Once a mountain kid, always a mountain kid, and Matt Vawter, the former executive chef of Mercantile Dining & Provision, has finally returned home.

On December 10, Vawter—who grew up in Summit County, graduated from Summit High School, and attended culinary school at Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute at Keystone—opened his first solo restaurant, Rootstalk, on Breckenridge’s Main Street. It’s an ode to upscale comfort food featuring dishes such as Vawter’s French onion soup (which will ruin you forever on other versions), dreamy duck cassoulet, and the most perfect of house-made pastas, situated in a small Victorian house built in 1889. (For those who know Breck, Vawter took over the former Doma 1898 space.)

Rootstalk’s exterior in Breckenridge. Photo courtesy of Patrick Murphy

The meaning behind the name Rootstalk is two-pronged: It relates to the providence of Vawter’s beautifully sourced ingredients, and it also underscores his homecoming. “[The name] fits the restaurant perfectly because my roots are here,” he says.

Vawter’s culinary prowess was nurtured in Summit County and further honed in Denver. After cooking at Alpenglow Stube in Keystone and the Cellar in Breckenridge, he began working with chef Alex Seidel at Fruition Restaurant when he was 22. Vawter proved his worth over the course of 12 years with Seidel, ultimately becoming a partner and the executive chef at Seidel’s second restaurant, Mercantile Dining & Provision at Denver’s Union Station. When Seidel promoted Vawter to executive chef of Mercantile in June 2019, he said, “I don’t want him to be under my umbrella or my shadow—he’s Matt Vawter.”

The dining room at Rootstalk. Photo courtesy of Patrick Murphy

Vawter’s righthand man in the kitchen at Rootstalk, Cameron Baker, who also grew up in Summit, graduated from the same culinary program and spent years at both Mercantile and Fruition. Vawter also brought along Mercantile alums Patrick Murphy (general manager), Teddy Lamontagne (who mans the bar and serves), and Maggie Eager (who created the wine list and serves). This seasoned team, and Vawter’s talent, have the ability to push the bounds of Summit’s dining scene—something Aurum began nudging forward when it opened in 2018.

Now, Vawter is showing Summit County what he’s made of. A big part of that is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as a new restaurant owner. When he and his crew opened on December 10, they could only offer outdoor dining and takeout. Within weeks, Rootstalk was granted five-star certification, meaning the restaurant can serve limited indoor dining (25 percent capacity). This capacity increase is a godsend, and Vawter is finally seeing the space unfold as he intended it. Or, as he puts it, he now gets to feel the heartbeat of the restaurant instead of looking longingly at an empty dining room.

Bonus: Rootstalk has both front and back patios, and Vawter and his team have installed greenhouses in the latter, which are currently up and running. (P.S. The view from the back patio is one of Breckenridge’s best, while the front patio allows diners to take in all of the town’s action.)

If you go: Rootstalk opens at 4 p.m. for après (4-6 p.m.) and dinner (4 p.m. until close); 207 N. Main St, Breckenridge, 970-453-9124

Amanda M. Faison
Amanda M. Faison
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.