Groups can partake of the bounty. Locally sourced wild game such as elk, antelope and buffalo that is often leaner than other cuts of meat serves up deliciously with homegrown potatoes and onions, corn and beans, mushrooms, beets, cherries, peaches, apricots and salad greens. Colorado is traditional beef country, with numerous cattle ranches and independent producers procuring quality meat and lamb. Freshwater fish such as trout, walleye and bass round out the culinary options for authentic cuisine; international and ethnic eateries are popular in the larger cities.
Award-winning freelance journalist Claire Walter, who blogs about food on culinary-colorado.com, says, “When I moved to Colorado in 1988, a good meal was a steak, and a great meal was a big steak. Now, Colorado’s top chefs in places like Denver, Boulder, Aspen, Vail and Telluride are serving creative dishes that are the peer of the country’s epicurean centers.”
Indeed, Colorado boasts a vibrant local foods movement with free-range meats, organic produce, handmade breads and artisan cheeses. It has also redefined green chilies. Unlike those found in Texas and New Mexico, the state has its own peppery version grown in Southern Colorado that’s plated up at almost every eatery. Here’s a look at where meeting groups can eat and drink like the locals.
With more than 125 miles of spectacular Rocky Mountain views, Denver’s history is reflected in luxurious hotels, historic bank vaults converted into meeting space and a host of microbreweries.
On the culinary scene, the Mile High City is known for green chili (sauces and stews made with green chilies), and recommendations are strong at Jack-n-Grill, serving New Mexican cuisine. It was voted No. 13 of 101 Best Places to Chowdown in the nation by the Travel Channel, which specifically highlighted their 7-pound breakfast burrito smothered in the family’s secret chili verde sauce. Exceptional green chili can also be found at Sam’s No. 3, Bonnie Brae Tavern and Blake Street Tavern. Lime, an American cantina and tequila bar downtown, uses chicken instead of pork to make its hearty chili.
It’s been said the city’s best green chili burgers and cheeseburgers can be found at 5280 Burger Bar, Elway’s and Cherry Cricket. For breakfast, don’t overlook the famous Denver omelet filled with green bell peppers, onions, ham and cheddar cheese that appears on most every menu.
If you have a hankering for some local western fare, visit The Buckhorn Exchange. Established in 1893, the Buckhorn holds the first liquor license issued in the state of Colorado. If you’re brave, try the house specialty, Rocky Mountain oysters, which are fried bull testicles. Another landmark restaurant, The Fort, sells more buffalo steaks in the United States than any other independently owned restaurant. It can accompany private groups of 350.
Adventurous diners can throw caution to the wind and stop at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs, where they will find brats made from reindeer, wild boar, rattlesnake, pheasant, elk, antelope, yak and buffalo, and toppings that include Coca-Cola-carmelized grilled onions and cream cheese.
The Nickel restaurant is located in the iconic Hotel Teatro, in the heart of Denver’s Theatre District. The menu, designed by executive chef Christopher Thompson, draws inspiration from the Rocky Mountains—incorporating locally sourced ingredients into rustic Colorado fare. The decor of The Nickel features beautiful textiles, custom-made furnishings and industrial materials with a simplistic feel.
If you are seeking a meal with a view, there may be no better choice than the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, where diners can enjoy breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains from Peaks Lounge on the 27th floor.
“Denver’s food and nightlife scene is buzzing—with recent features in everything from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal. The city is hot, and the country is taking notice. If you haven’t been to Denver recently, it is time to take another look at the Mile High City,” says Rachel Benedick, Visit Denver’s vice president of convention sales and services.
To accompany all that delectable food, Denver, aka America’s craft beer capital, has at least three dozen craft breweries, with 15 more expected to open in 2015. If you dare, follow the Denver Beer Trail to sample some of the more than 200 beers that are crafted here daily, more than any other metropolitan area in the country.
Many hotels offer an impressive selection of brew choices. Pub 17 on Welton Street inside the Grand Hyatt Denver features more than 50 Colorado microbrews, bottled and on tap. The pub welcomes large groups.
Overlooking Colorado Springs is the most visited mountain in North America—Pikes Peak, grandiose at 14,115 feet. From a mountainside zoo with giraffes to the Garden of the Gods Park and tours of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, visitors don’t lack for outdoor activity or good food.
Bison is the buzzword around tables, and it can be found in an array of dishes. Garden of the Gods Trading Post has a menu splattered with buffalo—burgers, tacos, wraps and chili—while The Warehouse Restaurant offers domestic and exotic game meats from local farmers and ranchers. Diners also trek to Colorado Mountain Brewery for bison poppers, venison egg rolls and bacon-wrapped Rocky Mountain rainbow trout.
Featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, King’s Chef Diner is legendary for its hearty breakfasts, burgers made from free-range raised cattle, and award-winning vegan chili.
