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Let’s be honest: Beyond a few glitzy, chef-driven restaurants in spots like Vail and Aspen, finding grown-up food in the high country can be a challenge. Although we think of the mountains as tourism central, most towns at elevation have low tourist traffic and similarly small year-round populations. Which means, eateries, if there are any, are usually inexpensive, diner-esque affairs. So, as you can imagine, I had low expectations when I recently was invited to dine with friends at the Tabernash Tavern.
Tabernash has less than 200 residents and although it’s in close proximity to Winter Park, it’s not a resort town. In fact, it’s not much of a town at all. But it does have a post office, a liquor store, and, yes, a tavern.
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And really, it is a lovely little restaurant. Opened in 2008 by chef Alberto Sapien (and partners Jonathan Larson and David McKnight), the tavern lives in a freshly renovated, turn-of-the-last-century building in “downtown” Tabernash. Much of the old wood was salvaged, giving the place an easy-rustic ambience that plays well with the mountain setting. And the cozy tiny space lends an unexpected air of exclusivity. But it’s the menu, in particular, that you would never anticipate finding in a berg like Tabernash.
Chef Sapien mixes up the offerings on a regular basis; however, the baked Brie appetizer—a gooey wheel of white cheese wrapped in flaky pastry with orange marmalade and served with apples and honey-drizzled crostini—has simple flavors that start the evening off on good footing. The roasted beet salad is similarly basic but the peppery arugula offers a nice zing. As for entreés, Lisa’s filet—a manageable 8-ouncer served on a bed of roasted tomatoes, artichokes, and other mixed veggies—was a standout choice. As was the roasted lamb, which was redolent of rosemary and served with a sweet pea risotto and a tangy port syrup.
The tavern has a regular crowd of locals who often fill up the 13 tables, but the food is tasty enough to compel tourists to drive the nine miles from Winter Park to Tabernash. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend you do the same.
72287 U.S. Highway 40, Tabernash, 970-726-4430