The woman on the chairlift said her boyfriend was filming something in some other mountain town. He’s a skier, like her. She was happy about that, about him, about all of it. Her age led me to believe this wasn’t her first boyfriend. She was older now, content to work her mountain town job of selling ice cream or skis or bumper stickers, “THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING”. They already called her, and she rode up that chairlift beaming because it had just snowed. The other things didn’t matter. She had to be to work by 11, so maybe she was a waitress who worked lunch/dinner. But for now there was fresh powder on the slopes and she was happy. Happier than I think she should have been. Exuberant about the snow. SNOW! She couldn’t contain herself. There was no other reason for living. Her boyfriend was away and her work was calling but first she had to worship the snow.
I spent last week in Beaver Creek watching the strange people who worship the snow. If you step back and look at it, it’s really quite insane. The snow is everything, in fact, it’s mostly the only thing. It’s why they get up, it’s why they live. It’s an obsession. That’s how I feel about fish fry. On Friday night we were walking the small faux-village of Lionshead and saw a sign outside a nondescript restaurant. “FISH AND CHIPS $13”. Not wishing to break the chain of Monday fish fry reviews, I took the bait.
Bart and Yeti are dogs. This is their bar, or it was their bar. I think they’re dead now. The bar claims to be one of the last few “local” hangouts in the Vail valley. We had to park a half mile away in one of those terrible Colorado parking garage structures, but as it was after 5 pm we narrowly dodged having to pay for our stall. The bar was loud, full of snow-worshippers reveling in the dying dim of a powder day. The restaurant was cold, a condition that plagues mountain towns everywhere. Somehow, somewhere, someone convinced Colorado that the cold is fine, that if it’s a bit sunny then 25 degrees feels nice on the skin. This is why the doors to restaurants, bars, clothing shops and even ice cream shops remain open, all through the winter. They’ve lied to themselves. It’s a dry cold, they say. It’s a warm sun, they insist. But they’re wrong, it’s just winter and it’s cold and Bart and Yeti’s was as cold as the Hagen Daz shop that sold the sort of ice cream that Culver’s would only serve to their back lot dumpster.
The waitress was an older woman who seemed both happy and disinterested. Perhaps she was still buzzing from her earlier sacrifice to the Powder gods. We were seated in a small room to the right of the bar. Our corner table was near the window, and close to a group of skiers who wore straight brim hats without the slightest hint of irony. I listened in on their conversation, which revolved around snow, beer, and an epic ski trip to Taos in the mid 1980s. Gnarly! The men told the tales and the women laughed, still high from their powder day or recently high from something else. Our waitress brought us water, which tasted like minerals, which tastes like all of the other restaurant water we drank that week. I ordered the clam chowder, which the waitress told me was homemade.
The compound word homemade should never appear on a restaurant menu. Housemade is the proper term, unless someone really did make the soup at home and then transport it to the restaurant, in which case I’d like to question the sanitary conditions in that home kitchen. Still, the clam chowder arrived and it was okay. The clam bits were tender and sandy, but the broth was a bit thin. I like my clam chowder to cling to my spoon with intent. We ordered an appetizer of nachos, because they waitress told us we couldn’t go wrong with that. She was wrong, when the nachos came out under a top layer of charred cheddar I found the juxtaposition of hard cheese, tortilla chips, and heaps of raw onion and tomato to be a big swing and a miss.
The fish fry arrived almost 25 minutes after I ordered it. Three pieces of fried cod, some french fries, and a side of tartar sauce. No coleslaw, applesauce, or other accoutrements. No table bread, no butter, softened or otherwise. The cod pieces looked more like chicken tenders, thin and shallow, almost kidney shaped. The breading was golden and crunchy, the fish overcooked but adequate. There was also some confusion as to the make and model of the fish. I asked the waitress if it was cod, and she replied in the affirmative. But the menu says “white fish”, which could be almost anything. It might have been cod, but it might have been tilapia from the golf course ponds of central Florida. Who could know? The french fries were skinny, like McDonald’s fries but not nearly as good. The freezer bag must have been running low because my fries were mostly little stubs. The dinner was to come with chips, which could have implied fries, but the waitress made it appear as though the fries were an upgrade. I’m not in third grade, so don’t serve me potato chips with dinner. Thanks.
This was not an all-you-can-eat dinner. That would likely be too gluttonous and unhealthy for these Colorado patrons. With the smell of weed wafting through every faux-village, ski slope, and coffee shop, I suppose I can understand why the thought of a large fish dinner might make these locals squeamish. My wife was keen to point out that my dinner was not a fish fry. It was fish and chips, which is different, I suppose. And why shouldn’t it be? This wasn’t Wisconsin, where we know what a fish fry is, and what it should be. This was Colorado, where Bison Burgers and Rocky Mountain Oysters rule the menus of the bars and tourist restaurants. When the tab was paid and we walked in the freezing cold back to the elevated parking lot, I felt confident to have been reminded of what I already knew. Colorado is fine, but Wisconsin is better.
Bart and Yeti’s 5/10
Lionshead (Vail), Colorado
$13 Fried Cod