy Organic Chicken ($25), with its delicious Moroccan spiced farro salad, mint yogurt and a truly crispy skin. In keeping with all things poultry, the chicken pot pie ($28) was also a hit. Only served on Mondays, the plate is modernized by arriving not in a pie dish but with only the top of the piecrust tilted to the side of some traditional chicken filling. Worry not, the portion is more than ample. While none of us are big dessert eaters, the apple pie with spicy cinnamon ice cream was enjoyed by the whole table and picked clean apart. Other favourites included the Ajax double cheeseburger ($17) cooked as desired, the mac & cheese ($9), the sweet potato gnocchi ($12), and the brussels sprouts ($7) in a winning combination with bacon and thyme.
If it seems expensive for a tavern, please keep in mind that for a money pit like Aspen, these prices are very reasonable. In terms of beer and cocktails, they have a great selection of affordable (for the town) wines and fun local beers. We personally enjoyed the Domaine de Fontsainte, Carignan/Grenache, Corbières, France, ’09 ($12/48) and the Fat Tire beer ($5), but there are many to choose from. Reservations are only taken for dinner, meaning the queue for lunch and après ski can be out of control, best to go early if you want a table.