New Vail Ale House features 20 craft brews paired with a comfort food menu
Different is good, especially at the new Vail Ale House in the West Vail Mall.You won’t recognize the place. The walls are wood and stone, the wood is from Colorado and the stone was carved from a quarry in Telluride. The tables are 150-year-old hardwood from Missouri.The Ale House is a successful combination between a bar and a family restaurant. Stroll in the door on the west side and covering the entire wall to your left is a massive photo of workmen smiling as they hoist a glass to toast the end of Prohibition.Wander easily to the east, past the bar and into the family dining area. The music quiets, the lights dim and the entire atmosphere softens. The new booths are better. The lights are better. The acoustics are better. Even the music is better. The Reverend Horton Heat is slated to play Tuesday night.Much of the staff is also new, brought in because of their expertise with microbrews.The space has been The Menu, the Jackalope and the Sandbar. Now it’s the Vail Ale House and Manager Jason Barber has worked in the space, regardless of the name above the door, for the past 12 years. ‘Surprise me’True to its name, the restaurant has 20 craft beers on tap, some you can’t get anywhere else in this area.”Devoted to the craft – that’s our motto,” Barber said. “We get some beers in here that no one else in the mountains is pouring.”Or try cocktails like “Mint Southern Bourbon Tea” or a “Moscow Mule.”Chef Rick Hyra volunteered to come to Vail from San Diego. At the Ale House he has created comfort food that stands up to his French and fine dining background. Approachable, uncomplicated and done well.”This is food I want to eat,” Hyra said.Steve Stephenson came in from the Pacific Beach Ale House Kitchen & Tap in San Diego, which also is owned by Eric Leitstein. Leitstein owns the Union Kitchen & Tap in Encinitas, Calif. as well. We brought a crowd so we got to try more than half of the menu. The menu goes with the beer, the beer goes with the menu and they all live happily ever after.Expertise is unnecessary. We suggest leaning heavily on your wait staff’s expertise. Ours was the knowledgeable and lovely Ariana Keeney.Repeat after me: “In Ariana we trust.” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Surprise me.” And she did.Salty and sweetThe Avery White Rascal, the Lefthand Nitro Milk Stout, the Upslope Brown Ale, the Crazy Mountain Boohai Red Ale, the Arrogant Bastard – they all went perfectly with, well … whatever Ariana said they were supposed to go with.The Ale House shrimp is dusted with Hyra’s in-house spices and served with lemon and red pepper aioli and arugula salad.The sausage board is three kinds of sausage – cheddar jalapeno elk, wild boar and apricot and grilled pork belly. Try the wild boar with a dollop of the chutney served alongside and it’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet, like the best first date you’ve ever had.The Atlantic salmon is pan-seared in maple brown butter and served with braised fennel and roasted Brussels sprouts. Ariana suggested a Steamworks Kolsch alongside. She was right, as always.And that brings us to the shrimp and grits. It’s made with Cajun andouille sausage, roasted tomatoes and served with Anson Mills grits from South Carolina, stone ground so they absorb the flavors. If someone says they don’t like grits, they’re wrong. But that’s better for you because you won’t have to share.The chicken pot pie may be the perfect comfort food. It comes with a homemade biscuit on top.The kids may want pizza, and while the flatbreads are right in the wheelhouse, they’re not kid stuff. We tried the Rattlesnake, which boasted jalapenos, bacon, pepperoni and herb creamed cheese. Ariana was kind enough to pair it with an Avery IPA.Finish with some warm ricotta doughnuts with housemade lemon curd or maybe the mixed berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.You won’t have to rob a hedge fund to eat there. You can overeat for between $6 and $20 a plate, not including beer. But believe me, you’ll want to include beer. Ariana and her colleagues will tell you which ones.Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.