I absolutely love a good road trip. Especially a solo road trip. I load my phone up with podcasts, fill up the gas tank, and hit the road with a swelling sense of freedom and adventure. Oddly enough, most of my experiences are around Northern Colorado. It’s Fresh Air Fort Collins stories that take me out and about, and for lack of opportunity, I hadn’t had the chance to take a trip farther than Colorado Springs – until now!
A few weeks ago I had the chance to check out Silverton for a bit. The trip was only for a few days, which is FAR too short to appreciate this little Western town that makes you feel like you’re living history. If you have the chance to drive down there, do it, because it’s a beautiful and fascinating place to spend some time.
While road trips are filled with adventure, there’s always the road trip dining experience to go along with it too. Some people are down with loading up a cooler and making their own road trip cuisine. I find it more fun to stop and check out local places along the way, kind of like replicating your own Anthony Bourdain travel adventure.
Here are some On The Road highlights from the trip!
High Alpine Brewing Company
Driving for long stretches of time are my thing. Bill jokes that I have “trucker blood,” which may be true. For this trip I hit the road at 8:30am and didn’t stop the entire way until getting to Gunnison. By that time I needed to stretch my legs and grab a bite to eat, and Gunnison seemed like the perfect place to do it. It looked like an interesting place with an inviting little downtown – more than any of the other towns I passed through by that point.
I don’t check Yelp when I’m on a trip. For one, I HATE Yelp. Absolutely hate it. It’s not even reliable. My gut intuition on a place tends to be a hell of a lot more reliable than trying to pull up this unethical app. So, without having any information to go from, I did a quick drive around a couple of blocks and spotted High Alpine Brewing Company. Not being a total Colorado craft beer geek, I hadn’t heard of them before, but it looked like a gamble – it could be either really good quality or more on the corporate side of cuisine.
The gamble ended up in my favor, it was really great quality.
I didn’t have time or stomach room to go through an eating spree on their menu. I had dinner plans already in Silverton. So, I opted to go with a beer and an appetizer.
I did a quick sample of their Italian Mountain Basil Ale, considering their menu is mainly brick-oven pizza and other small Italian-inspired items. It seemed like a good pairing. However, it was exceptionally strong on the basil flavor, so I’m glad I asked for a tasting sample first. I love basil, but not that much. Instead, I went with a Green Gate IPA, which was perfectly delicious and refreshing with the right amount of IPA hops punch. I paired that with their Steamed Mussels. Their menu has beer pairing suggestions on it, and this isn’t one of them, but whatever. I do what I want.
The dish was New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels steamed in their brick oven with sausage white wine and tomato sauce, served with crostini and a whole head of roasted garlic. IT WAS FANTASTIC. It was full of light flavor, and then adding the roasted garlic just bumped it up to a perfect combination of deliciousness.
The Eureka Station
After that quick bite in Gunnison, I hit the road again to make my way to Silverton by dinner time. Silverton is a delightful little town with 600+ people living there in the summer. The number drops a couple hundred in the winter when the hardiest of people stick around. There are no paved roads, and it seems that Jeeps and OHVs rule the way of transportation in these parts. It’s one of the few towns where you can ride your OHVs on the top of mountain passes and drive right back into town and park to grab a bite and a beer.
It’s also steeped in old western mining town history. The whole town is a historical district with beautiful original (and restored) 115+ year old buildings, ample interpretive signs highlighting spots where there were gang shootouts in front of saloons, remnants of mining that established the town in the late 1800s, and hints of a Red Light District that was hopping. Because, you know, mountain town prospectors.
The Eureka Station is a new building but one that embraces the history in the area. In fact, their tagline is “history never tasted so good.” They specialize in Cornish pasties, a traditional comfort food brought into the U.S. by Cornish immigrants who came to work in mining towns in the 1800s. Pasties are essentially meat hand pies with a distinct pinched crust. The crust was a way for the miners to eat with their hands while not ingesting the toxic arsenic from their fingers, and would get thrown in the mines to the Tommyknockers to thank them and help prevent cave-ins.
Folklore aside, the pasties are a delicious easy to eat meal. The Eureka Station has a variety of different pasties to choose from, but I’m one to stick to tradition. When in Rome!
The Traditional pastie has Sunday pot roast with carrot, potato, and onion wrapped in pie crust with wine beef gravy side. The Chicken Pot Pie pastie has chicken, peas, carrot, and onion with a chicken gravy side. They are both savory, satisfying, and well-seasoned.
I really enjoyed these, especially while sipping an Alpine Loop Lemonade – vodka lemonade with a fresh raspberry muddle while looking out on the San Juan mountains at the same time.
I also had their Sweet Summer Salad with fresh raspberries, house candied walnut and goat cheese atop a bed of baby spinach with house raspberry balsamic vinaigrette.
And their Flat Iron steak, cooked rare (and perfectly, I might add) along with a dessert of Mimi’s Mountain Cobbler.
Their cobbler is a recipe from the owner’s grandparents who had a home in Silverton. When the grandkids visited in the summer, they would spend afternoons picking tiny wild mountain raspberries in the San Juans. Then their grandma would make this cobbler from the foraged berries. While the dessert in the restaurant isn’t made from foraged berries, it still tastes like something a grandmother would bake. It was lovely.
The Eureka Station has some elevated mountain town cuisine that I highly recommend trying for yourself.
