Two hours northwest of Denver, and at least a thousand feet higher, Grand County in winter is a land of cozy cabins, Mom and Pop diners, and people loaded down with skis, poles and boots, waiting for shuttle buses to ski areas. Can a vegan find enough good food to fuel snow sports? Yes, indeed.
Fat Cat Cafe
My first morning in Grand Lake, Colorado, I surveyed the buffet at the Fat Cat Cafe and was relieved to see a vat marked “vegan green chili.” Paired with fried potatoes and a bowl of fruit, it looked like I’d have a good vegan breakfast. But it only got better. “Anybody have dietary restrictions?” Sally Hoffman, the proprietress, asked my group. When I told her I preferred vegan food, she said she’d bring me something special.
The plate of Sally’s mush –“it’s better than it sounds,” she assured me – was a hit with my whole table. Walnuts and crumbled black bean patties topped a plate of spring greens. It was way better than I expected from a mountain town in late January buried under several feet of snow. But even in the chill of winter, Sally doesn’t cut corners. She makes all her pies and scones from scratch, and is choosy about ingredients. She doesn’t allow margarine, iceberg lettuce or alcohol on the premises.
Sagebrush BBQ and Café
Once a courthouse and jail, this café retains an Old West feel, with cow-spotted table cloths and peanut shells carpeting the floor. The Sagebrush’s giant menu has several veg options, including a veggie burger, salads and green chili. I opted for veg nachos with refried beans, veggie chili, black olives, jalapenos, tomatoes and guacamole. The half order was more than I could eat, especially after stuffing myself on peanuts.
A farm-to-table restaurant owned by a French chef in the little town of Grand Lake? Was this a snow mirage? Nope. Jean-Claude Cavalera owns this pretty restaurant. On a Saturday night, the Stillwater Grill even features piano music. Vegans are in luck here with the vegetables Napoleon, a good-sized chunk of baked tofu surrounded by servings of kale, red cabbage, spaghetti squash, mushrooms and quinoa with a balsamic drizzle. I also ate a side salad of baby greens, spinach and dried Colorado cherries. Chef Jean-Claude stopped by our table to say hello. “Oh, I didn’t realize you were here,” he said to my friend who lives in the area. “I was in the kitchen, cooking. I love to cook.” And it shows in his food.
Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA of the Rockies
The cafeteria of this enormous ranch is tasked with fueling the many activities offered, from skiing to archery to crafting. My group stopped at Snow Mountain Ranch for an early breakfast. Vegans will appreciate the grits, fried potatoes, granola and other dried cereals. The extensive fruit choices included fruit salad, cantaloupe slices, half grapefruits, and whole bananas and pears. Everything is served buffet style. I was especially impressed to see a Silk machine with both chocolate and vanilla soymilk on tap.
This roadside burger joint near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park reminds me of somewhere I would have stopped on a family vacation as a kid. However, back then you wouldn’t have found a veggie burger on the menu. Pair Sloopy’s vegan burger with sweet potato fries or tots and you have a meal. Fun display of old-fashioned snowshoes, skis, sled and other winter gear on the wall of this narrow log cabin of a restaurant.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch
I wanted to stay for a week on this gorgeous six thousand acre property. From the grounds to the ski instruction to the spa, this is one divine place to visit. I stayed for most of a day, and ate both lunch and dinner at Heck’s Tavern. An enormous stone fireplace is the centerpiece for this hexagonal restaurant done up in mountain lodge décor and modeled after Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon. Veg menu highlights include a kale and quinoa salad or a Portobello mushroom sandwich for lunch, and a quinoa and veg combo topped with curried cashews for dinner. Don’t miss the sweet potato fries with house-made red pepper ketchup. Devil’s Thumb also has its own branded hot sauces in both red and green.
This pretty bistro in the busy Winter Park downhill ski resort has more for the vegetarian than the vegan, but a few salads can be veganized, or you can get the bacon and cheese left off the baked avocado. I got my veggie fix at Vertical Bistro with the herbivore burger — a house-made patty of mushroom, risotto, squash, spinach and red pepper, topped with fresh spinach and pico de gallo – and a side salad of mixed greens with avocado vinaigrette.
Hernando’s Pizza Pub
Diners sit on long, picnic table style benches, the walls are covered with decorated dollar bills left by customers, and the house slogan is, “Life’s too short to eat bad pizza.” Hernando’s will celebrate its fiftieth year in business in 2017. But it’s up-to-date enough to offer modern options like gluten-free, white or whole wheat crusts, rolled or thin, traditional pizza sauce or brushed with olive oil, basil and garlic. And they didn’t bat an eye at my request for a vegetarian pizza with extra sauce and no cheese. Pasta and salads also available for the veg-inclined.