Eco-Eats Along Colorado’s Fall Color Trail

A waitress serves organic meals at Eco-Goddess restaurant in Carbondale, CO.

After a morning ogling the golden aspen along western Colorado’s West Elk Loop Scenic Byway—going from Crested Butte over Kebler Pass and McClure Pass—Ken and I were ready for refreshment. We stopped in Carbondale, another former mining town that has been transformed into a lovely place to visit.

Among the shops and restaurants on its lively Main Street is Eco-Goddess All-Organic Cuisine, a casual restaurant that serves top-notch, local-ingredient entrees, desserts—and even organic wines, beers and cocktails.

The menu of this airy, colorful eatery is comprised of 95 percent organic ingredients—and a great deal of the food is sourced from local farms. Many recipes are named after deities from ancient religions. The salads alone—the Demeter, the Isis, and the Kwan Yin—display serious goddess power, including the freshest of veggies.

The Paonia Frittata at Eco-Goddess

I ordered the Atira (named for the Pawnee Earth Mother), a wonderful house-made pesto and mozzarella sandwich served on whole-grain focaccia bread. Ken chose a robust vegetable soup with Goddess Cornbread, made with stone-ground corn and mild green chiles for moistness.

While we waited for our meal to come, we read the back of the Eco-Goddess menu, which lists the origins of the ingredients: vegetables from several Carbondale farms, eggs from Paonia and Hotchkiss, goat cheese from Basalt, honey from Parachute.

There’s no meat on the menu—only eco-safe wild salmon from Alaska. Many entrees are vegan or gluten-free, so pretty much everybody’s dietary preferences are represented here. And don’t worry: the desserts may be organic but they’re tasty. Who wouldn’t love an Aphrodite Carrot Cupcake, a Goddess Bomb (cream-cheese frosting sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies), or a vegan and gluten-free Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle?

The juice bar serves all-organic specialties such as the Pan, which contains beets, cucumbers, celery, lemon and ginger.

I grooved on the vibe at Eco-Goddess—where the walls are painted with murals of dancing divines. And there’s plenty to love about the restaurant’s commitment to the environment. All food scraps are fed to chickens down the road, to-go containers are compostable, and the restaurant strives for zero-waste.

In short, the food here is, well, heavenly.

Other green places to stay and gnosh along the West Elk Loop include the Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn and a number of local-food and natural restaurants in Crested Butte.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photos courtesy Eco-Goddess

Whet Your Alpine Appetite in Crested Butte, CO

Crested Butte, a small town (elevation 8,880 feet), is an outdoorsy town with excellent food. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

For a tiny mountain town, Crested Butte, Colorado, has a fabulous range of dining options: from healthy fast food, to sizzling bar food, to gourmet restaurants. There’s also variety: from great ethnic food to contemporary America cuisine to Rocky Mountain specialties featuring local elk, buffalo, lamb and more.

And, I truly appreciate that so many of the restaurants (at least the ones I’ve been to) make an effort to source food from the Rocky Mountain region. That’s so important in helping us minimize the carbon footprint of food production. (Especially in a mountain resort town where almost all the food has to be brought in from somewhere else.)

Here are a few of the Crested Butte restaurants I’ve sampled:

The Secret Stash

My favorite pizza joint: Secret Stash Pizza Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

I’ve actually searched for excuses to visit this paragon of pizza two nights in a row. It’s that good! Come to dinner early to avoid the crowds, but if you do encounter lines (very common!), rest assured it’s worth the wait. Order a drink, relax and spend the time mulling over whether to try the Asher’s Pie (barbecue sauce and chipotle base, shredded cheddar cheese, Canadian bacon, grilled chicken) or the 2007 World Championship Pizza Winner, The Notorious F.I.G. (blend of mozzarella, blue and asiago cheeses; prosciutto; fresh figs; drizzle of truffle oil.)

Ginger Café

Amidst an eclectic Asian atmosphere, Ginger Café serves both Thai and Indian entrees made with local, fresh produce and meats. My Indian korma was a little on the spicy side, but it was easy to cool down with a smooth, fruity mango lassi drink. And the Thai Fried Rice is flavorful with crisp veggies.

The Last Steep sign with Mt. Crested Butte in the background. Photo: The Last Steep

The Last Steep

The beach goes high-altitude at this super-casual eatery, named after a beloved ski run on the mountain.

The Last Steep’s surfer/reggae atmosphere epitomizes Crested Butte’s laid-back vibe.

Tasty fish tacos + crisp salads + jerk chicken sandwiches = yum!

Pitas in Paradise

I adore the hummus, baba ghanoush and gyros at this place, and it has a lovely patio for outdoor dining. Though Pitas in Paradise is inexpensively priced, the restaurateurs still pay attention to fresh produce—local when possible.

Camp 4 Coffee

License plates decorate the exterior of Camp 4 Coffee. Photo: Camp 4 Coffee

A must visit!! Even if you’re staying at a B&B that serves coffee with your breakfast, you owe it to yourself to visit this funky, license-plate-decorated coffee shop sometime during the day. (There are locations both in town and in the Mt. Crested Butte village.) They’re both great spots to rub elbows with the locals and interesting visitors. And, there’s chai, cocoa and tea in case you’re coffee’ed out. (Nah…that can never happen!) Camp 4 Coffee invests 5 percent of its profits to local nonprofits, including The Crested Butte Hut System, which builds backcountry facilities such as solar composting toilets, picnic tables and benches, storm shelters, destination huts, and trail networks within Gunnison County.

