I moved to Denver over 15 years ago via New York, circa Chicago. At the time, I remember telling my then boyfriend (now husband), I wanted to look downtown for an apartment. Being a Colorado native, he assured me no one lived downtown, a sentiment that was true at the time. We settled in Platt Park and I traded city for cute neighborhood business districts that I began to explore. The first time I went to South Broadway/Baker, I was shopping for a very specific diaper bag and had seen a store online that had an adorable baby section in the back with the bag I wanted. Anyone who knows the South Broadway/Baker district understands that it’s likely not the first place you would think of to find a diaper bag. At any rate, I immediately feel in love with the area and felt instantly at home, it’s edginess reminding me of some of our favorite haunts in Chicago and New York. Over the years, we have enjoyed so many restaurants there and were sad to see a favorite of ours, Deluxe (and its dessert partner Delite), close some years back. Luckily a new restauranteur took over and opened Gozo which has fast become a new favorite.
Gozo, named after an island off Sicily, serves predominately Italian food and the wood oven pizzas are a longstanding favorite. The décor is stylish and rustic, with a white-washed brick wall, an open kitchen with a prominent wood oven, and a large bar surrounded by seating. We recently visited with three kids in tow- usually our South Broadway dining experiences are sans kids unless its Punchbowl, but since they are finally of age to sit and eat without being absolute nightmares and they love Italian, we figured it was worth a shot so mom and dad could get a decent meal. We knew we made the right choice when we ordered cocktails and mocktails and everyone was feeling very grown up. I enjoyed my Last Summer cocktail but couldn’t decide if it was a tribute to the recent summer ending, or a previous time when summer was a magical break from life versus just a hotter, sweatier version of being a grown up. At any rate, it was delicious. My husband, Seth, went with their take on an old favorite- the Smoked Old Fashioned featuring a hickory smoked orange, and our kids enjoyed the Cucumber Spritzer and “Up & Up” mocktails.
Fearing unrest amongst the unfed, we started with truffle fries for the kids and the burrata for the adults. Of course, Seth and I ate half the fries and the kids ventured out a bit, mostly to eat the toasted bread with a bit of marmalade like Paddington (which tasted delightful with the actual burrata but that was lost on them). While I had eaten enough of the delicious sweet, creamy, in-house made burrata to last until morning, we decided to plow ahead and order mains. The boys were happy to find that while there is no “kids” menu, they could order a plain pizza or pasta any way they wanted. Seth and I stuck to the menu and I ordered the Butternut Squash Risotto (fully embracing the present fall season now that my cocktail was finished) and Seth ordered his favorite, a pepperoni pizza.
Fresh out of the wood oven, the pepperoni pizza was not your average slice. Featuring sliced pepperoni, roasted pancetta, and fresh cheeses, the pizza was hearty and flavorful. Having eaten my weight in burrata, I was instantly both jealous and relieved to have passed on pizza for the risotto. I love a good risotto and Gozo’s is no exception. Featuring fire-roasted butternut squash with a sage brown butter, each bite was creamy and delicious.
My only regret was wearing high-waisted jeans and sadly we were all too stuffed for dessert. Instead, we wandered around South Broadway a bit, enjoying the window shopping and diversity of shops, food and entertainment the area has to offer. We have heard Gozo has a great brunch too and vow to come back and spend a morning brunching and shopping (as soon as our boys can tolerate that).
Tucked out of range 12 miles north of Vail, accessible only by a winding dirt road, is a beautiful spot, the Piney River Ranch. The ranch sits on the edge of Piney Lake with abundant views of the Gore Range. A popular spot for day visitors, welcome from 9am – 6pm, the ranch rents canoes and paddleboards by the hour. Fly fishermen can also be seen throughout the lake and if your kids are like mine, the cold mountain water won’t deter them from a swim (which deters the fish and annoys the fly fishermen as we found out the hard way). For those willing to stray from the water, there is a 3-hour hike (about 6 miles roundtrip) to a waterfall, as well as 1 or 2 hour guided horseback rides that depart from Piney Stables. For those feeling like they can’t get enough, there are several small cabins and “glamping tents” available for nightly stays.