The Broadmoor, a Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond resort, hosted acclaimed chefs and beverage experts at its inaugural Taste & Savor epicurean weekend held in March. Guests enjoyed gourmet food, world-class wine and craft cocktails, and attended seminars and panel discussions with culinary and viticulture leaders. The Broadmoor regularly offers seminars such as
Beyond the Braise: Cooking and Pairing with Craft Beer.
“The region’s food scene has really exploded. Home to the only five-star restaurant in the state, to hidden gems that have been featured on Food Network, there’s so much to enlighten the taste buds,” says Chelsy Offutt, director of communications at the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Add in a spectacular view of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, sustainable food movements and even historic walking/eating tours, and there’s a lot to savor in this Rocky Mountain destination.”
Well worth the drive to the top of Pikes Peak are the world-famous donuts at the Summit House, prepared especially for the high altitude. Also seen on the Food Network, these donuts are best eaten onsite when they are hot.
On the edge of town is the 190-acre Venetucci Farm, established in 1936. It promotes healthy food and community with its own CSA and farm stand selling chemical-free vegetables and herbs, eggs, beef and pork. The farm offers elegant farm-to-table starlight dinners for a uniquely Colorado experience. Or take a food history or cocktail walk about town with Colorado Springs Food Tours.
Named one of the “10 Best Foodiest Towns” by Bon Appetit and home to a Top Chef winner, a Cutthroat Kitchen winner and a Top Chef Masters competitor, Boulder is passionate about its local cuisine.
“There are 70 Olympians living in Boulder who care about what they put in their bodies, which says something about the abundance and accessibility to good, healthful food,” says Mary Ann Mahoney, executive director of Boulder Colorado USA.
“We often hear from meeting attendees that when they’re here, they get caught up in Boulder’s healthy lifestyle with early morning walks and healthy eating. It’s hard not to. When you see lots of people bicycling, running, walking and just generally moving, it’s inspiring,” she adds.
Here, food and exercise are intermingled. Awe-struck Outdoors escorts bike groups (leisurely or fast-paced) to local farms for meals ranging from a daily harvest lunch to wine tastings with live entertainment.
Another Boulder-founded/based company, Celestial Seasonings Tea, exemplifies the wholesome local lifestyle and offers tours daily, while Boulder County Farmers’ Market, open almost year-round, confirms their locavore movement is more than just a fad.
The Kitchen, located in the historic downtown region, is a community bistro with food sourced from several dozen local farmers, all noted on a blackboard in the dining area. A designated area upstairs is an outstanding venue for private events and receptions for up to 150.
When you crave a big juicy burger, just across from the University of Colorado Boulder campus is The Sink, a 92-year-old quintessential college joint where President Barack Obama has eaten twice.
For unrivaled views of the Boulder Valley, fine dining and one of the country’s best wine lists, Flagstaff House fits the bill. Just minutes from town on Flagstaff Mountain, it offers planners several options for events including private rooms, the Outdoor Terrace and Vintner’s Room, and accommodates up to 200 guests.
To quench your thirst, Boulder has 20 craft breweries, nine wineries and 20 distilleries—impressive for a city with a population of just over 100,000. Follow the Boulder Beer Trail for tours and tastings, as you enjoy the breathtaking scenery and unique cuisine in Colorado.
A Natural High
Colorado has always been a top meeting destination. Denver International Airport (DIA) is the largest airport in the United States by total area, and offers easy connections to destinations throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Once there, with its healthy cuisine, craft microbrews, top-notch restaurants and convention center and spectacular setting, it’s no wonder meeting planners are (Rocky Mountain) high on Colorado.
Mona L. Hayden is an independent writer and award-winning photographer. She publishes Louisiana Road Trips magazine.
Boulder Colorado USA – bouldercoloradousa.com
Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau – visitcos.com
Colorado Tourism – colorado.com
Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association – steamboat-chamber.com
Telluride Tourism Board – visittelluride.com
Vail Chamber & Business Association – vailchamber.org
Visit Denver – denver.org
Charming and picturesque, Telluride is located in southwest Colorado. Culinary events occur year-round. The Telluride Wine Festival (pictured), June 25–28, features food pairings, films, cooking demos and coffee roasting classes. Learn about distilling from Colorado alchemists. The family-friendly event includes soda tasting and kids’ cooking classes. Scientists are discovering that in addition to treating depression, mushrooms can filter and break down toxic oil spills. Fungi fans will discuss this and more at the annual Telluride Mushroom Festival, scheduled August 13–15.
When in town stay at one of the city’s elegant hotels, such as the Madeline Hotel and Residences or the Fairmont Heritage Place Franz Klammer Lodge, both Conde Nast picks.