The Brown Bear Cafe
The next morning I had breakfast at the Brown Bear Cafe, a traditional classic American family diner. It’s kind of like the Egg & I, but with mountain town flair. I had their breakfast special for the day – half order of biscuits and gravy with hash browns, and eggs over easy. Also, copious amounts of coffee.
If this item is on a breakfast menu, you’re not going to see pancakes on my plate, you’re going to see this. Always eggs over easy and it’s a bonus when the hash browns are extra crispy. And they were at The Brown Bear! It was great rib-sticking food to prep for a day of driving OHVs on part of the Alpine Loop with Rock Pirates Backcountry Tours (I’m currently writing a post on that on Fresh Air Fort Collins, so keep your eyes out this week).
Golden Block Brewery
Of course Silverton has a local craft brewery. And for someone who rolls their eyes at how much pizza and beer we have in Fort Collins, it’s highly entertaining that I visited two pizzeria/breweries on this trip. See? I don’t hate pizza. I just hate that there’s a million pizzerias in Fort Collins and people should be a little more creative to grow our culinary options. BUT, I digress…
After a day of driving on bumpy mountain roads to the top of Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, a spending time checking out ghost towns like Animas Forks, we had quite the appetite and pizza and beer was the cure.
Golden Block Brewery is a cute spot with original tin tile ceilings. I had a taster of their Arrastra Red Ale, Blind Load IPA, Madame Brown Ale, and the Drill Street Stout. Madame Brown Ale was awesome with its hazelnut notes!
I also had slices of their Tree Hugger – olive oil, garlic, fresh spinach, fresh basil, roma tomato, artichoke and mozzarella cheese.; Day Hiker – olive oil, pesto, roma tomato, artichoke, chicken, ricotta salata and mozzarella cheese; and their Outdoor Enthusiast – BBQ sauce with shredded beef, pulled pork, bacon, smoked gouda, mozzarella, sprinkled with fresh green onion, and fresh cilantro.
The Outdoor Enthusiast was great for a single slice, but I think I could have eaten a whole Tree Hugger pie. It was that tasty.
Handlebars Food And Saloon
I noticed on the drive up to the Alpine Loop that there was a line around the block for this place at lunch. If there’s a line that long somewhere, it has to be good, right? Well, kind of. Handlebars Food and Saloon is a super kitschy tourist restaurant. The walls are filled with taxidermy – to the point that it kind of reminded me of the now-long-since-closed Sanford’s garb here in Fort Collins. It has its local attraction charm, and the food isn’t bad at all, but I wouldn’t wait in a 20 minute line for a seat here.
A friend and I grabbed a seat at the bar instead, and that was an ideal option. We drank tequila, chatted with the bartender and one of the local guys hanging out next to us. I had an elk burger with a side of gazpacho. I was craving something fresh and light and the bartender said it was the best gazpacho ever (eh, not bad but not the best ever).
Not so surprisingly, the elk burger was on the drier side. I got it without cheese, and that was probably a mistake with this lean meat. Overall, it tasted similar to one of the more touristy spots in Estes Park like Penelope’s, maybe a tad better.
The Rum Bar
There are a surprising amount of places to eat and drink in Silverton for it being a little western town, but I suppose those are the things people are going to do the most aside from hitting the trails and staying above treeline. The Rum Bar is a cool spot with a rooftop patio (the only rooftop patio, actually) where you can view the entire town from end to end from its spot on Greene Street – the town’s Main Street.
The Rum Bar has a really great atmosphere and it kind of reminds me a little bit of the patio at Mainline. I had a strawberry mojito and watched the sunset. I loved it. I would totally come back to this spot and hang out longer. I’d say this is a most for mountain cocktailing in Silverton!
Inn of the Rockies at the Historic Alma House
I guess it’s not really an adventurous road trip without a stay at a haunted Bed & Breakfast. I actually had no idea that the Alma House was haunted until I checked in and Betty, one of the exceptionally nice innkeepers gave me a tour of the house. “And in this room we have the ghost of a gentleman. Don’t worry, he doesn’t leave this room.”
“WHAT? This is so cool! I LOVE IT!” I exclaimed, probably a little bit too excitedly. There are three ghosts in the house, and apparently none of them really leave the rooms? Many of the locals laugh at haunted claims, “Oh, every place says their haunted here.” I wouldn’t doubt that it’s part of the historical charm. Either way, I didn’t see or hear any ghosts. It was just a really interesting and unique spot to stay with absolutely beautiful historical decor.
On the food aspect, they make baked goods every afternoon to serve with coffee and tea at your leisure. Their hospitality is top notch, and if they know you are out for a long mountain adventure, they send you out with some of those baked goods to eat on the road. They also provide a full breakfast for guests each morning. On the morning I left I was treated to a plate of biscuits and sausage gravy with surprisingly melt-in-your-mouth buttered scrambled eggs, a fruit compote and a fruit crepe. I was spoiled with an extra crepe for my drive home. Betty and Albert were so nice, and the Alma House was a delightful stay. Plus, the food is wonderfully home-cooked. I would love to stay here again when I come back to Silverton.
I fell in love with Silverton the minute I drove into the little town. It’s full of history from an era in time that I absolutely geek out on. I am nearly obsessed with our early American history of pioneers and western settlers who bravely ventured into new places and established the cities we live in today. It’s a city with countless outdoor adventures in stunningly beautiful mountains that remind me of Glacier National Park, and with food that isn’t just tourist fare. I would come back in a heartbeat.