A spirit of possibility pervades the place. Independence, too, and aren’t those the traits that have linked all of us drawn to this high desert over the generations? Here, restaurant formalities have been cast aside. You seat yourself, inside or outside, at the bar or in the cider garden, with people you know or ones you soon will, sharing rustic, wide-plank tables that seat sixteen and encourage conversation. You build your own flight from the two dozen or so cider varieties on offer, swapping notes with neighbors about the dry one that reminds you of Champagne, the offbeat crowd-pleaser with chiles and guava. You order when you want to, leaving your table to stand in line at the bar or at the counter, where the smell of wood smoke is the strongest, given the proximity to the primary heat source that cooks the food. Sometimes lines get so long that you decide not to get up again to order cider doughnuts, because you don’t want to interrupt the good time you’re having. Your loss: They’re terrific — not too sweet, laced with bits of apple, ready to be dunked in thick cider glaze.
Sausages were available by the link but best enjoyed as a set: fine-grained Berkshire pork, venison-port, bacon-cheddar bratwurst and bison-green chile with a low rumble of heat. Like everything else whisked out of the kitchen, they were served simply, on a rimmed baking sheet over paper with a little pot of cider sauerkraut.
Burgers also kept coming out, and with good reason. Double-pattied, with cheddar and a sweet smear of onion jam, they fit the down-home ambience and smacked of summer’s grill. Spare ribs were equally popular, smoked and braised until well rendered, leaving fat strands of meat that could hardly stay on the bone. The meat was crackly edged, with a sticky glaze hinting of apples and baking spices. If the kitchen wanted to ditch the menu and pare down to ribs alone, these could certainly sustain the place.
But farmhouse wasn’t part of the original plan. “We’d gotten a little off-track,” says Stem Ciders co-founder/CEO Eric Foster, who opened a RiNo taproom in 2014 and worked with big-name consulting chefs like Kelly Whitaker and Daniel Asher to roll out the restaurant in February.
I’ve seen a draft of the new menu and it looks reassuringly like the current one at Acreage, only better: more family-style proteins, a continued focus on local and seasonal vegetables, and more explicit nods to Basque country in ingredients and verbiage while still paying tribute to Colorado. Why Basque? Because cider has a long history in that region, which straddles Spain and France. There still won’t be pintxos or an abundance of seafood, but such fan faves as the sausages, ribs and burger will remain. So will a version of the whole Colorado bass that I had last month, which drew wows when it was set before us, stuffed with long rosemary sprigs and mounded with roasted fingerlings. “Are you going to eat the eyeball?” asked a woman waiting nearby, half awed and half grossed out.
Another impetus for the impending change is volume. Before Acreage opened, the team wondered if they’d have to put up banners along the stretch of winding road to help people find the restaurant. That first Saturday, the kitchen served a whopping thousand guests, and business hasn’t let up since. Volume translates to long lines; it also causes the busy kitchen to send out partially cooked dishes and salads without dressing. So the emphasis on large-format items makes sense. Still, the menu change is gutsy, since this one is clearly a crowd-pleaser.
Stone Barns Center in New York. The long-term vision for this twelve-acre campus includes an apple orchard, a vegetable plot and grazing animals.
Also up for discussion is the counter-service setup. “We’re definitely discussing if this model is right for us, right for Colorado,” Foster says. “We’re putting a lot of thought into it.”
But while they’re doing the thinking, there’s plenty of cider to drink, many ribs, sausages and doughnuts to eat. Besides, that storm has cleared, leaving a pink hue over the mountains that shouldn’t be missed.
Acreage is located at 1380 Horizon Avenue in Lafayette. It's open from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 720-443-3007, acreageco.com.
Select menu items:
Cast-iron cornbread $4
Whole bass $35
Spare ribs 3/$13
Sausage $5 each
Cider doughnuts $6