A taste of the Old West, history lesson included

Colorado’s SaddleRidge boasts rich food, museum-worthy artifacts

By Lisa Zwirn
Globe Correspondent / March 17, 2010

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AVON, Colo. — No one goes to a ski resort to visit a museum, do they?

But after a day of pushing snow around at Beaver Creek resort, dinner at its baronial SaddleRidge restaurant rewards you not only with a good meal and views of the mountain, but also with a look at one of the largest private collections of Old West artifacts not in a museum.

SaddleRidge was built in 1987 as an executive retreat by Shearson Lehman Brothers at a spare-no-expense price tag of $27 million. The interior was designed by the late Naomi Leff of New York, who also created the flagship Ralph Lauren store in Manhattan.

When the high-flying 1980s gave way to the belt-tightening ’90s, the property was sold to Vail Resorts Inc. Today, SaddleRidge comprises a handful of privately owned residences, a members’ lodge, and the restaurant, open for dinner during the winter season (first weekend in December through first week of April) and for weddings and private events all year long.

The menu created by executive sous-chef Adam Roth is that of a steakhouse with a Southwestern twang. Appetizers ($7-$9) include barbecue-glazed quail, smoked-duck quesadilla, and a Southwest-style chopped salad. Entrees ($24-$37) include brown-sugar-glazed pork chop with chipotle-pineapple mustard, herb-crusted rack of lamb with mint chimichurri, and Rocky Mountain trout (from Idaho) stuffed with crabmeat and served with browned butter. For game eaters, there’s buffalo prime rib and grilled venison chop. The bread basket holds tender little corn muffins served with chipotle-honey butter.

As with a steakhouse menu, the sides are separate from the entrees, but two are included in the price of the meal. Smoked-cheddar mac and cheese is rich and creamy, as is the green-chili polenta. Twice-baked potatoes, creamed spinach, and cauliflower gratin are the standard crowd-pleasers. An expanded children’s menu, which has attracted more families, features four entrees including roast chicken and grilled cheese and a choice of sides, such as buttered pasta and mashed potatoes. For dessert, the kids get a chocolate chip cookie and vanilla ice cream sundae.

Well-prepared food and accommodating service are only half the story. The dining room itself is stunning. Made from a rich brown butternut wood and with a vaulted post-and-beam-style ceiling, the grand room feels both elegant and rustic. Nine chandeliers — cast at a local ironworks from railroad turntable wheels and each weighing about 1,000 pounds — disperse a warm yellowish glow.

Heads of elk, caribou, mountain goat, and bison look out from the walls. Draped over a stair railing is the furry hide and head of what is purported to be the largest brown bear killed in Eagle County until 1989. Above the dining room’s wood-burning fireplace is a portrait of Chief Red Cloud taken by Edward S. Curtis, who was renowned for his photographs of the West and Native Americans.

Indians and cowboys are a theme throughout the property. The library and the Larkspur Room hold the majority of artifacts and photographs and it’s worth asking for a tour. Treasures include a portrait of horse and Indian taken by Roland Reed, a gold-tone Native American portrait (circa 1895) by Curtis, and a piece of Marie and Julian black-on-black Pueblo pottery. There’s a hat and canteen belonging to General George A. Custer and a Wells Fargo-style wooden desk that traveled with Buffalo Bill for his Wild West shows.

Native American items include two chiefs’ headdresses, pipes, a tomahawk, beaded bags and moccasins, and arrowheads. Authentic sheriff badges, old guns, a pair of cowboy boots, and photographs of rodeos are also on display. Children will have fun playing with a 19th-century slot machine, shooting pool on an antique billiard table, and checking out the music in the 1930s jukebox.

This unexpected slope-side collection of reminders of the historical West shouldn’t be missed.

SaddleRidge, 44 Meadow Lane, Avon, Colo., 970-754-5456 (-5455), (click on The Resort, then Dining)

SaddleRidge restaurant With rich butternut wood, a vaulted post-and-beam-style ceiling, nine chandeliers, and grand mountain views, Beaver Creek's SaddleRidge restaurant feels both elegant and rustic. (Ric Stovall)