Quirky Hospitality In Ouray, Colorado

john wayne's hat There are many interesting cities to visit during a trip through Colorado. While Denver has excellent artisanal shops, you can find the world’s highest distillery in Breckenridge. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, the little known town of Ouray offers various ways to receive quirky hospitality.

Quirky Restaurant: The Outlaw

Located at 610 Main Street, The Outlaw is the oldest operating restaurant in Ouray, open since early 1969 with the same sign still hanging. It has a very “Old West” feel, with a pianist playing upbeat tunes in the corner, walls of cowboy hats and a dimly lit room littered with wooden tables. While the steaks are delicious and the cocktails strong, the biggest draw to this place is the fact you can wear one of John Wayne’s hats. It’s the one located behind the bar, above the beers. During the shooting for a film, Wayne was staying in Ouray. One day, he called up The Outlaw to order some food for pickup. The owner’s wife answered, and when he said it was John Wayne calling, she responded by saying “yea right” and hung up the phone. Wayne became so enamored with her crassness; he ended up eating there everyday during the entire movie shoot.cookieQuirky Dessert Shop: Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee

Not only does Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee have unusual chocolate flavors like bacon clusters with Chardonnay salt and coconut bark with pumpkin and sunflower, it’s also home of the locally-loved Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates for the day, the staff takes the scraps and add them to their family recipe cookie batter. When customers order a Scrap Cookie, they won’t know what they’re getting until they take a bite. One thing is for sure, though, it’ll be delicious. Local tip: Buy two Scrap Cookies and have them make an ice-cream sandwich for you. While they’ll often say they don’t do it, tell them a local told you about it, and they most likely will.

ouray Quirky Brewery: Ourayle House

Also known as the “Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company,” the Ourayle House is a bizarre experience. It resides in the garage of the cranky owner, Hutch, who takes pride in making snarky comments to customers. The place looks like it’s made of scrap wood – mainly because most of it is – and old and broken sports equipment and dirty board games litter the space. If you leave your business card you can expect a rude comment to be written on the back, and if you’re a beer snob you can expect any diva-esque quotes to be written on the board behind the bar. For example, when I was there, one customer made the mistake of saying, “I only drink IPAs and Coors Light.” Of course, this was quickly noted for all to see. Hutch even has a countdown for how many “days without a beer Madonna” have passed. It’s also fun to read the unfriendly and weird signs that adorn the walls, reading things like “Welcome to Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company Cheers! ‘Welcome’ being a relative term,” and “It has always been out policy to accept game meat for beer, from good hunters and careless drivers.” Hutch makes all his beer on site, and rotates his drafts to keep things interesting. You can even order based on a brew’s “sq,” meaning “slamability quotient.”

christmas b&bQuirky Accommodation: The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast Inn

While most B&Bs have a certain unusual charm to them, Ouray’s The Christmas House Bed & Breakfast Inn is another animal. The old Victorian home has been around since 1889, although it officially became a bed and breakfast in 1998. For those who have read “The Painted Ladies,” the property was featured in the book. It’s a very quirky accommodation, as it’s Christmas all year long here. Along with the outside and common rooms being decorated with festive decor, each guest room features a Christmas tree with seasonal accents. Along with yuletide cheer, rooms also have saunas, Jacuzzis and cable television.

Where To Have A Weird Dining Experience In Denver, Colorado

casa bonita What do you get when you mix a 300-pound gorilla, giant skulls, a 30-foot waterfall, battling pirates, ’50s-era carnival games, taxidermy, flamethrowers, a mariachi band and mediocre Mexican food? The Denver area’s kitschiest restaurant, Casa Bonita.

Once you enter, you’ll go through an amusement park-style line system. For some reason, the restaurant thought it would be a good idea to have guests order their food at the door, before waiting in line with a tray for food and then a separate line for a drink. Oddly, you still get an assigned waitress once you sit, to do what I’m not sure. The host will put a flag on your table, and when you need something you raise it.

While the food and service are subpar, what you really go for is the atmosphere. A mix of tacky play land, circus performance and “Alice in Wonderland” surreality, you’ll be wondering what could possibly come next as you pick at your overpriced burrito. During my meal, I saw two pirates ferociously fight over a princess, Olympic-skilled divers flipping into an indoor lagoon, fire eating dancers and a giant ape chasing a safari guide with a butterfly net. I was even serenaded by a Mariachi band. Moreover, I had a caricature drawn, was hit by a pink light saber, wandered over an indoor wooden bridge, got lost in a bubblegum pink tea room and stared out a submarine window at plastic fish bobbing in a milky man-made ocean. Basically, it’s a lot of fun, and worth a few hours just for the shock value. Just make sure to bring your inner child, and a fully charged camera.