Popular Food & Drink Festivals
Colorado Craft Beer Week is celebrated statewide each spring. It happened this year March 21–29. Here are some other annual events:
- Taste of Pearl, April 19
- Colorado Indulgence Festival, took place Feb. 15. No date set yet for 2016.
- Fiddles, Vittles & Vino, July 26
- Glass Slipper Ball, takes place in late January.
- Manitou Springs Colorado Wine Festival, June 6
- A Taste of Colorado, Sept. 4-7
- Chef & Brew Festival, Nov. 20
- Fermentation Festival & Market, Aug. 9–10
- Flavors of Denver, April 2
- Great American Beer Festival, Sept. 24–26
- Summer Brew Fest, July 24–25
- Winter Brew Fest, takes place in late January.
Braised Buffalo Short Ribs with Potato Leek Cake and Roasted Asparagus
- 4 buffalo short ribs
- 3 Idaho potatoes, peeled and shredded
- 1 leek, julienned
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 quarts beef stock
- 1 cup flour
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 2 bundles asparagus
- 3 oz. chopped rosemary, thyme and sage
- 1 cup red wine
- 12 garlic cloves, cleaned
- Salt and pepper
- 3 sticks butter
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Heat oil in a skillet.
Season short ribs with salt and pepper, and coat in the flour. Sear, brown and transfer to a braising pan.
Add the celery, carrots, onion and half of the herbs to the skillet and sauté. When the onions are translucent, add the red wine to deglaze the pan. Reduce the red wine by half and add the beef stock. Transfer the contents of the skillet to the braising pan with the ribs and add the garlic. Add water if necessary to cover the ribs, and place braising pan in the oven. It will take two to four hours to cook to tender. Check regularly to make sure there is enough liquid.
To prepare the potato cake, saute the julienned leeks with the additional herbs in butter. When they are translucent, transfer to a bowl with the shredded potato. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika. Mix completely. Taste the mixture for desired flavor and consistency, and mold into four, equal-sized cakes. Sear the cakes with butter in a saute pan and set aside.
Take one piece of asparagus and bend in half. Cut the remainder of asparagus where it breaks. Toss with oil, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for 14 minutes.
To prepare the sauce, remove the tender ribs from the oven, strain the liquid into a sauce pan and reduce. You can thicken the sauce by adding a roux (equal parts butter and flour).
To plate, reheat the potato cakes in the oven for a few minutes and arrange them on the plate with the roasted asparagus, short ribs and sauce. Serves four.
Recipe from executive chef Scott Przymus, Sheraton Steamboat Resort, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The property has 206 guest rooms and 36,942 sq. ft. of meeting space, and can accommodate up to 1,000.
The footprint of Colorado’s mountains are six times the size of Switzerland, with more than 1,000 peaks stretching more than two miles high.
The highest paved road in North America is atop the 14,260-foot peak of Mount Evans.
“America the Beautiful” was written in 1893 atop Pikes Peak by Katharine Lee Bates.
Stretching from Durango to Denver, the 500-mile Colorado (hiking) Trail crosses eight mountain ranges, seven national forests, six wilderness areas and five river systems.
Pikes Peak Railway is the highest cog railway in the world and travels a distance of 8.9 miles from 6,571 feet to 14,110 feet (pictured).
Colorado Convention Center: A Leader in Sustainability
The Colorado Convention Center (CCC) in Denver is a pioneer in demonstrating how the events industry can reduce its overall carbon footprint. According to its 2014 Annual Sustainability Report, last year CCC recycled more than 5,493 pounds of paper, composted 160 tons of material and saved $164,595 in energy costs with lighting retrofits.
It is a credentialed leader in sustainable environmental practices. In addition to being LEED Gold certified, the CCC has achieved prestigious ASTM/APEX Venue Level 2 certification, as well as Environmental Management System (EMS) 14001 certification.
The CCC’s goal is to erase the line between a “regular event” and a “green event” by assuring that all events at the venue are guided by environmentally sound principles. Staff can assist planners who want their meetings certified as sustainable events with easy-to-incorporate suggestions such as renting Energy Star-certified equipment, extinguishing meeting room lights when they are not needed and not routinely re-filling water glasses during sessions.
The convention center, which often operates 24/7, has made great inroads in conserving energy. The building opened in 1990 and was expanded in 2005 with a sensible yet beautiful design. Its glass-walled atriums flood the building with natural sunlight, reducing the need for auxiliary lighting. Builders installed a 300 kw rooftop solar array, which has saved money and significantly cut CO2 emissions. One-fourth of the building’s power is purchased as wind energy.
The CCC reduces its water consumption with low-flush toilets and urinals, and has installed water fill stations to encourage the use of tap water instead of throw-away plastic bottles. Recycling containers abound. All leftover conference materials are distributed to local nonprofits—in the first year of the program almost 30,000 pounds of material was donated.
