Two Aspen Classics: Annie’s & The Onion

Two nights and meals at two long-time Aspen standbys.

Whenever I visit Aspen, which is never often enough, there’s a dining decision to be made at every meal: visit old favorite eateries or new ones. New ones seem to be more affordable at lunch or happy hour, but some of the old standards work later in the evening too. This year, with three evenings in town, we went to two long-running favorites, the Red Onion and Little Annie’s Eating House, and one new one with moderate prices — by Aspen standards. See “New Bargain Eatery in Pricey Mountain Town” about the recently opened A$spen Bar.

The Red Onion

046This was the first time I’d returned to the Onion since its restoration four years ago to the way it was after a disastrous few years, which I wrote about in “Red Onion Renaissance.” Three of us lucked into an outdoor table along the Cooper Street Mall, a lively red brick road for pedestrians only. I popped inside after we finished to see how accurate the restoration was.

Never having lived in Aspen and having visited sporadically over the years, I couldn’t recall exactly what the Onion looked like, but the bar, the back bar, the scattered tables and the vintage photos on the walls looked pretty much as they did before. Only the flat-screen TVs were obviously 21st century. Some food follows:

Pulled pork sandwich on a Kaiser roll.
Pulled pork sandwich on a Kaiser roll.
Red Onion House Salad.
Red Onion House Salad.
Cajun spiced mahi mahi tops mixed green salad.
Cajun spiced mahi mahi tops mixed green salad.

Price check: Snacks, $3-$12; soups and salads, $5-$14; $21-$25 (including a choice of sides); $11-$15.50 (including a side); sides, $5; kids’ menu, $8; desserts, $5-$7. Also, weekday lunch specials, $9.95.

The Red Onion on Urbanspoon

Little Annie’s Eating House

001Unlike other mining town with madams or ladies of the night as namesakes of local landmarks , the original Little Annie was the daughter of a silver miner who came to Ute City (now Aspen)  in the late 1870s. “With all her charm,” the restaurant’s website coquettishly explains, “Little Annie became the darling of the town, and the largest silver producing mine on the back side of Aspen Mountain was
named after her.” Then again…..

A fine window table in the bar area. That red vinyl is retro now.
A fine window table in the bar area. That red vinyl is retro now.

Nearly a century later (but still when there were still cooks and not chefs in the kitchens of most local restaurants), Little Annie’s Eating House opened in a rustic, false-front building and soon became a hangout for locals and visitors alike. Even though it’s the week after the Fourth of July, a relatively slow period, it was oddly empty. I hope it lasts another few decades so future guests can catch a little of the old Aspen vibe.

Added to pub classics are salads and vegetarian options that few guests from that 1972 opening year would recognize — let alone Annie herself. Although we experienced none, I understand there have been some service issues. Then again, it’s a pub and not one of Aspen’s gastronomic temples, so it’s hard to tell whether people expected more than they should have.

Oriental chicken salad, made of grilled teriyaki chicken, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, toasted  slivered almonds, green onions and crisp Oriental noodles  tossed with housemade ginger-soy vinaigrette.
Oriental chicken salad, made of grilled teriyaki chicken, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, toasted
slivered almonds, green onions and crisp Oriental noodles
tossed with housemade ginger-soy vinaigrette.
Salad of the day was kale, feta, seared tuna, niftily dressed in a vinaigrette whose exact composition I can't recall and didn't write down.
Salad of the day was kale, feta, seared tuna, niftily dressed in a vinaigrette whose exact composition I can’t recall and didn’t write down.
Behind that mountain of mashed potatoes with gravy lurks a Reuben.
Behind that mountain of mashed potatoes with gravy lurks a Reuben on dark, dark rye. Alongside, a pickle spear, lettuce and tomato.

Price check: At dinner, starters, $6.95-$16.95; soups, stews and chilies, $4.95-$12.95; Add-Ons (sides), $3.95-$5.95; house salad, $3.95; entrée salads, $9.95-$15.95; dinner platters, $20.95-$32.95; sandwiches, $11.95.
Little Annie's Eating House on Urbanspoon

Update: I wrote a Facebook post about the new Aspen Art Museum that elicited this comment, far more relevant for the CulCol post: Lil Annie’s is gone in October, place is just now for the 1%.”