Eclectic, in food, guests and offerings.
There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner — yes. But Wolcott Yacht Club is more than just a restaurant.
Every Friday afternoon, cars line the highway for Friday Afternoon Club. There are yoga and gardening classes along with brunch on Sundays. And a Tasting Table series combining food and drink pairings with live music takes place Wednesdays. Out front, the produce stand displays veggies grown at the garden on site or at nearby Eagle Springs. Or, for a sweeter treat, score a soft-serve organic ice cream and yogurt or shaved ice doused in homemade syrups.
During the years, the Yacht Club has been many things. When owner Jan-Marie Jouflas bought it 23 years ago (her anniversary was Tuesday), it was a liquor store, small market (with memorable beef jerky) and a post office. In the mid ’90s, Steven Seagal stopped by while he was in the area filming “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.” I know this because I saw him there.
Jouflas remembers that, too. “How could you forget? He seemed close to 7 feet tall in the low ceilings of the old market, which was built in 1924.”
Now, the Yacht Club is an after-work-drinks destination, a stop for kids clamoring for iced treats and a slightly out-of-the-way restaurant that might not be on your radar, but ought to be.
Jouflas has roots in Wolcott that run way deeper than any of the vegetables you’ll find in the organic garden out back. Her ancestors ran a huge sheep ranching operation in Wolcott. Like the food, the Yacht Club and its varied offerings are ever-evolving. But don’t let the name fool you. There isn’t a boat to be found, except maybe a raft trailered out front. You will, however, find a sunny patio, cold drinks, live music three times a week, thoughtful food and killer people-watching.
‘Cordillera to cowboys’
The Yacht Club attracts a mixed bag of people. Bikers — both the spandex-sporting type and the leather-and-tattoos crew — stop in often, as do the river runners: fly-fishing guides and their clients, and groups of rafters and kayakers post-Eagle River rendezvous seeking $3 draft PBRs. Any night of the week you might find a family or professional couples at the smattering of tables inside the restaurant, where the open kitchen re-done a year ago draws your eye, nearly begging you to spy on the chefs.
“It is a crazy mesh of people, from Cordillera to cowboys,” agreed Executive Chef Michael Joersz, a longtime local, former executive chef at Balata in Singletree and most recently owner of Two Guys Catering, which cooked for big name clients in Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch, including comedian Chris Rock.
On Friday nights, live music and cold drinks lure a good-sized crowd to the multi-level flagstone patio for FAC. That’s a Yacht Club tradition that goes back years. The people who were bellied up to the stage 10 years ago for FAC are still coming, just with a kid or two in tow these days, and sporting earlier bedtimes and lower BACs.
On Sundays, you’ll also find live music on the patio, spicy Bloody Mary’s (with a thick slice of applewood bacon garnish) coming from the bar, and an inspired brunch menu, offering everything from a Japanese wild mushroom and habanero cheddar omelet to creme-brulee cinnamon roll French toast with marcona almonds and lingonberries.
The dinner menu is no less interesting and thoughtful.
“It’s really a restaurant that should be in Boulder,” said Joersz, referencing popular farm-to-table restaurant The Kitchen.
“The quality of our culinary staff is definitely the best it’s ever been, and we hope to continue offering playful and inspiring menus,” Jouflas said.
To start, try the crispy Brussels sprouts with nam pla (fish sauce), sesame seeds, mint and crushed marcona almonds. Flash-fried, the Vietnamese-inspired preparation would likely convert the staunch anti-sprouts crowd.
Or opt for the smoked river trout dip with horseradish and rosemary. Served in a squat Mason jar, the dip is subtle trout, not “fishy” by any means, which means even people who don’t like strong fish will likely dig in. Spread on rye toast points, or atop fresh vegetables and topped with some of the pickled red onions or olive tapenade served alongside, this is a good way to start your meal.
Also served up in a Mason jar is the watermelon and corn salad, rife with the holy trinity of summer herbs — cilantro, mint and basil — and crumbly farmer’s cheese that’s saltiness proves the perfect foil to the sweet hunks of melon and golden Colorado corn. Skewers of chili and honey glazed shrimp stick out of the jar, and the whole thing is served atop a slice of watermelon. The dish nabs an A-plus for presentation.
