Are we there yet? Summer road trips in the state can be long and boring, even for semi-grown adults. Colorado food expeditions on the other hand are the trips everybody begs to be part of. When there’s great pizza or coffee or lavosh waiting for them the miles tick by quickly. In my travels in Colorado in the past few years I’ve found some genuinely unique tastes and culinary experiences that are not necessarily on most foodies’ radar. Here’s a curated roaster of some of my favorite hidden gems, unknown taste treats and unusual culinary encounters.
Road to Hell’s paved with pepperoni
Tiny, loud, bright red and reeking of garlic, hot Italian sausage, peppers, oregano and singed crust, Ruffrano’s Hell’s Kitchen Pizza is everything you want in a New York-style pizzeria and a great find in a mountain resort town. 9 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, 719-685-4355, hellskitchenmanitou.com
The Krispy Kreme of curds
Windsor’s Cozy Cow Creamery and farm produces some wonderful cheeses and ice cream but the ultimate treat is cheddar cheese curds so fresh they squeak and are addictively tasty. 28607 Co. Road 17, Windsor, cozycows.com. To find out when fresh curds are being born text CURDS to 970-805-4269.
Straight out of Vanuatu
Tranquility base in Denver is Kavasutra Kava Bar where calming, mildly euphoric (and legal) ava root juice is served warm or chilled in a mellowing frozen kava piña colada. Cold brew coffee, kombucha and acai sorbet are also available. 1232 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 720-708-5651, kavasutra.com.
Besides creating fine sheep’s milk cheeses, the bucolic Fruition Farm in Larkspur offers classes for cheese nerds in cheesemaking with resident cheesemaker Jimmy Warren, the man responsible for Fruition’s aged Cacio Pecora, soft-ripened Shepherd’s Halo and sheep’s milk ricotta. 14347 E. Cherry Creek Road, Larkspur, fruitionfarmsdairy.com.
The Kool-Aid kolache krautburger test
I’m fairly certain that there is only one eatery in Colorado where you can taste Kool-Aid Kicker Cherry Spudnut doughnuts plus kolaches and those Midwestern fast food gems, cabbage and meat-filled krautburgers, and it’s Red’s Dogs and Donuts. 2608 11th Ave., Greeley, 970-353-2400, redsdogsanddonuts.com.
Tasting from Senegal to the Ivory Cast
The coolest food court around is Aurora’s Afrikmall, a community gathering place for local Colorado Africans from various nations. A big draw are the half dozen stalls serving rare homestyle fare from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia and Congo, including goat stew, fried fish, sweet and chewy fried plantains, peanut soup and okra stew. 10180 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora, 303-479-4729, afrikmall.com.
When the moon hits your eye
Native New Englanders like me find solace in chile-infused sausage sandwiches with tomato sauce and whole milk mozzarella in Pueblo’s classic claustrophobic Gagliano’s Italian Market. Be sure to get a Sicilian flag and some Torrone nougat for the road. 1220 Elm St., Pueblo, 719-544-6058.
Eagle’s exalted burger master
If the name didn’t give it away, let’s be clear: Chris McKenzie is obsessed with building a perfect burger at his new place, Expert Burger. Imagine a great hamburger ground from fresh Colorado Angus on a butter-brushed challah roll. Now imagine it covered in a layer of poutine — frites, mozzarella and a demi-glace sauce. That’s the Whistler Burger. If you sign a release, you can get it cooked rare. 313 Chambers Ave., Eagle, 970-328-1291, expertburger.com.
Masaladas among good friends
Aloha Hawaiian BBQ always has the obligatory plate lunches (with rice and macaroni salad) but you have to visit the Thornton eatery Thursday through Sunday to taste recreational malasadas — hot filled and fried doughnut holes coated in sugar. 8623 Washington St., Thornton, 303-227-6800.
Get cupping in Minturn
Tucked away in a tiny commercial park on the road into Minturn is the best place to taste coffee in the Colorado mountains. At Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea’s cupping room one of the master roasters leads a guided smell, slurp and swallow appreciation of the component roasted beans in a blend. The store offers dozens of coffee varieties and teas, but no coffee drinks unless they happen to have a pot brewed. Call ahead to schedule a tasting. 23698 U.S. Highway 6 and 24, Minturn, 970-827-4008, vailcoffee.com.
Where the chile winds do blow
There are Colorado festivals celebrating everything from corn to potatoes to melon and cider, but the most exciting by far is the Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival, Sept. 23–25. The simple roasted chile and cheese quesadillas are exceptional, and so is the air infused with the pleasantly painful perfume of green chiles being torched by the thousands. pueblochilefestivalinfo.com.
Getting your daily lavosh
When you need to vacate North America for a few hours trek to Arash International Market in Aurora, a magnet for shoppers from across the globe. I love the store for the myriad permutations of flatbreads they carry, from pita to lavosh. It’s the place where you find halal goat meat, Bulgarian feta, fresh Colorado lamb and oodles of preserves and pistachios. Make a day of it by visiting the nearby H Mart (Asian mega supermarket) and Bombay Bazaar (which carries Indian fried snacks and Bollywood movies). 2720 S. Parker Road, Aurora, 303-752-9272.
The chef and the conductor
Food as entertainment comes to the fore at the 20th anniversary Crested Butte Music Festival, July 15. The “holistic sensory experience” features Top Chef Masters star Hugh Acheson preparing a multi-course meal onstage with a performance by violinist Charles Yang and pianist Peter Dugan. crestedbuttemusicfestival.org
Taste of the week
A longtime Denver restaurant family has purchased the storied hot dog-shaped Coney Island in Bailey and is planning on reopening the icon and restoring it to its former glory… but with much better food. Built in Denver in 1966, it was a familiar roadside attraction in Aspen Park and now dwells incongruously in a wooded mountain creekside location. Updates to follow.
Words to chew on
I lift a tomato grilled cheese sandwich to Guy Clark, one of the nicest musicians I’ve interviewed and writer of the best vegetable song ever. He passed away this week at the age of 74. Here’s some lyrics from his “Homegrown Tomatoes.”
“If I’s to change this life I lead
I’d be Johnny Tomato Seed
‘Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don’t bury me
In a box in a cemetery
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin’ up homegrown tomatoes.”
John Lehndorff is the former food editor of the Daily Camera. You’ll find John Lehndorff’s Facebook page at facebook.com/USpie. Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, streaming at kgnu.org).