Mountain Earth Whole Food Grocer

Stock up on picnic supplies at this natural foods store in downtown right across from Camp 4 Coffee. This is the place for super-healthy and organic selections.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Say Goodbye to the Grump during Crested Butte’s Vinotok Festival

The Green Man at the Crested Butte Vinotok festival. Photo courtesy GCBTA.

For years I’ve been hearing about a cool fall festival called Vinotok, held in Crested Butte, Colorado, a quaint and hip mountain town. This year was my chance to enjoy the golden aspen leaves and this annual celebration of the summer harvest and autumn equinox. (Vinotok is a Slovenian word for “fall wine festival.”)

In Europe as well as in America’s Rocky Mountains, Vinotok is a time of village feasting, of forgetting the woes of yesterday, and honoring traditional Eastern European roots.

In the Crested Butte community, Vinotok is a big deal! Ken and I were there for the last two days, but the revelry had been going all week: wreath-making at the farmer’s market; entertainment by local musicians and poets; storytelling events; Liar’s Night, a time for tall tales, whoppers and adventure stories; the crowning of the Green Man, a symbol of virility and the promise of returning spring; and a Community Feast featuring regionally harvested dishes.

The Big Night

On Saturday night, the last evening of Vinotok, things really got exciting. All that day, I saw people cutting aspen boughs and riding back to town with them on their bikes. At 5:30 I found out why. Locals dressed as medieval characters paraded down the streets, their heads ringed with fresh flower or leaf wreaths. They carried banners, flags and torches; the shirtless Green Man was decorated in body paint. As they danced down the streets, groups of these characters stopped into restaurants, sang harvest songs, and invited everyone to attend the evening’s festivities.

Revelers parade through Crested Butte's streets. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Even people who weren’t with the official parade wore costumes or wreaths in their hair. The evening was starting to feel like a Renaissance Faire.

At 7:30, as darkness fell, a crowd formed around a stage in front of The Eldo saloon on Crested Butte’s main street. At 8:00, a drama honoring the cycles of nature was enacted on the stage. I couldn’t see much because there were thousands of people gathered, but apparently there were characters such as the Harvest Mother (a very pregnant woman from town); and the Earth Dragon, representing nature, who battled with Sir Hapless, the symbol of technology. There was much talk about restoring balance—an appropriate theme for equinox, a time for planetary equilibrium.

In addition, the Red Lady appeared—a human personification of Mt. Emmons (better known as the Red Lady), the red-rock peak that shelters the town of Crested Butte. The drama’s narrator made an impassioned plea for protecting the Red Lady from a proposed molybdenum mine opposed by many in the community.

Vinotok participants serenade diners at the Ginger Café. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Burn The Grump

Finally, there was a trial for The Grump, a 20-foot-tall effigy and sacrificial scapegoat for the discordance between nature and technology. All of us in the crowd delighted in finding The Grump guilty, and we screamed “Burn The Grump!”

Then thousands of people poured down Elk Avenue to the town crossroads where a huge bonfire was erected. Into the flames went The Grump; he exploded with a few fireworks.

Now here’s the best part: Weeks before this celebration, local kids made “Grump boxes,” which were set around town. Townspeople write down their “grumps,” grievances they want to forget so they can move into the new season with a clean slate. These thoughts are then stuffed inside The Grump. As The Grump goes up in flames, so does everybody’s complaints.

The bonfire that engulfs The Grump. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

We newcomers had a chance to participate too. Ken and I each wrote down our grievances on little pieces of paper. Then Ken handed them to a Fire Maiden who danced close enough to enormous bonfire to throw them in.

I was impressed to see earnest boys jotting down their grumps. One teenage girl asked to borrow a pen so she could write hers. It was great to see all generations participating wholeheartedly in Vinotok. On the other hand, the event attracted a huge number of college-age revelers more interested in heavy drinking than Eastern European heritage. Well, I suppose over-imbibing is a centuries-old tradition as well.

As I felt the heat from the bonfire flames on my cheeks, I watched the sparks spewing from the fire and floating into the sky.

Farewell grumpy thoughts. Hello autumn!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For more info on future Vinotok festivals, check the Gunnison–Crested Butte Tourism Association.

Colorado’s Crested Butte Struts Its Fall Foliage

No wonder Colorado's state colors are blue and gold. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Last weekend (September 23–25), Ken and I headed up to our favorite mountain area: Crested Butte, Colorado. We’ve been there for powder days in winter and wildflower fireworks in summer, but autumn had some sizzle in store for us.

I’m usually verbose on these posts, but this time I thought I’d let the photos do the talking. All I can say is that it’s worth the five-and-a-half-hour drive from Boulder to get to this Shangri-la of the Rockies.

Kebler Pass, just above Crested Butte, boasts the largest aspen grove in the state, but in most spots the aspen hadn’t yet started to change colors. There were a few breathtaking vistas on Kebler Pass,  but I think the first week of October should be insanely gorgeous there.

The Castle spires as seen from Ohio Creek Road. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can take Ohio Creek Road from Gunnison to Crested Butte. (You can also get to Ohio Creek Road from Kebler Pass.) One great reward is seeing the Castle Mountains from that  road.

Ken cycled along the road to Gothic, a mountain town above Crested Butte. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

View from Gothic Road. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

The road up to Gothic displayed some pretty impressive foliage. We were among the many cars that kept pulling over to the edge to snap photos.

Aspen flanking Gothic Road near Crested Butte. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

For tips on scenic mountain drives around Crested Butte, visit the Gunnison–Crested Butte Tourism Association.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance leaf-peeper

P.S. Leave a comment below reporting on your favorite fall scenery.