A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style

There are many benefits to traveling off-season besides the obvious: missing the huge crowds and the elevated prices. When you visit a town in its off-season travel, you get a rare chance to really get to know the locals, and hang out like they do. Normally, when you’re looking for restaurant, a crowded parking lot is a good sign that there is good food, if you’re willing to wait. But on this particular day in Ouray, Colorado, I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to the restaurant with the empty tables.

I was greeted at the door of The Silver Nugget by a huge black dog wagging his tail at me, and a cowboy reading the newspaper in the corner. He told me I didn’t need to be scared of the dog, which I wasn’t anyway and we were the only folks in the whole place. Turns out the cowboy was the proprietor and the cook and the waiter on this particular weekday in Ouray, before the full ski season hit and many while businesses were on vacation.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 037 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
I decided to get the front here breakfast just because of the something different: your basic eggs and hash browns but with an Idaho rainbow trout on the side instead of bacon and sausage. As my cowboy friend went into the kitchen to cook my breakfast, I walked around the restaurant snapping photos and chatting with him about the town. I make no secret that this is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and a must do travel destination if you like small towns and like to mix with real people who are friendly and welcome visitors. This place is no exception.

When he served up my breakfast, he chastised the dog to stay away. As if. When the cowboy cook went back to the kitchen to busy himself, my canine friend trotted back up and sat there patiently begging the whole time, hoping I would drop a little fish or some eggs either accidentally or on purpose.

On purpose, in this case. How could I resist a face like that?

OurayRidgewayJan2013 030 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
The Silver Nugget is right on the main drag in downtown Ouray, Colorado, and if you do decide to make a visit, make sure you bring cash because they don’t take debit cards. prices are reasonable and you can get a wide variety of old-fashioned hearty breakfasts or a Gravalanche of yogurt, fruit and granola. Later in the day, try a burger or veggie sandwich, or even pizza.

The food is tasty, and the company is friendly without a long wait, not that you should be in a hurry anyway. At least if you hit it at the right time, during off season.

There are many benefits to traveling off-season besides the obvious: missing the huge crowds and the elevated prices. When you visit a town in its off-season travel, you get a rare chance to really get to know the locals, and hang out like they do. Normally, when you’re looking for restaurant, a crowded parking lot is a good sign that there is good food, if you’re willing to wait. But on this particular day in Ouray, Colorado, I just didn’t feel like waiting, so I went to the restaurant with the empty tables.

I was greeted at the door of The Silver Nugget by a huge black dog wagging his tail at me, and a cowboy reading the newspaper in the corner. He told me I didn’t need to be scared of the dog, which I wasn’t anyway and we were the only folks in the whole place. Turns out the cowboy was the proprietor and the cook and the waiter on this particular weekday in Ouray, before the full ski season hit and many while businesses were on vacation.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 037 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
I decided to get the front here breakfast just because of the something different: your basic eggs and hash browns but with an Idaho rainbow trout on the side instead of bacon and sausage. As my cowboy friend went into the kitchen to cook my breakfast, I walked around the restaurant snapping photos and chatting with him about the town. I make no secret that this is one of my favorite towns in Colorado, and a must do travel destination if you like small towns and like to mix with real people who are friendly and welcome visitors. This place is no exception.

When he served up my breakfast, he chastised the dog to stay away. As if. When the cowboy cook went back to the kitchen to busy himself, my canine friend trotted back up and sat there patiently begging the whole time, hoping I would drop a little fish or some eggs either accidentally or on purpose.

On purpose, in this case. How could I resist a face like that?

OurayRidgewayJan2013 030 A cowboy breakfast, Colorado style
The Silver Nugget is right on the main drag in downtown Ouray, Colorado, and if you do decide to make a visit, make sure you bring cash because they don’t take debit cards. prices are reasonable and you can get a wide variety of old-fashioned hearty breakfasts or a Gravalanche of yogurt, fruit and granola. Later in the day, try a burger or veggie sandwich, or even pizza.

The food is tasty, and the company is friendly without a long wait, not that you should be in a hurry anyway. At least if you hit it at the right time, during off season.

The Ol’ Hitchin’ Post

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I’m currently on travel assignment in Norwood, Colorado, where I have been hanging out for four weeks till they can move me to the town where my client actually lives, about 20 miles away. The reason I am here instead of there is because they had to squeeze me in where they could between this and their other hotel during their busy season.

No, it’s not Thanksgiving yet. Nor is Halloween the big season. We’re talking something far more sacred in this neck of the woods at this time of year…. hunting season.

I’ve spent the last four weeks in Motel Man Cave, as pretty much the only female in a sea of testosterone and camouflage. And a dumpster full of beer cans and Swiss Cake Roll boxes.

They thought they were going to be able to move me today, but the current resident in what is about to be my room is staying one more night. So now I’m stuck here in Season Two of the “Motel Man Cave” series… Elk Season. Our new batch of contestants like to sit outside and smoke cigars outside my open windows, and discuss the various merits of different truck tires, and bass vs. trout vs. crappy.

Fascinating. *COUGH*

So I decided to go out to eat. Now on any given day, my options are limited to about six options. On Mondays and Tuesdays, that number goes down due to certain restaurants taking their day off between those two days. The town’s high end Lone Cone and the artsy live music venue Two Candles were both closed, so I decided to go with the Hitchin’ Post Cowboy Saloon. I’d read reviews a lot of locals hang there, but also less than kind reviews of the food.

The latter factored heavily in my decision when I saw the special was meatloaf. I love meatloaf… GOOD meatloaf, and I knew if I was really going to embrace the “adventure” of going local that was the choice. But seeing the handful of people present for dinner, and imagining it being even slower during the day, I was picturing that meatloaf sitting around stewing all day.

I went with the half pound burger.

They caution you to be patient, because they do make their burgers to order and that half pound slab takes a while. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, and they make a very respectable burger. It has a strong flame-broiled flavor, like a super-size whopper but not dripping with mayo and ketchup. They had options of cottage cheese, soup or tater tots instead of fries, but I went with the onion rings. Your basic frozen rings, which is what I would normally expect in a small town restaurant, but was hoping for homemade due the generally very high quality of food I’ve run into in the small towns here.

But the burger and rings were certainly acceptable, but then I decided to go with dessert, as apple and cherry pie were the daily dessert special.

Saying it’s special and being special are two very different things I’m afraid. There’s no other way to describe it but bad. Certainly not homemade, with a un-browned, limp top crust. It was served room temperature and my ice cream was covered with chocolate sauce.

Huh?

As I sat there mentally critiquing it in my best Alex Guarnaschelli, try-to-be-diplomatic imitation, I found a whole new appreciation for how kind those culinary judges can be sometimes.

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The restaurant and bar is huge, and there is a nook where the waitress stand is stocked with coffee cups, steak sauce… and the most craptastic western cowboy mural in town. I’m guessing this place must be hoppin’ at breakfast time, and even though it wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, I definitely need to try their biscuits and gravy, one of my favs.

But if it fails like that apple pie, no more Mr. Nice Guy. I’ll channel British food writer and Iron Chef judge Simon Majumdar — that guy’s the Simon Cowell of the culinary world.

Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

When people think of Colorado ski country, they usually think Aspen, Vail, Telluride… all the rich folks’ places. And if you have deep pockets, those places can be great. But here are a couple of gems close to Telluride where you can stay and eat a whole lot cheaper, and mix with a bunch of laid-back everyday folks. I’m talking the small towns of Ouray (Your-ay) and Ridgway.

About 10 miles separate these two places, and they both offer a taste of how the locals in Colorado live. In general, I’ve found locals in both towns friendly, they love the great outdoors all year round, good, local beer, and good food in varieties you don’t normally see in such small towns. I mean, sushi and Thai food — very good Thai food — in a town of less than 1,000?

Get outta here!

Let’s start with that. Ridgway has a wonderful Thai and sushi restaurant that would easily hold its own in any major metro area. I’m sorry to say I have no photos of Thai Paradise’s food, because I was having one of my weird shy moments about taking photos when I dined in, and got takeout the other times I was there during my stay. (Most of the time I’m oblivious to what people think, but I have my moments.)

The restaurant is very small and quiet, and there was no way not to overhear a couple of women discussing their massage therapy classes. There is a sort of New-Agey, holistic vibe, but not in an obnoxious way like some cities I’ve been to (*COUGH*Sedona*COUGH*). They also have their own art district, which must be pretty much the whole town, and moonwalk art events during the full moon. I’m telling you, this is a very livable small town if you want to get away from it all yet keep some culture and cool things.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 015 Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

You’ve also got the True Grit Cafe amongst other pubs, as much of the John Wayne classic was filmed here. Other notable celebrity ties include Dennis Weaver, who made his home here and has a park named after him with hiking trails. With Telluride 39 miles away, you’re still close enough to hit the slopes there.

I didn’t much time there, with the lure of Ouray close by, but it’s definitely on my list of places to return to. And I’ll get some photos of that yummy Thai food next time, promise.

OurayRidgewayJan2013 050 Hooray for Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado

Tucked into the mountains is Ouray, dubbed the “Switzerland of America.” Ouray has less than 1,000 locals as well, but they pack a lot of fun and variety into that small number. I’ve already sung the praises of O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, and you can find plenty of local microbrews on the rooftop patio at the Ouray Brewing Company in warmer weather, or grab a swing at the bar. (Yes, the bar has swings instead of barstools.) The big claim to fame in Ouray is the sulfur-free hot springs, and you can partake in huge hot springs pool in town. (See the top photo.)

The whole area is filled with off-road 4-WD tours, hiking, mine tours, historic architecture, pubs and great restaurants, but Ouray is also known for its Ice Park, where winter visitors can scale a huge frozen waterfall of ice.

The whole Ouray/Ridgway area is so awesomely livable, it would be a serious contender for a permanent home if I could ever settle down in one place.  I can’t wait to go back in the spring to see it then, and finish touring the sights.

Mmmm… Happy Belly, indeed

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If you’re one of those people who think small town cafes mean frozen beef patty hamburgers and onion rings, Happy Belly Deli in Norwood, Colorado will definitely redefine small town cuisine for you.

The restaurant is also a bakery and coffee house, but forget any vision of pretentious open mike nights and all-vegan bohemian staff. The menu boasts a variety of healthy – and not so healthy, in a good way – dishes that cover any diner or group.

Opening at 6:30 am (5:30 am during hunting season), you can start with breakfast in the colorful dining area, where local artists display their work. They have some fancy mixes of espresso and teas, but for a good ol’ cup of joe, it’s self-served family style by the ordering counter. There’s a daily special, but also a choice of breakfast bowls and sandwiches that make great to-go items.

And that egg, cheese and meat sandwich on a homemade croissant… ooh-la-la, that puts Burger King to shame (not that that’s hard, but you get what I’m saying.) I go pepper jack on the cheese for a little southwestern spicy kick and extra crispy bacon… yeah, it’s not good for you, but it hurts so good, right?

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The dining room is sunny and warm, with shades of green and orange.

The Benny breakfast bowl seems to be a popular favorite, which features the usual eggs and potatoes, but has a hollandaise sauce thrown in the mix. I was going to get that on my last trip, but confess I got sidetracked by the daily special – an omelet with cheese, bacon and carmelized onions.

Likewise, you can grab a single serving quiche fresh from the oven, or a selection of pastries and huge muffins overflowing their wrapper. And they always have a gluten-free option if you need one.

Now, when you move to lunch, things get a little healthier, thank goodness, or this whole town would be dead or on the heart transplant list.

The chicken pesto sandwich is tasty, stuffed with chicken, of course, and cream cheese, pesto, tomatoes and sprouts. There are vegetarian options, if needed, such as the Mediterranean roll: hummus, feta cheese, carrots, pepper rings, olives, cucumbers, lettuce and Greek dressing in a whole wheat wrap.

The food is very good, but even better is the friendly ambience, and the local hang out here. I’ve witnessed conversations from ballroom dancing to the counter gal asking a customer if his house was unlocked so she could go by and take a look at it, as she was thinking of renting it after he moved. And of course, it was.

That is a conversation you’ll only hear in a town of 400 or so.

If you’re passing through Norwood, Colorado, stop by the Happy Belly Deli – before 3pm when they close – and give yourself a happy belly, indeed.

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The egg, bacon and cheese croissant. Take that Burger King.