Grouse Mountain Grill: Chef Kangas redefines ‘from scratch’
The food at Grouse Mountain Grill is as sincere as its chef.
“We just want to feed people,” Executive Chef Rick Kangas said.
Unlike most upscale restaurants, Kangas and his crew are avoiding the trap of food trendiness. The presentation is nice, but eating at Grouse Mountain Grill doesn’t feel like you’re dining on a page ripped out of Bon Appetit magazine.
“Some food, you don’t want to ruin the art by sticking your fork in it,” Kangas said.
Kangas wants the food to taste good. The soft spoken, humble cook achieves excellence in his fare by simply making everything from scratch. Taking it even farther, Kangas mans four plots in a community garden down in Eagle.
On his hands and knees in the dirt, Kangas grows vegetables and herbs that he incorporates into his recipes at the restaurant. Not on the menu but special for summer, Kangas serves up an all-herb salad with prosciutto and a Palisade apricot filled with mascarpone cheese. The herbs’ flavors burst into your mouth, making it one of the most exciting culinary creations I’ve ever tasted.
“You can scour the earth for these types of herbs and you still wouldn’t find them without growing them yourself,” Kangas said.
A must-sample appetizer is the chef’s potato flatbread ($9.50). Changed daily, I enjoyed flatbread crowned with mascarpone cheese, roasted red pepper, rock shrimp and crab.
But it’s the traditionally Southern starter that emphasizes Kangas’ penchant for innovative comfort food.
Bibb lettuce beds a trio of fried green tomatoes ($10.50). Coated in flaky Japanese bread crumbs, rather than the ground American version, the tomatoes saute up light and crisp. Underneath the tart tomato reveals a warm fantastic French feta.
“French feta is more light, creamy and buttery than Greek feta, which is squeaky and firm,” Kangas said.
Finished with a drizzle of white balsamic vinaigrette, it’s no mystery why the salad has appeared on the menu since the opening of the restaurant.
In between the main course and the appetizers, Kangas sent out ginger french toast topped with fois gras and orange marmalade. Forget what you know about fois gras; its sometimes-intimidating texture disappears in Kangas’ version, which is sweet and delectable.
The chef, who freely admits it is apparent that he loves food, grew up on a farm where big family dinners were the usual late-afternoon affair.
“Food is inherent in my family,” Kangas said. “Food has always been social, comforting. Nourishment for the body and the soul.”
The entrees at Grouse Mountain Grill embrace this idea of comfort and nourishment.
I opted for the Ritz crusted walleye on lemon lettuce with dill tartar sauce ($32), a staple on Grouse Mountain Grill’s menu. Our server, Bill Minett, whose thoughtful explanations reveal his extensive experience, paired the fish with a dry white wine because it brings out the sweetness in the lemon lettuce.
Whatever you consider comforting to the palate, the restaurant offers it up on an oversized plate ” grilled Colorado lamb T-bones ($37), roasted half ducklings ($29) or pretzel-crusted jumbo pork chop ($28).
All sides are served family style. If you’re a meat-and-potato type of eater, you can sink your fork into the lumpy horseradish mashed potatoes, or head south with white cheddar grit cake.
We went for the grilled sweet corn and prickly pear with chili and lime because Minett cued us in on the healing qualities of prickly pear. The fruit helps with hangovers.
Entrees are large, but you can’t skip dessert. Choose the lychee nut sorbet and coconut ice cream in a rice paper bowl ($7) because it is light and refreshing. If you have more room, then select the Colorado sweet cherry chocolate short cake ($8).
Delicate unification seems to be a theme at Grouse Mountain Grill, where comfort and taste merge to make a truly genuine experience.