The Bite

Telluride may have more publications per capita than any other place on Earth. It may also have more tender egos. And when the magazine 8750 (named for the town's altitude) entered the crowded market back in January, it immediately carved out a niche for itself by running restaurant reviews that sliced and diced local institutions.

By this spring, Telluride tempers had flared so high that the May magazine contented itself with running letters about the food critic, rather than any new reviews. "Congratulations on having the guts to print real restaurant reviews in your magazine," wrote a reader. "At last, honest reviews of Telluride eateries. We love most of the places in Telluride, but nothing is ever perfect," said one couple. Wrote another fan, "I suppose the heat in the kitchen can be pretty hot when providing an honest opinion of restaurants in a small tourist town, but a good dose of honesty never hurt anyone, so keep those reviews coming."

During the one-month hiatus, locals had plenty of time to speculate as to the identity of the acid-penned anonymous reviewer. "Oh, we all know who it is, and she has her nerve," said one.

Nerve he/she has, and plenty of opinions, too. "At Bluepoint, which I reviewed in June, the blue-plate special with meatloaf is $19," the reviewer says. "I bet you could scour the United States and not find another dish involving meatloaf at that price." And plenty of other Telluride restaurants take advantage of a captive market of tourists -- which includes Front Range residents who'll be flocking up there now that the festival season is in full swing -- by charging huge amounts for mediocre food and sometimes "hostile" service, he/she adds.

"At least we've broken ground by writing something honest," the reviewer continues. "I never dreamed that they would create any controversy. Our publications here just have a policy of praise only, so people have flipped over the smallest things." Like, for instance, saying one of the seven restaurants reviewed in June serves the equivalent of dog food? And that was much nicer than an earlier critique of Baked in Telluride (notable for its "hockey puck chocolate chip cookies"), which inspired that establishment to trash copies of the free magazine.The backlash has been so strong, in fact, that a realtor recently pulled his full-page ad from the magazine; whenever he took a client out for a business lunch, an angry restaurateur would browbeat him for supporting the publication. "I have to be able to eat out in peace," he told 8750's publisher, Matthew McEvoy.

Still, the magazine's reviewer isn't anonymous because he/she fears for his/her life, but because in Telluride just about everyone knows everyone else. "So we won't get preferential treatment," the reviewer explains. "It's a quandary in a small town. I'd be glad to have my name on it, but then when I walk in a restaurant, I wouldn't get standard service."

Or the sort of service, perhaps, that the Daily Planet suggested the 8750 reviewer -- "a sharp-tongued princess," the Telluride daily guessed -- might deserve: irate restaurateurs spitting in the food.

Chef and tell: Closer to town, The Fort will be celebrating its fortieth birthday next February, and the Morrison eatery -- a replica of the original Bent's Fort that specializes in "food and drink of the Early West" -- is already sprucing up for the big day. Founder Sam Arnold (who's now in partnership with his daughter, Holly Kinney) has hired a new executive chef, David Woolley, who apprenticed at DisneyWorld, fed his interest in Southwestern cooking while working at two Santa Fe restaurants and went on to own the Antero Grill in Salida. Woolley is also almost as much of a talker as is Arnold. The pair meet every Monday to talk over recipes, and many of those recipes have made it onto the Fort's new menu. Gone are some of the old favorites (a chicken soup known as "The Bowl of Kit Carson's Wife," for example), with many new items joining the lineup. These include an achiote-marinated Texas Wild Boar Chop and Washtunkala Cast Iron Kettle, a stew made of buffalo and elk.

As Arnold would say, reciting the mountain man's traditional toast: Waugh!

The four-year-old Rialto Cafe (934 16th Street) recently acquired a new chef, too: Theo Rock (formerly of Dazzle, 980 Lincoln Street). But the Rialto didn't wait for Rock to tie on his apron before it debuted some new summer dishes with "a strong focus on fresh, local ingredients and artistic preparations," according to general manager Al Neighbors. Although such chi-chi numbers as Grilled Chicken Chevre with Haystack Mountain goat cheese have been added, Rialto is still serving its signature favorites, including Steak and Shrimp Diane.

There's no place like home: It looks like High Tide Grill (The Bite, June 6) will be taking over the pricey outside pod that has been home to Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, a fresh-grill concept that just never took off at Park Meadows. Inside the alleged "retail resort," Alcatraz, a brewpub with an inane prison theme, also fell flat, as did the ambitious pub at Nordstrom. The sole surviving eatery indoors -- aside from the massive food court, of course -- is a California Cafe. (Bella Ristorante, an Italian establishment that got its start in LoDo, had opened an outpost inside Park Meadows; that restaurant has since relocated to 8770 East Arapahoe Road in Englewood, and the LoDo Bella gave up altogether.)

Outside the center, diners still have their choice of chains: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, California Pizza Kitchen, Champps Americana Restaurant, Earl's Restaurant and PF Chang's. In that company, a fresh-seafood place owned by a local outfit should be quite a catch. High Tide's target opening date is July 9.

Petra's is still hoping to reopen -- sometime, somewhere. When Petra Barnes moved her Cajun/Creole eatery out of Cherry Creek North, she planned to relocate to the clubhouse at Denver's City Park Golf Course. When the clubhouse celebrated its grand opening this week, though, the featured eatery was Bogey's, not Petra's. The attempt to move into the city-owned facility "was an interesting conundrum," Barnes says politely. "We're waiting and looking."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun