What had been planned as three-day, two-night getaway to Winter Park got telescoped into two nights (don’t ask!) and one fabulous ski day, but it was still enough for three very different meals. While hardly formal or haute cuisine, except in elevation, the most “culinary” of these was lunch at the Lodge at Sunspot at the top of Winter Park’s Zephyr Express chairlift. An early dinner at Doc’s Roadhouse in the village not for from the bottom of that lift had a casual après-ski feel. And Hernando’s on the far end of the Town of Winter Park attracts a mix of visitors and locals for pizza and other favorites — and a unique ambiance.
You won’t be going to Winter Park for great dining — good, filling food but not great dining. You also go because the ski area is huge, the resort is casual and the prices moderate. Front Range skiers and riders abound, especially on weekends, but many day-trippers don’t tend to stay for dinner and are mostly interested in good skiing and good snow. Destination skiers tend to be from the Midwest and Texas, and the eateries understandably cater to their tastes. Portions tend to be ample, so you won’t go hungry. The best meals, by far, that I’ve had in the area have been at the Ranch House Restaurant at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash. I also have been hearing fantastic things about the Tabernash Tavern, whose decor might be stereotypical Old West but whose owner/chef, Alberto Sapien, rakes in the compliments for his excellent food. It’s on the list for another visit.
The Lodge at Sunspot
This mountaintop lodge has a large self-service section called The Provisioner, a coffee bar and smaller dining room with table service, a soaring ceiling, great whole-log beams suspended from robust iron straps and dazzling views. Lunch dishes are prepared in an open kitchen near the restaurant entrance. The pleasant young waiter who hails from one of the Carolinas ended every sentence with “Ma’am” or “Sir.” He waas cute, and is Mama would be proud of his manners. The lunch menu features a couple of soups, some salads, wraps, quesadillas, sandwiches and burgers.
As befits a ski resort, Winter Park is awash with eating places that sport a bar or pub ambiance, or perhaps bars and pubs that serve food. We ate dinner really early, and Doc’s pub-mosphere was quite appropriate. But on a weeknight during a slow part of the season, it was errily quiet — until some families arrived to imbue the space with liveliness. The menu is heavy on appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and such. Given that selection, our lunch and supper choices were similar.
Urbanspoon has not yet discovered Doc’s Roadhouse. It is in the heart of the Village at Winter Park. The phone number is 970- 722-5450.
Hernando’s Pizza Pub
Two kinds of restaurant dominate the Winter Park eating scene: Mexican/Tex-Mex and Italian/pizza. Of the latter, Hernando’s is a long-time favorite. It got its start. The story of how it got it’s name is worth telling. The community now known as Winter Park used to be called Hideaway Park. Back in the ’60s, a couple named Jerry and Anne Von Dracek “enjoyed the music from the Broadway show, “Pajama Game,” especially its signature song, “Hernando’s Hideaway.” They were captivated by Hideaway Park and when they decided to open a pizza place there, they named it Hernando’s of Hideaway Park. I told you the story is worth telling.
The couple opened the original Hernando’s in 1967 across the street from the current, much larger location. Jeff and Kimber Davidson bought Hernando’s in 1989, mainting treasured traditions. When you enter the timbered building, you can’t miss the graffiti-ed dollar bills all over the walls. That’s a second Hernando’s story. Russ Peterson, an early hire, suggested getting people to sign dollar bills and hang them over the bar — something he had seen in Florida. Jeff didn’t think the gimmick would work, but Russ bet a bottle of Grand Marnier that by the end of the season, 20 dollar bills would be tacked up there. The winter went on, but few people put their money on the walls, so Russ started bribing customers by buying drinks. At the end of the season, exactly $20 had accumulated. As of 2008, more like $20,000 had been stuck on the walls, on posts, embedded into tabletops. Who knows what the total is now?
I really like the atmosphere at Hernando’s — and have since it was across the street. But truth be told, it’s not my kind of pizza. My favorites are either Neapolitan made with flavorful dough tossed so that it becomes a thin bottom with a puffy slightly charred edge and authentic toppings — or Connecticut/New York/New Jersey thin crust pizza with a robust sauce, stretchy mozzarella and maybe even a light film of oil on top. Big slices are meant to be folded. Toppings are OK, but not mandatory in my pizza world, as long as there are definite flavors to the components. Hernando’s offers a choice of white and wheat dough for its hand-tossed pizzas. My companions all preferred thick crust, so I asked the waiter whether I could get the smallest thin crust pizza that Hernando’s makes. The waiter told me that a thick-crust pizza is actually the same as a thin-crust pizza but with braided dough added around the edge. Huh?
Like BeaJo’s and other mountain pizzerias, Hernando’s puts a squeeze bottle of honey on each table for the edge of the crust.