Recently, at the end of the Piney Ranch season, we rented the Bear cabin. We meant to take our kids camping all summer, but well, camping is a TON of work….the tent, the food, the bathroom, the everything…..If you are like me (outdoorsy in an aspirational sense) , this really is the next best thing. Our cabin had a bunk room, as well as king bed in the front room. No running water, but a bathroom is a short jaunt up the hill (with real flushing toilets)- a small price to pay for the lake view. There is also a restaurant at Piney Ranch- the 9350’ Bar & Grill. However, knowing we would arrive after it closes with the day visitors at 6pm, we had planned accordingly and packed typical camping fare- hot dogs and s’mores. Each cabin is equipped with its own campfire set up right outside the front door- which for us meant right by the lake front. If you are more adventurous though, you do pass many USFS camping sites along the dirt road.
After checking in and taking a short hike, my husband went about making a fire for our dinner (oh, I should mention that the cabins do come with an outdoor propane grill as well, but we were going for as close to camping as we could get here). Of course, without the proper tools to gather wood, we ended up buying bundles at the ranch store upon arrival- cheating, I know, but we made the kids each carry a bundle to make it a bit more authentic. It took a bit of newspaper and firestarter (also sold at the store), but soon we had a roaring fire. Using the grate provided with each fire (I know, less and less like camping), my husband successfully cooked the hot dogs and we enjoyed a picnic by the lake. Luckily it was dark as each hot dog had a nice black coating from the fire that would have made my kids adamantly refuse to eat if they had been able to see it.
We did make the kids forage for sticks for s’mores and after 2-3 s’mores each and a few ghost stories around the fire, we retired to the cabin to play cards. The ranch is popular for event rentals, and we were the only cabin occupied by people outside of a wedding party. Luckily, they were a relatively quiet crew and we all quietly bonded over disobeying the ranches’ alcohol policy (no BYOB apparently).
Leaving the windows open, we all had an almost camping like night’s sleep – there is no wifi or cell phone service anywhere on the ranch so truly unplugging for 24 hours was a bonus to the experience. After a quick breakfast (we brought a few things in a cooler), we ventured out for the 3 hours hike to the waterfall. It was a beautiful day and the leaves were changing which made the hike completely worth it. If you are short on time though, I would recommend sticking to the lake, where we spent the afternoon canoeing, paddle boarding, and fishing after our lunch at the 9350’ Bar & Grill. The restaurant is in the main lodge on the property and faces the beautiful views of the lakes and mountains.
On the website, the restaurant “boasts the best smoked BBQ around.” Given that there is nothing around Piney River Ranch (and I don’t think our charred hot dogs count), I would venture to say their claim is true. Not feeling up for smoked brisket or smoked pork, we ended up with some kid meals, a cheeseburger, and a B.A.L.T. We all enjoyed the meal- in part because we were starving with all the hiking and fresh mountain air. Perhaps next time, we will try something more adventurous on the menu and test their BBQ claim. At any rate, we will certainly be returning for the view.
For more information and reservations, visit https://www.pineyriverranch.com.
First there was the hype. A good friend of mine had bought the Safta cookbook. She swore she would only eat Safta 7 days a week, 3 meals a day, for the rest of her life. It was that good. We decided to check it out for our anniversary the following week. The entire week before going, everyone, friends, coworkers, strangers on the street were talking about Safta it seemed.
“Have you tried Safta?” “You have to try Safta,” “Blah, blah, blah, blah, SAFTA, blah, blah, blah.” The night before our anniversary, I woke up to a soft whisper…SSSssaafta…. Riding into my very own bedroom on a unicorn was a handsome bartender, shirtless in his Safta signature apron with a Crystal’s Light on a silver tray…..Ssssaaafftaaa.
Could it be this good? Our expectations were high needless to say. We went, we drank, we ate, (too much of both) and pretty much loved it. I must admit though that it took one more visit to love, love it. The second time we even ate the bar, something I generally don't prefer; but well, as you can tell I love their bar and bartenders so it was amazing.
I did have the Crystal’s Light and while the bartender was fully clothed and no unicorns were present, it was still magical. It has many of my favorites (vodka) and things I didn’t even know I like (elderflower). Putting our faith in said bartender, we let him direct us on how much and what food to order. One mistake of our first experience was filling up on too many sides (salatim section of menu) and hummus dishes, both served with their infamous pita bread. The pita…. it’s easily the best I have ever had. With no willpower when it comes to carbs, I learned however, we needed to pace ourselves to enjoy some of the larger dishes too. The staff is generous with the perfectly cooked pita and it’s easy to accept their never-ending offering of the warm bread.
