Lift to lunch: Two Elk Lodge

Cassie Pence
The Two Elk restaurant at Vail.

Perched atop of Vail’s China Bowl across from Blue Sky Basin, the sheer size of the lodge, there are almost 2,000 seats, is almost as impressive as its views of the craggy peaks of the Gore Range.

“It is the gateway to the back side of the mountain,” General Manager of Two Elk Lodge Doug Wooldridge said.

Executive Chef Mike Sheard, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has created a menu that revolves around Southwestern cuisine, its spices and products. But he hasn’t limited the choices to the Southwest.

“He is the absolute best high-volume quality chef. He and his culinary team are incredible,” Wooldridge said.

Two Elk Lodge is organized in the tradition of a cafeteria and has seven food stations serving wraps, salads, soup, pasta, pizza, potatoes and grillables. And the choices don’t stop there.

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That’s a wrap

The wraps are tasty, and filling, and are good representatives of the lodge’s Southwestern influences. First you pick from a chipolte or spinach tortilla. Then a smiling staff member, mine happened to be Darbs from New Zealand, piles on rice, beans – refried or black beans with cilantro and herbs, a peppers and onion combination, chicken marinated in a very secret sauce, salsa, cheese and jalepenos. Of course you can pass on any topping you may not want, making the wrap completely individualized.

The lighter side

The self-serving salad bar ($5.50 for a bowl and $8.50 for a plate) is a great option for the skiier who wants to eat light. Looking very fresh, all salad essentials are present – carrots, cucumbers, baby corn, onions, etc. Pile it on, pile it high.

Soulful soup

According to Wooldridge, the soups and chili ($5.75 to $7.75) are his best sellers. And after tasting the chicken posole, a traditional Mexican soup topped with tortillas and cheese, and a staple at Two Elk, it becomes clearer why all the pots are empty at the end of the day. Buffalo chili, pork green chili and the soup du jour are among the other selections at the soup station. Don’t forget to pick up a big piece of cornbread ($2.05) for yourself, its roof-of-the-mouth scraping sweetness blends perfectly with the spice and smooth consistency of the posole.

Load up on carbs

The pasta bar contains veggie lasagna ($10.50), pasta penne ($9) and the pasta du jour ($9.50). Your options here come with the sauces. You can choose from a traditional bolognese, roasted garlic cream sauce, or go a little more exotic with the chicken sundried tomato and mushroom cream sauce. No matter how you top it, you won’t leave hungry.

Something for the youths

The individual pizzas ($9 to $10.25) are a favorite among the younger generation. Stick with your standard cheese and pepperoni, or new this year, Two Elk’s smoked barbeque chicken pizza.

Spendid spuds

Make a deluxe potato ($8.50) with a choice of 13 different toppings. Two Elk’s potato with all the fixings is a meal in itself, not leaving you too full so you can still make quality turns after lunch.

Mountains of meat

Although there is one vegetarian option at the grill station, grilled portabello mushroom sandwich ($7.75), the meat-lover in us all can choose from a hamburger ($7.75), cheeseburger ($7.75), smoked beef and pork bratwurst ($9.95) and the footlong Rockies dog ($7.25). There is nothing like a brat and a beer to rejuvenate wobbly ski legs.

No matter which food venue you choose, the eats will be fresh. Wooldridge says everything is made from scratch everyday.

“There is an entire crew devoted to keeping Two Elk stocked, from the warehouse people to the snowcat drivers,” Wooldridge said.

Food is brought up via the gondola in Lionshead. A snowcat makes several trips throughout the day, bringing food to Two Elk, ensuring the ingredients are fresh.

But aside from Two Elk’s ambiance, with its all-wood interior and high ceilings, and its quality of food, Wooldridge claims there is one other reason Two Elk Lodge stands out from other restaurants on the mountain.

“We have the largest and most diverse staff,” Wooldridge said. “Our staff is from a total of 13 different countries. They are outgoing, friendly and strive really hard to offer the best customer service.”

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