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When chef Matt Vawter left Mercantile Dining & Provision in 2020 and moved to Breckenridge to open Rootstalk, he was coming home. And, in doing so, he was on a mission to bring the hallmarks of big-city dining to the mountain town.
Vawter grew up in Keystone, attended Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute at Keystone, and worked at a number of local spots before his mentor, Breckenridge chef Matt Fackler, encouraged him to move to Denver and seek a position at Fruition Restaurant. Fackler recognized Vawter’s talent and he knew Vawter needed to leave town to develop it.
In the the 15 years since, Vawter rose up the ranks of Fruition, helped open Mercantile, was Mercantile’s executive chef when chef-owner Alex Seidel won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest, and now owns Rootstalk and the newly opened Radicato in Breck. He’s also a hometown hero who is deeply ingrained and invested in the Breckenridge community. (Both of his restaurants’ names refer to being rooted.) In honor of ski season—Breck opens today, and A-Basin and Keystone have been open for a few weeks—we asked Vawter to share, in no particular order, his favorite Summit County eats.
“I go because of [owner] Tetsuo Shimoda’s sourcing. He still has all his connections from Japan, and the fish selection is fun and ever-changing. The last time I was there, he had uni from Japan and Santa Barbara and we did a tasting. I was surprised because I preferred the one from Santa Barbara—it was clean and fresh. It’s the only place in a long time where I can remember tasting uni as fresh while being landlocked.” 500 S. Main St, Breckenridge, 970-453-1502
“Radicato is so close that we go a good amount of time for the poke bowls, Spam musubi, and tiki drinks. We do takeout and also dine in. My son smashes the spam musubi—he calls Castaways ‘the Spam restaurant.’” 100 S. Park Avenue, Unit C102, Breckenridge, 970-453-3929
“It’s always a game-time decision because Bird Craft, [located in Outer Range Brewing Company], is in Frisco, and I kind of go nuts because I don’t make it over there much. I like their bowls and the fried chicken sandwich and I love Outer Range beer. My wife usually gets a hazy IPA and I get a Belgium and we’ll share. We always have an Outer Range IPA on tap at Rootstalk.” 182 Lusher Ct., Frisco, 970-455-8392
“In the breakfast realm, I really like Semplice. The owners are Michelle (who is vegan) and Jamie (who is vegetarian) and they make real food in a really small space. It’s a creative little menu: seven to eight breakfast burritos, a few panini breakfast sandwiches, and three to four smoothies. They do lunch too. It’s basically next door to Rootstalk and I like to support the neighborhood. I always get the Green Dragon smoothie with spirulina, oats, peanut butter, berries, bananas, and almond milk.” 209 N. Main St., Breckenridge, 970-423-6407
“If I’m going to grab something nicer for dinner, I go to Aurum. I like sitting in the bar area. I usually get a mezcal cocktail and order from the top of the menu. The kung pao cauliflower is always fire and my wife loves it too. I think they do a good job switching things up seasonally” 209 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge, 970-771-3943