EDWARDS — Mike Irwin knows how gourmet cuisine is done in the Vail Valley — he’s a veteran from the kitchens of some of the area’s most respected restaurants — but now he finally has the chance to do it in a way that is entirely his own.
Irwin is the co-owner and chef at Edwards’ latest new eatery, Corner Bistro, located next to The Bookworm of Edwards.
You’ll probably notice the handsome marble bar counter first, or the vintage Vespa that hangs from the ceiling. But we promise you that your attention will be solely on the food. First off, everything from the starters to the main meal are served in generous portions, and the dishes are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, with presentations that invite you to grab a fork and dig in. At this dining establishment, you won’t be worried about folding your napkin on your lap or wonder which utensil to use.
‘BISTRO WITH A TWIST’
And that’s exactly how Irwin wants it.
“It’s a bistro with a twist. It’s eclectic, it’s comfort food and more on a local’s affordability scale,” Irwin said.
The no-nonsense chef once cooked for 5,000 on a Navy ship, but he found his way out to Vail after he drove his ’83 Corvette out West and landed in the area. He still remembers applying for a position at Sweet Basil in Vail wearing a suit and a tie.
“They all laughed at me,” he said.
Still, he got the job, and since then he’s also worked at Zino’s and Juniper, and finally he got a chance to craft his own spot when the space opened up. He enlisted the support of friends Stephanie Shaffer and Shawn Darling, who became co-owners. Irwin’s wife, Jessica, helps out as well, and so far the bistro has drawn a mix of curious locals, friends and tourists.
“It’s quaint and it’s small,” Shaffer said. “It’s really cozy and you end up talking to the table next to you.”
The menu jet sets around the globe, with influences that range from Asian to Italian to American.
Try out a slew of dishes during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., with $10 apps (that you can share) and $5 mixed drinks and wine. The duck confit pizza is perfect for sharing, with its doughy crust, generous duck morsels and sweet but subtle fig paste. Or dig into the cheesy veal meatballs, which are as big as your fist, and soak up the homemade tomato sauce with big slices of crusty bread. If you’re looking for something lighter, then try the meaty tuna carpaccio, served with a sweet-and-crunchy daikon and apple salad.
Irwin prides himself on making nearly everything in-house and sourcing all his meats from Colorado. The result is rich braised beef short ribs that fall off the bone, paired with buttery gorgonzola polenta, and dishes like the veal scallopini, made special by Irwin’s special veal sauce and complemented by gnocchi, mozzarella and tomatoes.
One of our favorites was the delicate pan-roasted halibut, paired nicely with an unassuming, but delicious, quinoa, mango and black bean salad.
Of course, don’t forget lunch, which the owners say has quickly become a favorite among Riverwalk employees and regulars. Top sellers include the tuna panini, chicken club, grilled cheese and soup and what Irwin claims is the “best burger in the valley.”
Desserts come imported from Eagle’s Mountain Flower bakery and confections.
The restaurant barely opened in January, but Irwin is already enjoying the friendly, neighborhood vibe of the place.
“I can come chat with customers. I bus. I’m at the bar. I’m in the kitchen. It’s a small place, but the food we pump out is pretty darn good,” he said.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.