Grouse on the Green
Don’t let the bright-red English phone booth out front fool you ” Cordillera’s Grouse on the Green serves nothing close to what the British would put onto a plate and call food.
For starters, the restaurant’s theme is not British, and the food is fabulous, far from anything kidney or pudding or both. Actually the entire hand-crafted wooden interior of the cozy restaurant looking out over an expansive and absolutely stunning view of the Vail Valley is authentically Irish.
Albeit, imported from the green isle ” at some considerable price back in 1997 to the gated golf community of Cordillera west of Edwards.
And while there is a gate to pass and the aforementioned phone booth to throw you off, the ambiance is friendly, warm and welcoming and most of all, the restaurant is open to the public. There is nothing stiff or formal about “The Grouse,” as the restaurant’s staff refers to its little authentic Irish pub in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
“Why not, how many Irish pubs are there around here?” replies Grouse on the Green Kitchen Manager Ryan Scott with a shrug, fielding my dinner date’s first question about the link between Ireland and Cordillera.
And come to think of it, he is right. After all, Vail isn’t anywhere near Bavaria or Austria, and no one questions the place of other European-themed restaurants around the valley.
While the food is only subtly Irish ” cabbage and corned beef are neatly rolled out of sight into an Asian-inspired spring roll ” the feel of the place is casual and folksy, right down to Clubhouse Manager Danny Hollenbeck’s friendly and free-spirited demeanor and his staff’s easy-going but impeccable service manners.
“We all like it here. We try to keep it as friendly and as much fun as we can,” says Hollenbeck, who once toured the skateboarding circuit before “turning 24 and needing a job.”
Grouse on the Green is the kind of place to come for a hearty meal and leave with a grin and a full belly. You can chase each bite with a good measure of Guinness, stretch your feet out in front of you, marvel at waiter-turned-lounge-singer Bill Davis’ puzzling choice of songs and lose all thoughts of reality for a moment in the view out the window or the crackling flames in the fireplace.
‘Tis a good place to come and enjoy a pint, as the Irish would say.
“I like to keep it simple. All I want to do is serve really good food. Just good standard pub food with Irish accents,” says Scott, who knew he wanted to cook for people ever since he got his first job at 14 in a kitchen washing dishes.
Irish by heritage, Scott speaks frankly about his food, saying he likes to prepare everything ” from sauces to sides ” as long as he gets to do them right ” with fresh ingredients from scratch to the plate.
His explanations of the menu items are lovingly delivered and deliberate in detail. To re-tell them here would be to give away entire recipes.
As we settle in front of the fireplace, we are quickly greeted by a plate of the already mentioned spring rolls ” a big seller at the Grouse. They are served in good bite-sizes with a creamy not too tart beer-mustard and red wine vinaigrette for dipping.
My date likes them, because ” they don’t taste like spring rolls.
Scott greets the comment with pride. Instead of the greasy Asian whatever-comes-out-of-the-fryer flavored appetizer, this concoction of corned beef and cabbage is deftly set off with dried cranberries, cherries and blackberries, making it a tangy, interesting combination for the palate without the greasy aftertaste.
While we are trying to sort out who gets how many bites, the soda bread arrives. Baked in-house, like almost all items on the menu, the dense little brown loaf is Irish by recipe and delicious and sweet in taste, nicely accentuated with a sweet cayenne-honey butter that leaves even the most devout of Atkins-diet followers helplessly nibbling away.
Another appetizer ” the menu features a good variety of five or six depending on the season and they are all priced between $6 and $10 ” arrives, bringing a bright splash of color and a noticeably strong aroma to the table.
Goat cheese will do that ” in a nice way. The small golden globe of cheese comes lightly baked, floating on a tomato confit spiced with garlic, shallots and is served with baguette crostinis.
The cheese melts and so do I, while my date moves on to a second Guinness from the pub’s varied beer and wine menu, rubbing his belly and looking happy and entertained by the very attentive staff.
The main courses are frill-free and well-balanced in taste and proportions, evidence that Scott, who learned his trade at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, is taking pride in things done well, from the ground up.
A lamb shank, brazed in a mild demi-glaze and cooked to fork-it-off-the-bone perfection, arrives with a tasty vegetable-lentil ragout and fresh sauteed spinach. Topped off with hints of thyme, rosemary and sage, the meat is juicy and savory. At $23, the shank tops the list of entrees, which start at $9 for a pub burger and hit mid-price level at shrimp and chips for $16 or bacon wrapped meatloaf at $12.
My personal favorite comes in a flamboyant form, a rolled up salmon filet ” the menu calls it a salmon roulade ” blackened on the outside and just waiting to be drenched on the flaky pink inside with the caper-lemon butter dollop that perches on top.
The shepherd’s pie, served in a Guinness sauce, is as simple as it is stunning. My dinner date proclaims it to be much better than anything he’s ever fabricated ” over a camp fire.
I’m drawn to it, because it has all the fixings of comfort food ” soft-cooked veggies and beef with a beer aftertaste ” how much better can it get?
The answer isn’t far behind and comes in the form of a small cup of apple crisp topped with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream.
Even if you’re afraid of refined sugar, this crisp will lure you in, sweet tooth, spoon and sinker.
Aside from fabulous food, a friendly ambiance and great specials ” four different ones per week, Grouse on the Green is also available for banquet functions and offers live music Thursdays. A dinner-only restaurant during the winter, Grouse on the Green also serves lunch during the summer on a deck that overlooks the valley from Vail to Wolcott.