Chefs at the facility use vegetables, fruits, herbs and honey from Blue Bear Farm, a 5,000-square-foot urban garden launched about two years ago. Food scraps are composted to complete the ecological cycle.
The CCC does its part to keep Colorado’s Rocky Mountain air clean. It has instituted an anti-idling policy for cars, and has two city bike share stations. The parking garage features an electric vehicle charger. CCC reports that more than half of its employees take alternative transportation to work— all full-time employees receive a free ECO-Pass to encourage use of light rail and bus transportation.
The Huffington Post rates Denver as one of the five American cities you should visit in 2015. Planners should take note when considering where to hold their next meeting. Denver’s environmentally friendly CCC hosts 250-plus events annually. It features 600,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, two ballrooms, a 5,000-seat theater, and is within walking distance of more than 8,700 hotel rooms and 300 restaurants.
Vail is one of the largest ski resorts in the world, with more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain. For more than five decades it has been a spectacular winter vacation destination for travelers and world-class athletes, who gather there to compete in such events as the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships.
After a day on the slopes, sample the Alpine-inspired dining options at Tavern on the Square, a restaurant in The Arrabelle at Vail Square. Farm-to-table ingredients figure prominently in signature dishes such as buffalo meatloaf and grilled elk lettuce wraps. In the morning, try the Colorado Mountain Breakfast, which features short rib hash, venison sausage, two eggs any style and beer mustard. If you’re game, add a Bacon Bloody Mary.
Major Meeting Venues
Event Center at Rembrandt Yard
Sophisticated art center has more than 6,500 sq. ft. on two floors; glorious sunsets; flexible event space can accommodate 600.
1909 facility offers western elegance; grand staircase and chandeliers; 160 guest rooms; 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space with views; member of National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America.
269 guest rooms; more than 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 5,000 square-foot-ballroom; 15 tennis courts; indoor/outdoor pools; hiking trails nearby; steps from University of Colorado.
201 guest rooms; 16,500 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor meeting space; four terraces and gardens; ballroom; 10,000-square-foot spa/fitness center.
Located at 6,200 feet; 316 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in an IACC-certified conference center; championship golf course; 35-acre recreational lake with beach; superb dining.
146-acre zoo offers African Safari and Colorado wilderness experiences; 4,200-square-foot Lodge at Moose Lake holds 280 for banquets; 3,000 for receptions and outdoor picnics. q
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
Architectural gem founded in 1936; nine permanent collection galleries, two traveling exhibits and interactive gallery; event space accommodates 400 (indoor and outdoor), with gallery access.
At base of Pikes Peak; 309 guest rooms; 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; near Garden of the Gods Park.
Majestic AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five Star property built in 1918; 744 guest rooms; 185,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; first-class restaurants, shops, golf courses; lake and fly-fishing pond, cabins; Western art collection; several mountain-side properties including Cloud Camp.
Authentic 1863 saloon-turned-restaurant with once-hidden vault seats 250 guests in 4,000 sq. ft.; historic timber and brick, with copper bar and tin ceilings; happy hour is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Denver’s only Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond hotel; 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 241 guest rooms; afternoon high tea; eight-story atrium.
Glass-walled center has 584,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 100,000 sq. ft. for meetings; two grand ballrooms totaling 85,000 sq. ft.; 5,000-seat Bellco Theatre; 40-foot-tall blue bear sculpture; extraordinary views.
6,700-square-foot space can accommodate 400 in modern European atmosphere; open kitchen features local, farm-fresh cuisine.
Recently renovated AAA Four Diamond hotel; 599 guest rooms; 32,000 sq. ft. event space; ballroom can hold 2,500.
Embassy Suites Denver–Downtown Convention Center
Contemporary LEED Silver-certified property has 403 guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of event space; four ballrooms; saline swimming pool.
AAA Four Diamond property has 516 guest rooms; 52,600 sq. ft. event space; new $28 million renovation.
AAA Four-Diamond boutique hotel located downtown in a 1911 historic property; 7,245 sq. ft. reception space; 110 guest rooms renovated in 2014; Expedia rated it one of the Top 10 Hotels in the World. q
Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center
Adjoins the convention center; 1,100 redesigned guest rooms; 60,600 sq. ft. of meeting space; Peaks Lounge offers great views of the mountains.
Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center
Modern facility located in former historic bank building has original vaults; 230 guest rooms; 6,000 sq. ft. of event space; marble lobby features 16 murals, circa 1925.
Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel
Colorado’s largest property; 1,231 guest rooms; 133,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; near microbreweries, dining, shopping and entertainment.
Keystone Resort & Conference Center
Largest conference center in the Rockies has 1,200 guest rooms; 100,000 sq. ft. of event space with 50 meeting rooms; spa; golf.
Five stunning properties surrounded by 350,000 acres of natural forest; 665 guest rooms; 37,065 total sq. ft. of meeting space; fine dining.