BBQ Bonanza a successful new tradition
Vail, CO, Colorado
Last Saturday, June 23, the Vail Chamber and Business Association (VCBA) hosted the first ever BBQ Bonanza on Bridge Street, an event filling the void of the annual Chili Cook Off.
Enthusiasm was evident for this western theme barbecue and participating restaurants were eager to tout their fares to visiting and local passers-by. Restaurants participating this year were Alpenrose, Blizzard’s Mountain Deli, Blu’s, Bully Ranch, Covered Bridge Coffee, Eagle’s Nest/Wildwood SmokeHouse, Joe’s Deli, Kirby Cosmo’s BBQ Bar, LaTour, Marketplace on Meadow Drive, Moe’s Original BBQ, Sapphire, Sweet Basil, The Tap Room, Up The Creek and Vendetta’s.
While the lure of food and drink drew me to this event, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of non-food related events offered at the BBQ Bonanza. Music was provided by a popular Eagle County band, Airborne, with local band members offering up some good old western music, sparking many attendees to take part in country line dancing.
A blues-influenced alternative rock band from Denver, The Knew, played the remainder of the event for those wanting to continue kicking up their heels. Kids 12 and younger received free cowboy hats while learning lasso skills, having their faces painted, panning for gold, hearing old west tales and making arts and crafts. It truly was an event for all ages on a very beautiful day in Vail.
But more importantly ” back to the food. The VCBA asked participating restaurants to provide western barbecue themed items. For barbecue purists, such as myself, there definitely were purveyors to feed the need for barbecue.
Two of the three owners of Moe’s Original BBQ ” Jeff Kennedy and Ben Gilbert ” were at the event touting their fabulous mainstays: ‘Bama style pulled pork sandwiches, St. Louis style ribs with cornbread and Betsy’s banana pudding. For those of you who already know and appreciate Moe’s, their efforts certainly pay off with their tender loving care and apple wood smoked meats.
“We all know that Moe’s sets the BBQ standard high for our community,” local fan Steffan said.
I also tasted a bountiful barbecue offering from Wildwood Smokehouse (Eagle’s Nest) compliments of Ken Woodbury, manager. A spicy barbecue rub and sauce combined with hickory and pecan woods used for smoking, insured that my palate was pleasured when tasting their beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches. I was very satisfied to know that such good barbecue is being offered by Vail Resorts to visitors on the mountain.
Staying in the same vein of authentic barbecue being offered was Kirby Cosmo’s BBQ Bar. Mark Tamborino, owner, was proud to be invited to the BBQ Bonanza as the only non-Vail restaurant participant. He offered “gargantuan” smoked turkey legs, hickory wood smoked pulled pork sandwiches and apple wood smoked St. Louis style ribs to hungry visitors and locals. Hunger pains were readily addressed by those sampling his barbecue wares.
Non-traditional barbecue fares were offered throughout the BBQ Bonanza, too. One of my favorites was the barbecue oysters prepared by Sapphire Chef Peter Millette, who has been with owners Susan and Joel Fritz for more than 12years. Fresh, coldwater oysters were steamed on banana leaves and served on the half-shell with four different sauce selections: chili lime butter, spicy chipotle, mignonette or cocktail. Quite tasty and filling. I would have gotten another beer and stayed there for the entire BBQ Bonanza if I had not been on such a tasting mission.
The next booth over, Kyle Cowan, executive chef, and Mike Stadler from Up The Creek were serving up mouth-watering caribou polish sausage, that they have specially made, smoked beef short ribs and peach cobbler. It was difficult to ask pertinent questions while my mouth was so full from these delicacies.
Matt Morgan, owner of Sweet Basil, Chef Paul Anders and Randy Rumple, kitchen manager, were very proud to offer an apple wood smoked Carolina style pork sandwich with a side of tangy slaw. They had good reason to be proud as evidenced when I sampled their menu.
LaTour was serving up smoked BBQ buffalo short ribs and North Carolina style smoked BBQ chicken skewers prepared by chef cuisine Bill Messick.
Joe Joyce, owner of Joe’s Deli, and his crew served up smoked brats and beef hotdogs fresh from the grill with all the toppings, insuring that many napkins were needed to protect one’s western wear from spillage.
Further on up Bridge Street, I talked with Tom Conville whose wife owns Blizzard’s Mountain Deli. While he was not experiencing brisk business at the time and wished that vendors were logistically closer to one another, he stated that he was very happy that VCBA put together the BBQ Bonanza. They were serving a grilled shrimp cerviche salad and also a BBQ chicken chopped salad. Refreshing, yet still barbecue theme related.
The Tap Room was serving braised buffalo short ribs which Dave Root, general manager, proudly exclaimed was a recipe from their chef at Red Mountain Grill in Dillon. I talked with some folks visiting Vail from Nashville who had tasted the short ribs the night before at the Tap Room and were elated to know that they were being offered again right up the street. The lean and flavorful buffalo meat fell off the bone; I had no room left to taste their smoked turkey legs and hamburgers.
Brian Atkinson, chef from Bully Ranch, prepared pulled pork BBQ and cole slaw on a bun with an Italian coffee and vinegar based barbecue sauce. If you have never tried this combination of ingredients on a barbecue sandwich, I highly recommend that you do. Your dog can accompany you to Bully Ranch, since they are dog friendly and have a dog specific menu. Dog biscuits were made available from Bully Ranch during this event, but I think the canines in attendance were more interested in finding the origin of the barbecue aromas at the BBQ Bonanza.
Despite a few extra pounds of body weight being attributed to my sampling all the wonderful food, I am very happy to have been able to attend this event. A special shout-out to Matt Greene, Kaye Ferry, Libby McCarthy and Lourdes Ferzacca from the VCBA for all their hard work in bringing this wonderful event to Vail. It is my hope that the BBQ Bonanza will continue to grow and possibly include a barbecue competition between some of Vail’s best restaurants, and possibly even a category for local backyard barbecue chefs to showcase their talents. If there is such a contest held in the future, I will definitely be one of the first to volunteer as a judge.
Brad Austin, aka BBQ Brad, has competed in and judged barbecue contests across the country. He also hosts his own radio show on Radio Free Minturn.