Outstanding smokehouse but merely OK restaurant — at least this past weekend
We’ve driven past Villa Tatra a million times en route to or from Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, and one of us has said a million times, “We should really eat there sometime.” We’ve bought their wonderful smoked fish but never had a meal. We were there either at the wrong time of day or we had just eaten in Estes Park or had plans in Boulder. The other evening, on our wasy back to Boulder from Rocky Mountain National Park’s annual elk action, my husband suggested it again.
Since Andrea, the female half of the couple with us, was born in Czechoslovakia (the part that is now the Czech Republic) and since the Tatra Mountains form the border between Poland and Slovakia, which in the Iron Curtain era was also part of the former Czechoslovakia and since the OPEN sign was lit, the timing seemed fortuitous. My previous assumption that Villa Tatra is a Czech restaurant was wrong. Its lineage is from the Polish side of the border, but then again, there is a great cultural and culinary common denominator in much of Eastern Europe.
The family-owned and -run restaurant is housed in a building that resembles an A-frame, but is a Polish country home style whose name escapes me. The inside reflects of the “lots of stuff on the walls” school of interior design, which I subscribe to myself. Cozy wood paneling, frill here, gee-gaws there, lots of florals, mismatched flatware and dishes, and so on. Side-by-side glass cases at the entrance show tempting smoked fish and desserts.
Villa Tatra’s warmth and coziness make diners feel at home, which is a good thing, because the service is very slow — or was when we arrived just before 8:00 p.m. on Sunday evening. It was nearly 9:00 before we ate, and when we got up to leave, a large party at the next table was still sitting and chatting among themselves and with the “Villa Tatrans.” The linger-longer experience felt very European. If Colorado were not a no-smoking state, I’m sure the table would have been wreathed in curls of smoke.
I wish I could say I loved the food. Maybe if it hadn’t been on the Sunday evening of a busy fall weekend, things would have gone more smoothly. Maybe if they had not been out of the spinach strudel, if I had ordered pierogis or if I were more of a carnivore, I would have loved the cuisine. My misgivings aside, Villa Tatra must be doing a lot right. It’s been around for 35 years.
Price check: The menus are not the simple paper type that I could ask for to take home, and the website, which does post menus, might not have been updated since 2007. Click here for the online dinner menu, but be aware of its possible price obsolescence. The address in the Urbanspoon box is Pinewood Drive, but the restaurant is actually right along U.S. 36 in Pinewood Hills up the canyon from Lyons.