Doggie Bag Heaven: A Martian Chows Down In Chicago

Chicago, Chicago – the city is so big and so fabulous you have to say it twice. Buildings are not just tall, they’re also as broad as entire cities. Alleyways are as wide as turnpikes. People are not built for bigness: they’re digitally enhanced for hugeness. Fittingly the portions on the giant plates in the vast eateries of Chicago are bigger than jumbo-size. They’re mega. They’re obscene.

An old-paradigm, European-size guy like me from San Francisco via Paris feels positively dwarfish in Chicago. On a recent trip, the balding pate of this European-Martian barely reached belly-button level in elevators. The Martian felt lost in a forest of fleshy Eiffel Towers.

Eiffel would never have been allowed to build an underfed, skeletal tower in Chicago. It dawned on me on our first day that Chicagoans must be unbearably hungry when in Paris.

It also became clear that extra-terrestrials seem like silly creatures in Chicago. They wear black socks with athletic shoes. They order single-shot small espressos and beg for drinks without ice. They ask for half-orders and doggy bags designed for Great Danes.

Martians also feel an extra-large burden of gluttonous guilt when eating out in Chicago. There is no way normal humans can finish a dish in the Windy City, which should be renamed.

San Francisco columnist Herb Caen once quipped that SF circa 1910 might well have been “the City That Knows How”: by the 1970s it was “the City That Knows Chow.”That title needs to be refreshed and shipped to Chicago; click on the city’s icon and you ought to read “Chow and Know-How.” The sprawling slaughterhouse Carl Sandberg dubbed “hog butcher for the world” has nothing to envy these days when it comes to the world’s dining scene.

Unlikely though it sounds, my wife and I started our culinary trawl of Chicago at the slender tip-top of the feeding ladder: Charlie Trotter’s hallowed temple of gastronomy. As invisible guests of honor – the modernist chef did not actually perceive our presence so glowing was his own – we feasted on Paris-sized nibbles of a surreal, sublime nature. They left us wondering where we were.

The names of Trotter’s dishes and their matched wines sent fellow diners into a gourmet heaven of bafflement: Charred Skipjack with Ponzu & Fava Beans paired with ethereal Cava “L’Hereu-Reserva” Raventos Blanc 2008. Skipjack, it transpired, was a kind of tuna and Ponzu is Japanese vinegar.

Next up, eel: Unagi Terrine with Grapefruit, Red Curry & Kaffir Lime. The whole slippery lot eased its way down my pulsing esophagus with Riesling Kabinett “Zeltinger Sonnenuhr” Selbach-Oster, Mosel 2010. Poetry!

Of the procession of main dishes served with hushed Rolls Royce smoothness I will limit myself to citing the Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope with Toasted Espresso, Crumbled Oats & Boudin Noir which, as everyone knows, is blood sausage. This gutsy work of edible art was worthy of Picasso or perhaps Salvador Dali. We savored the single exquisite bite of antelope with glasses of Rioja “El Puntido” Vinedos de Paganos 2006 that was inky and brawny yet entirely true to its subtle, bittersweet undertones and varietal character.

It would take the rest of the day to tell you of the Granny Smith Apple & Greek Yogurt with Pistachio & Tarragon or the Toffee-Glazed Banana Financier with Candied Hazelnuts, Date Jam & Frothed Pineapple, the Criollo Cake with Parsnip, Red Wine & Candied Vanilla, coddled with Samos “Anthemis” 1999 dessert wine, the chocolates & dainties, the house-baked bread, and more and more and more.

The meal might have been served in Paris by obsequious penguins. Here the waiters were more like English butlers a century ago. The spirit of Chicago manifested itself not in the posh premises, nor in the littleness of the dishes. Chicago was present in the number of courses and the slow, rhythmic cadence of what we ate: the lunch went on for over three hours. Even the stoutest Carl Sandberg Variety diners needed a snooze by the time things wound up.

