There are times on a long road trip when you want to wipe off the grime, comb your hair and go out for a nice dinner—the kind where the chefs have trained in high-end restaurants and where the utensils have some heft and are wrapped in linen, not paper. And you want to do so without breaking the bank. Restaurant 415 in Fort Collins, Colorado delivers all that, in spades. The retro-modern dining space is elegant but relaxed, with subdued lighting on the brushed aluminum tables and the stylish chairs, which have leatherette seat cushions and slightly springy wooden backs.
After a diet heavy on burritos, burgers, green chili and the like, I find this food imaginative and fantastic… and not at all expensive. My father would no doubt be horrified with my small plate starter of Brussels sprouts (which he was forced to eat ad nauseum during World War II). But these are delightful, with a drizzling of orange, bits of garlic and Parmesan shavings. I then go for a U.S. regional staple I’ve always thought odd but never tried: fried chicken with waffles. This chicken is hot and perfectly crispy and the bacon-infused maple syrup to die for. In fact, I may be spoiled from ever ordering this dish again. These two dishes are plenty, but I’ve already ordered a half salad of roasted beets, with a crispy ball of goat cheese, candied hazelnuts and organic greens. And I’m not leaving any on my plate. In all, I manage to stuff myself with top-end cuisine for only $15.
415 South Mason Street, Fort Collins
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-2 pm and 5 pm-10 pm (9 pm on Sunday). Closed Monday
Honourable Mention: Locals, Courtenay, B.C. (Vancouver Island) – It stretches the budget of my road-trip criteria, but, oh my, the food is good and locally sourced. I can’t say I’ve ever had a better side dish of fresh veggies, with the root ends still attached.
Best Breakfast: Cafe Regis, Red Lodge, Montana. Sorry, but you’ll have to wait a week to hear about why this place is so good. It’s worth the wait.
Honourable Mention: Ohhh… So Yummy Café, Courtenay, B.C.
This is why I frequent independently owned and operated eateries. When I enter Ohhh… So Yummy Cafe for a 7 a.m. breakfast, South African-born owner Dave Keating immediately greets me with a heartfelt “Good morrow. Would you like some coffee. Some water? A slice of lemon with that…. Would you like to sample one of the four sauces we have for our eggs benedict?” I’m impressed by healthy options such as a bowl of quinoa with organic coconut, soaked almonds and banana, or organic spelt and kamut pancakes. But my good intentions go out the window when I see an eggs benedict special with smoked salmon, avocado, organic spinach and black pepper cream cheese, all stacked atop homemade English muffins. “If you’re not prepared to work hard and make food that’s special,” says Dave, “you might as well just be a chain.” Amen.
Ohhh… So Yummy Café
1190 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay, B.C.
Best Coffee: Harbinger Coffee, Fort Collins, Colorado
Walk down the stairs to Harbinger Coffee, and you’re entering a new world of java. This is a minimalist world, with just two tables and a coffee-producing kiosk. Expect to pay $3.50 or more for a pour-over cup of the select monthly roaster’s beans, and don’t ask for milk; there isn’t any. Then again, you wouldn’t want to mask the flavours of coffee like you’ve probably never tasted it (just like you wouldn’t drown a good single-malt scotch in water). This is coffee superbly and precisely prepared (the grounds are measured to within a tenth of a gram). Ask owner/operator Jonathan Jarrow, a former roaster, a few questions, and you’re likely to get a short dissertation on the science of coffee. He’ll even pull out a refractor and phone app and tell you the precise extraction rate of dissolved solids in your cup (mine was around 19%). Even as a coffee nerd, I don’t understand half of it. What I do know is that unlike a lot of so-called high-end cafes with lightly-roasted, sour-tasting coffee, I could actually taste the raspberry notes of the Kenyan Kieni bean from that month’s roaster, Ritual of San Francisco. There aren’t many devotees visiting this coffee guru the morning I drop by. He deserves a lot more.
151 South College Avenue, Fort Collins, Colorado
Weekdays 7-3, weekends 8-2. Closed Tuesday
Honourable Mention: Bean North Coffee Roasting. Way up north in Whitehorse, Yukon, they’re one of Canada’s first fair-trade coffee roasters, and they make a mighty fine brew at their flagship shop.
Best Burger: Bingo Burger, Pueblo, Colorado. Again, I’ll be writing about their amazing burgers and fries in a few weeks. Until then, curb your appetite!
Best Bakery: La Baguette, Revelstoke, B.C.
The key to a good loaf of bread, like that of fruit, is its density. When I enter the cozy La Baguette near downtown Revelstoke, my eye is immediately drawn to the golden olive bread, shaped like a flattened football and popping with olives. But it isn’t until the server hands me the warm kilo of substantial-ness that I knew I have a winner, without taking a bite. Mind you, once we start slicing it and embracing its moist crumb with dips and just on its own, it’s hard to stop. But La Baguette is much more than just a bakery, serving espresso, delectable homemade gelato (try the sublime pistachio), sandwiches, paninis, wraps (the turkey roasted yam is great) and breakfast sandwiches.
607 Victoria Road, Unit 103, Revelstoke, B.C.
Opens at 6:30 am. Closed Wednesdays.