For your main, consider the truffled day boat scallops served with Yukon potatoes, English pea puree and sage brown butter sauce. Or see if the chef has in corvina, white California seabass, which Joersz names his “favorite fish” of the moment. He’ll likely sub the seabass in place of the scallops if you’d rather.
Don’t skip dessert. The wild berry tiramisu, with white chocolate and two stunning sauces — zinfandel reduction and a port wine reduction — is worth the calorie splurge.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.
Wolcott Yacht Club owner Jan-Marie Jouflas took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily: Tell me a little bit about the history of the property. How long have you owned the Yacht Club?
Jan-Marie Jouflas: Today (July is my 23-year anniversary! A little history... it was originally built by the Peate family in 1924, who owned and operated it until 1974. It has been (all at once) a general store, post office, market, gas station, livery stable, blacksmith shop and home to the Dreamland Dance Hall (which we have a 1934 photo of the model Ts out front with bootleggers during prohibition). It has always been like a community center and multi-purpose store. It was and still is a hub for so many different offerings. It has a very diverse and long history. This was the starting point north for the Pony Express. Wolcott was always an important junction.
VD: Did you name it the Wolcott Yacht Club? And why?
JJ: The name came from a longstanding joke with the founders of Vail. Onasis was in the news all the time during the ‘60s and early ‘70s and during those times, my dad brought many of those folks to Wolcott and they fished our section of the Eagle River in Dories. Our barn on the river was where we kept the boats. I can’t remember who it was, perhaps Philip Lamentia (owner of the original deli on Bridge Street) or perhaps Bill Whiteford, but someone starting calling my dad the little Onasis of Wolcott, being Greek and all. So shortly after acquiring the nickname, for Christmas one year, my dad had t-shirts made that read charter member on the front and on the back, Wolcott Helenic Yacht Club. He gave them to everyone in Vail. When I bought the Wolcott Store and decided to start a restaurant the name came quite naturally.
VD: It’s been a few different things over the years (gas station and liquor store etc), let’s briefly touch on each.
JJ: The business has morphed several times through the years. When I first bought it, it was operating as a liquor store, a small market and it had the post office here. The blacksmith’s shop was still in the back. I just kept expanding and improving and it has continued to grow with the needs of the community. I had just recently moved home and 28 years ago I had many dietary restrictions (gluten free, dairy free, etc). The food evolved based on my own interests and needs and it turned out that many other people in the community shared my tastes. It started as a deli, then turned into more of a summer grill offering. The music began in 1996 on a small patch of grass with blue tarps providing shelter if it rained, and a makeshift outside bar. As that starting gaining in popularity, we started to improve each year. In 1999 I tore down the old market, got big gas tanks, made a full size liquor store, full size market, built a real kitchen and put in the seating area inside (so we could be year round). Two summers later we built the big patio (tearing down the blacksmiths shop) and our casual Friday afternoons turned into the famous FACs with cars parked past the intersection.
VD: When did you put in the garden?
JJ: Our garden has been here for four years, with a wide range of vegetables, berries and some fruit. We grow lots of lettuces and things that are used in the restaurant and sold in the produce stand. This year, we have over 20 varieties of potatoes, all being grown in Hugelkultur to try and preserve water!
VD: Have you been serving the soft serve ice cream and shaved ice? How’s it selling?
JJ: The Hawaiian shaved ice is a huge hit, as well as our organic soft-serve and yogurt from Boulder Ice Cream. We make all our own toppings, flavors and syrups.
VD: Do you remember when Steven Seagal stopped by in the mid-’90s? Because I do.
JJ: Yes of course... how could you forget Steven Seagal. He seemed close to 7 feet tall in the low ceilings of the old market, which was built in 1924.
VD: What’s your overall vision for the Yacht Club? What are you going for now?
JJ: The overall vision is to keep building on everything we’ve already started. Hopefully our garden is more abundant and delicious each year. The landscaping and patios keep maturing. The quality of music we have to offer keeps growing. The quality of our culinary staff is definitely the best it’s ever been and we hope to continue offering playful and inspiring menus. The vision has always been to be a community cornerstone for locals and tourists alike, to come together to enjoy good food, good music and lots of laughs in a beautiful setting. It will always morph as my interests change and grow, as well as the communities.