This time around, we started with the muhammara and the lamb ragu hummus, served of course with generous pita. The lamb ragu hummus is arguably the most popular and its easy to see why - the velvety, smooth hummus mixed with the flavorful lamb topping can only be described as delightful. I could easily have eaten this for my meal, but I would have missed out enjoying the larger dishes. Pacing ourselves with our pita this time, we next enjoyed the crispy eggplant (the only time I have ever seen my husband eat eggplant), and then ended with the Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shank. Considering that the man behind Safta named his parent company Pomegranate Hospitality, you just know this dish is going to be good. Paired with a whipped feta and fresh peaches, what could go wrong? Nothing. Sadly, on both visits we did not save room for dessert, but vow to return with a larger group to expand our culinary experience.
Safta in Hebrew means grandmother – you can see the touch of an older generation in the water glasses adorned with pink flowers, plates that would have worked in the 1950’s and even a portrait of the owner’s grandmother can be found hanging in the bar. Many of the recipes are inspired by his grandmother- someone all of us in Denver owe a thank you.
Wander down to the South Pearl Street Farmers Market any Sunday from May- November and it’s easy to see why Coloradans consistently rank as most fit population in the entire U.S. Our family of five headed down to the market one Sunday, armed with our reusable grocery bag and 10 year old boxer- trying to fit in with the ever growing crowd of young hipsters that regularly eat vegetables I am still googling. Platt Park was our first neighborhood as a young married couple in Denver and while it’s been ten years since we moved, it’s still a favorite spot. It helps that the Old South Pearl Street has maintained amazing restaurants thanks in a large part to the sushi empire I need not name (but love and will write about another time).
On this Sunday, it’s a beautiful day and quite warm. We are welcomed with a sign stating the pavement may be too hot for paws and best to leave our furry friends at home. Major hipster fail here, but at least I am not holding a Starbucks (already finished it). We take turns walking our boxer in the shade of the storefronts and hanging by the water bowl (even this display is cool!) which is fine since the main street is……packed.
The South Pearl Street Farmers Market has been running for almost 20 years and has grown considerably. Added to the mix of fresh produce are a handful of food trucks, booths with sauces and soaps, booths with healing tinctures and CBD products, and plenty of fresh baked goods. Much though is the same and we head to our favorites like the fresh peaches and the everlasting fill-a-bag for $10 stand. The face painter and balloon lady are still set up by the live music, but sadly our crowd has outgrown them. After our produce haul, we wander over to The Honey People. We ask for more information on the varieties of honey, but apparently, they are best tasted and little explanation is offered. I can’t tell a huge difference, but my son picks his favorite- Orange Clover.
Even with the heat and the crowds, usually a recipe for disaster with kids, the experience is surprisingly pleasant. Free samples help and our kids each piece together a full cookie through freebies. Seeing this, we make one final purchase of baked goods out of shame for our disproportionate amount of samples. These of course are the first of our purchases to disappear when we get home….still have plenty of beets though.
Two years ago Seth and I made the decision to leave our Denver neighborhood and head south in search of more space, specifically greenspace, for our three boys. Moving in the summer, we immediately loved the yard and the boys used more sunscreen that summer than in almost all the years past. Of course, we quickly realized living on almost an acre had its drawbacks too (you actually have to water all of it!), one of which was feeling a bit isolated. While we could have held hands with our old neighbor while grilling outside (I blame poor placement of patios for this one), we could now go weeks without seeing a neighbor. We went on a two-week vacation and NO ONE noticed- confirming my suspicion that the five of us could perish in our sleep one night and no one in the proximity would know. Before we instilled welfare checks and made the dog watch Lassie, we decided to renew our newspaper subscription and regularly invite some friends over for dinner. I never was a big entertainer- mainly because I don’t love cooking for large groups. I enjoy wine and cheese while chatting before dinner, not worrying about if I timed the courses right and trying to maintain conversation while not overcooking the chicken. But with the space almost wasted on the five of us, I started to perfect the role of a lazy hostess with a few simple recipes including this grilled salmon that I could seriously eat 3 nights a week or more.
Now, I did not grow up loving fish and only in recent years have become a fan of salmon. But this grilled salmon recipe is so easy and delicious, it makes a perfect meal for a summer bbq with or without friends. We have purchased the salmon filets at a variety of places from Costco to upscale meat markets, and all have been good thanks to the spice rub.
Salmon Spice Rub:
1/8 c. garlic powder
1/8 c. kosher salt
1/4 c. dried parsley
1/4 c. dried minced onion
1/4 c. dried basil
I rub the salmon with a little bit of olive oil, generously spread the spice rub (you will definitely have a fair amount left for a future meal), and let sit for a bit before grilling. We grill skin down to a desired doneness (exact time varies on size of salmon) and serve immediately. Even my kids will eat this (still working on table manners but at least they eat right?)