By Jed Vaughn
As you stroll down Main Street, you immediately pick up on the laid-back ambiance of this historic, cozy tourist town amid the sky-scraping Colorado Rocky Mountains. The crisp mountain air is clean and refreshing at 9,600 feet above sea level, and every street corner offers a fantastic view of the ten-mile range and ski slopes to the west.
The wildly popular resort town of Breckenridge lays claim to many notable attributes, such as having the world’s highest distillery, North America’s highest floating restaurant, and the highest high-speed quad chairlift in the world (reaching 12,840 feet). It was also named 2nd best small town in America by U.S. News in 2017. But predominantly, Breckenridge is known as a world class ski resort, being the most popular on the continent. During peak season, on any given day the number of visitors in Summit County could swell to 100,000, of which 20,000 are found in Breckenridge. As a result, the food scene has evolved to new heights. To keep up, this scenic Rocky Mountain getaway has opened 23 new restaurants since 2017, offering a wide variety of International cuisines.
Even though the area has a permanent residency of just 3,500, you’ll find restaurants to satisfy any craving. Japanese, traditional American, French, pizza, BBQ, Hawaiian, seafood, Italian, Irish, Mexican, Mediterranean, Pho, and Vietnamese are available year-round. And with a commute of less than 5 minutes from one end of town to the other, locating venues and tasting Breckenridge is easy.
Clothing shops, cafés, sports bars, wine bars, martini bars, and craft beer pubs are also speckled throughout the town. One of the most well-known, The Gold Pan Saloon, was founded in 1861 and holds the longest continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi. There’s a fascinating history at the Gold Pan, one worth exploring while in Breckenridge. Upon wandering in through the swinging doors, you’re drawn to the bar top. It’s a single piece of mahogany produced by Brunswick in 1920. And if you stop in, be sure to try the unique and delicious goat meat taco.
Blue River Bistro on Main Street is an elegant favorite of the locals. Start things off with their excellent wine list or two-for-one martinis at happy hour, and you’ll be well situated for a fabulous evening of cuisine and libations. An entree specialty I’d recommend is the heavenly salmon Oscar prepared with Scottish salmon, crabmeat, grilled asparagus, and roasted potato. Another is a slow roasted lamb shank that simply melts in the mouth. There’s also a rich and very popular shellfish cioppino with Alaskan king crab, tiger shrimp, bay scallops, mussels, and fresh fish, all tossed with mushrooms and herbs over angel hair pasta. All to die for!
Special Culinary Experiences to Seek Out in Breckenridge
A memorable dining experience is easy to find in Breckenridge. But if you’re seeking something with an extra special flair, here are two you won’t want to miss.
Ian Buchanan has been the administrative technician at the Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute in Breckenridge since 2012 and was selected as TripAdvisor’s Best Travel Chef in 2016. The 42-year-old culinary expert has a solid background in the world of food and travel. He’s made culinary excursions to 30 countries as a private chef, chef guide, student of local families, caterer of 2-2500, and consultant. With 20 years of experience behind him, he’s now found his niche on the eastern slopes of the Colorado Rockies.
One way to experience Ian’s services and expertise is by reserving the Culinary Institute’s kitchen for a night of fun, learning, and feasting. Cuisine options are essentially world encompassing. On my visit, it was Brazilian and Argentinian.
Within 90 minutes, our group created a colorful, palate-pleasing array of eight different dishes: moqueca bahiana (seafood stew with coconut milk), beef empanadas, Brazilian cheese bread, locro (veal dish), feijoada (Brazilian black bean stew), grilled flat iron steak with chimichurri, grilled veggies, and arroz con leche (rice pudding with milk).
With each of us positioned at workstations in the Institute’s kitchen, we were surrounded by every imaginable size of cooking utensils, measuring implements, pots and pans, and ovens and stovetops. Ian provided our recipe sheets and prepped us for the endeavor. Then, feet shuffled, and cookware clanged as two teams each tackled four of the eight recipes. It was a crazy scramble of novice chefs chopping, dicing, measuring, mixing, and cooking up all the prepared ingredients. It reminded me of an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, but fortunately without the rude critiques.
Ian guided the way with hands-on assistance and fielded all questions. The result was a phenomenal meal that we all enjoyed when the lesson was over.
For people who love to cook, this intimate encounter with a master chef is truly an evening to remember. We all walked away with a few new skills to add to our cooking endeavors. It was an amazing learning experience, and incredibly fun.
An alternative to attending an evening class at the college is to have Ian come to you, which Ian says can be arranged at vacation rental homes in Breckenridge. You decide on the cuisine and purchase the food, and Ian shows up and prepares a fabulous meal before your eyes. It’s a unique custom-designed cooking lesson, ending with a feast on world class culinary delights.
For either of these popular choices, it’s recommended to reserve the service 90 days in advance of a visit. This one is in high demand by those in the know.
Touring and Tasting the Breckenridge Distillery
Breckenridge Distillery offers an open chef’s tasting bar as part of their ‘distillery combined with a restaurant flair’. It’s an intimate farm-to-table experience with a modern approach.
David Burke is the Master Chef for the distillery’s restaurant and is the recipient of numerous awards. He’s the only American to ever receive the Diplome d’Honneur by Meilleur Ouvriers de France. Other accolades include being nominated twice for Best Chef of the Year, as well as the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in America, and Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.
The food is far more impressive than what you might expect at a distillery restaurant, and the award-winning libations merge nicely with the atmosphere for an excellent all-around dining experience.
A superb specialty dish created by David features his patented curing process for a 40-day cured Kansas City sirloin using a pink Himalayan salt in the recipe and cure. Another is the signature porchetta, a slow-cooked pork belly seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and sage, and accompanied by a fabulous bourbon plum jam. Burke’s Korean pork + jasmine is a house favorite that cuts with a fork and is a true crowd pleaser.
Rich and tantalizing dessert choices round out the evening. Topping the list of choices is crème brûlée, or a charged-up dessert with spirits such as the chocolate mousse with Breckenridge Espresso Vodka, and a punchy bourbon float made with Mexican Coke and Breckenridge Bourbon.
Among the award-winning libations is the PX Cask, finished in ancient solera barrels from Spain. It won the 2018 “Icons of Whiskey” competition for best blended whiskey held every year by Whiskey Magazine. Additionally, a unique European Juniper Gin won two gold medal awards by the American Distillers Institute. The Breckenridge distillers say the secret sauce to their success is using the high mineral water that runs off the nearby continental divide, grabbing first dip into the enriched water before it makes the journey to the Pacific Ocean.
Unarguably, Breckenridge is not just a world class ski resort within a luxury travel destination, but also a foodie vacation hotspot. The feel of a classy historic small town, combined with top of the line chefs and vast culinary choices from around the globe, truly makes for a satisfying adventure in Food and Travel.
Denver International Airport is the closest and easiest way to come from afar if you’re traveling to Breckenridge. It’s about an hour and a half drive west from there, and you can rent a car or take a shuttle. Due to the steady influx of people heading to the resort town, the shuttles run every two hours and cost $55-$60 round trip. This option can take a little longer depending on number of stops, and both methods can vary with time of day and traffic. If you rent a car, you may want to take a small detour through the Red Rocks Amphitheater to enjoy some unique scenery and landscapes.