The Inn Crowd
"I wish we'd never had kids," announced the woman sitting next to us, as she poured the remaining half of her husband's margarita into her glass. "God, it's so good to be here without them."
Okay, so not everybody needs to get away as much as that couple, the parents of four-month-old twins. But the bar of the Table Mountain Inn Restaurant contained quite a few folks from Denver trying to escape -- even if they got no farther than a dozen miles from downtown -- into big margs and, with any luck, then into one of the inn's cute, Southwestern-themed rooms at the end of the evening.
The Table Mountain Inn sits on the main drag of Golden, an old-fashioned Foothills town that lately has started promoting itself as a newfangled mountain town. Not only is Golden "Where the West Begins" -- and where tourists can chug down free beer during the Coors tour, browse through a few antique shops and look at rocks at the Colorado School of Mines museum -- it's also now home to some high-end art galleries and the Colorado Mountain Club (which moved into the old high school); Outward Bound is expected any day. And while most of the restaurants here cook up variations on a hamburger theme, the Table Mountain Inn Restaurant (formerly known as the Mesa Bar & Grill -- a name the hotel is now trying to distance itself from because it was confusing) offers thoroughly modern meals.
Billed as Golden's longest continually operating hotel, the inn started out in 1925 as the Hotel Berrimoor, named for owner Robert Berry, who liked the style of the Spanish Moors. Tracy Quick, son of Herbert Tracy Quick, who built the Colorado School of Mines's Hall of Engineering, designed the Berrimoor, which prospered until the Depression. In the 1930s, Edgar P. Sparks and his wife bought the business and renamed it the Cody Hotel; the next owner changed the decor to Art Deco. In 1948, longtime Golden businessman and onetime mayor Lu Holland took over and renamed it the Holland House. Fifteen years later, Holland decided his town needed a motor inn, so he updated the building's style and built a parking area next door, where the First Methodist Church once stood. But after he retired in the early '80s, the hotel went through a rapid succession of owners, until it was a ramshackle old biddy that no one wanted to touch.
The structure had been empty four years when it was purchased in 1991 by Frank Day and Bart Bortles. Day is well-known in these parts as a restaurateur who was inducted into the Colorado Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame two years ago; he's president of Rock Bottom Restaurants, which has fifty eateries nationwide, and also owns Concept Restaurants, parent of Boulder's Hotel Boulderado, the Woody's Wood-Fired Pizza spots and other eateries. In order to get the hotel up and running again, Day and Bortles spent $3 million renovating the place, adding more parking, resurfacing the exterior in stucco, gutting the interior and adding 42 rooms to the existing 32. They filled the place with beautiful Southwestern details, many of which hark back to the original Spanish theme and none of which are howling-coyote kitschy.
Then they turned their attention to the restaurant. There are two main dining areas, as well as a smoking section on the bar side; one of the dining areas is a long, low-lit series of booths, the other is a brighter, more wide-open space. Both are decorated like the rest of the hotel, in colors of the desert accented with eye-catching Southwestern knick knacks, and the resulting atmosphere is so successful that even a meal here feels like a real getaway. The theme carries over to the menu, which offers a collection of Southwest-inspired dishes that incorporate contemporary components and show real flair. The food is cooked by three chefs: top toque Mike Lapres and his right and left hands, Ian Kleiman and Brad Grozius. They manage to balance authentic Southwestern fare with what a bunch of gringos will actually eat -- no small feat.
The Red River Wraps appetizer ($9.25) stuffed lobster and minced vegetables inside deep-fried, crispy flour tortilla shells; while the accompanying mango sauce was more sweet than the promised spicy, it was delicious nonetheless. The house-cured trout ($8.95) was light on the tequila with which it had been cured, but had a nice citrusy tang and came with a rich horseradish sauce. Our third starter, the wild-mushroom tamale ($6.50), was so heavenly I almost forgot I had kids myself. The only "tamale" to this dish was the corn husk used to prop up the mushrooms, but even if the 'shrooms weren't steamed in the husk, they'd been sauteed with garlic until they were soft and juicy, then bathed in a roasted yellow pepper sauce and served atop a mound of textbook mashed potatoes.
More of those killer spuds came with the Taos sirloin ($17.95), a flawlessly cooked steak garnished with caramelized onions -- we could have used more of those -- and a roasted Anaheim chile sauce that had a sharp sherry taste; on the side came a pile of salty, thinly sliced onion rings. Better yet was our order of the oddly named rellenos con queso ($13.95) -- that stuffed Anaheim chiles with gooey pepper-packed jack, then dipped the packages in beer batter and deep-fried them. The delicious difference here was the batter, which turned into a crispy shell more flavorful than the traditional egg style and less doughy than the wonton-wrapper type; the green chile on top was mild and sweet, easy on the heat, with plenty of pork and a gravylike consistency.
By now we were rellenos ourselves and on our way to a local event, so we decided to postpone dessert until we had time to cozy up to the bar and take on a few of the house margaritas. By late evening, the place was filled with an intriguing combination of Denver yuppies, out-of-town businessmen, cowboy-hat-wearing locals and the drunken parents next to us, who were waffling over shelling out the $140 it was going to cost to get the babysitter to stay at their house overnight (after a few more margs, the answer was yes). We ordered a chocolate taco ($5), a peanut-butter pie ($5) and two margs from a roster of a dozen possibilities that range in price from $4.50 to $7, all of which are large. We were so enamored of the chocolate taco -- a chocolate shell with thick ganache filling, an intense chocolate sauce and a blob of cream-enriched peanut butter holding it upright -- that the newly child-free couple decided to split one, too. The dense, peanut-butter pie suffered by comparison, but only because the drop-dead rich, decadent and sinfully delicious taco almost made going back to the room unnecessary.
We did anyway, and awakened the next morning eagerly anticipating Sunday brunch. This turned out to be a huge draw for both hotel guests and large groups of locals, an à la carte affair that suffered only from its popularity, which seemed to tax the staff and made for sketchy service. But the orange juice ($2.50) was fresh-squeezed, and although we were too late to sample the inn's popular cinnamon rolls, they got rave reviews.
Because so many egg preparations lend themselves to the ingredients that distinguish Southwestern cooking -- chiles, cheese, avocado, onions, green peppers, spicy meats -- we had a tough time picking out our entrees. The mesa breakfast burrito ($6.50) stuffed a flour tortilla with a well-proportioned mix of scrambled eggs, that pepper-fired jack cheese, onions, green pepper and avocado. Although the menu promised that the burrito would arrive "smothered," it was topped by just a few spoonfuls of the mild green, perhaps to keep the gringos from running scared; when we asked for a bowl on the side, our request was cheerfully granted. The chicken quesadilla ($7.75) was light on goat cheese, but contained enough pepper jack to hold the small chunks of grilled chicken inside the flour tortillas. And while we would have liked more of the fresh, flavorful black bean salsa and pico de gallo, there was plenty of the Texmati rice, a slightly chewy, tasty grain that's rightfully gaining in popularity in area restaurants.
We lingered over brunch, but never saw the couple from the night before. The Table Mountain Inn and its restaurant make for such a great getaway, though, that I'll bet they're still there.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.