How different, how ham-fistedly impressive and discus-like in size seemed the bacon cheeseburgers at Miller’s Pub, a Chicago institution not known for its culinary excellence but rather for atmosphere and a rough-cast wait staff. We loved it – the Giga-bite burgers, cooked dangerously rare, and the service, of rare good humor.

“There must be some mistake,” the Martian remarked to the waiter at Tavern at the Park, a cavernous, long-tusked establishment facing Millennium Park. “Is this a double order of mastodon ribs?”

Unused to extra-terrestrial humor the 7-foot-tall waiter chuckled. He seemed to wonder whether the Martian was complaining. Did the diminutive person in black socks want the entire hog? Perhaps the 2-foot-long section of ribcage was not enough?

Happily the ribs fed two of us for several days. They were not only abundant in quantity but succulent, perfectly cooked, moist and delicious.

Most disconcerting of all was the outlandish excellence of the “ethnic” food in Chicago, as if a mixing bowl of a place such as this could be anything but a smorgasbord of genetic material and cuisines, all of them ethnic, meaning totally American.

The salchichon, tapas and sangria at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba made me want to shout – a good thing: shouting was the only way to be heard in the roistering atmosphere. I’ve tasted salt cod fritters as great in a few places, but never so generously served.

And who ever would’ve guessed the best Indian food anywhere outside India might be served in Chicago, in the former meatpacking district? Such was the shock of exquisiteness at Jaipur Chicago, where the tikka and lamb Massala were fab but the most unexpectedly wonderful dish was made of humble lentils, spinach and ginger. It was not photogenic and as green as my gills! I wept with spicy delight, thanking Ganesh as we headed home laden with white cartons: no matter how good the grub, there was just too much of it.

Strange to tell, by the time the Martian made it to his flying saucer at O’Hare his wife no longer recognized him. He had begun to look less Martian. He wore elasticized shorts and white socks. He waddled, loosened his re-notched belt and wondered how he would fit into his third-class seat. The trick to surviving Chicago he knew was to grow tall and broad and carnivorous like a native, or collect vacuum-packed doggy bags and continue to eat Chicago on Mars.

Author and guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light.” His next book, to be published in April 2013, is “Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptical Pilgrimage on the Way of Saint James.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/paris and http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the Italian Riviera.

Hippie-Inspired Pop-Up Hits Vancouver, Canada

pop up Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club is well known for hosting lavish and unusual pop-ups. And to help welcome the warm weather, they are hosting a “Summer of Love” pop-up restaurant on June 3.

The hippie-inspired event will feature a multi-course feast of Persian delicacies, and guests are asked to wear pieces like flowing skirts, flowers in their hair, wooden beads, linen and sandals. When you arrive to the designated park, you can relax on your blanket in the sun until you hear the music beckoning you to the hidden lounge. Follow it, and you’ll be greeted with soft silk pillows for a Roman dining experience, and spiked tea made with elderflower, fir tip and arbutus bark. There will also be a wine pairing upon request.

“The energy of spring is a perfect match for the lively flavours of the Middle East,” says Robin Kort, owner of Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club. “There are so many exciting flavours: tart, spicy, refreshing, floral and sweet.”

As usual, the location of the pop-up will not be disclosed until after the booking is made.

Tickets are $79 per person. Email robin@swallowtailtours.com for more information or to book.

Get Ready For The Olympics With Andaz’s World Food Marathon

andaz liverpool streetWhile the Olympic Games are associated with international sports, Andaz Liverpool Street in London will be focusing on international food during the weeks leading up to the big event.

The five-star luxury hotel will be looking to staff members of its four Andaz restaurants – 1901, Catch, Eastway and Miyako – to help create the menu. Pulling from the 40 different nationalities that represent the Andaz Liverpool Street team, 26 unique cultural dishes were created. This number isn’t random, as it embodies the 26 miles in a marathon. The tasty festival will run from July 2 to July 27, the 26 days leading up to the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Some of the dishes attendees can expect include Korean Spicy Pork, Polish Golabki, Slovakian sheep’s cheese dumplings, Colombian bandeja paisa and South African Bobotie.

“With all eyes on London this year as the 2012 Olympic season gathers momentum, Andaz Liverpool Street wanted to pay tribute to the multicultural base of the city with a variety of dishes from around the world, which celebrate different cultures, allowing our guests to take a journey of the culinary kind through what we have called the World Food Marathon,” says Arnaud de Saint Exupéry, the Andaz Liverpool Street General Manager.