Landmark restaurant subtly introduces new spring & summer menu.
The Fort is arguably the Denver area’s most immutable restaurant. This brilliant recreation of Bent’s Fort has actually been around longer than the original that protected travelers and served as a trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. The original existed for only 16 years in the first half of the 19th century, while the restaurant south of Morrison opened in 1963 and has been serving foods of the Old West and more contemporary adaptations for more than half a century.
The spring/summer menu features the game, the bison (aka, buffalo) and Southwestern dishes that long-time guests expect and that first-timers anticipate, as well as new dishes and lighter seasonal versions of on-going items. Among the new dishes: wild Scottish salmon; Tlaxcan’s Tamal Nuevo, a vegetarian dish; roasted game hen with huckleberry gastrique, and ancho chile-orange duck, plus a new variation on the popular theme of macaroni and cheese that, while not really light, is shareable and also seems to go with virtually everything. Even with these additions to the menu, it does remain meat-centric, and that means that many specialties are brown –the buffalo boudie (sausage), duck breast and various cuts of beef, bison and lamb — that taste a lot better than they photograph. Trust me on this. At a spring menu preview the other night, these were some of the items served:
I’d love to include my customer price check, but I’m afraid the online menu does not include prices, and the menu for the summer preview was literally “priceless.” Suffice it to say that dinners at The Fort do not come cheap, but the restaurant offers a true value for the dining dollar — unsurpassed ambience, excellent service, generous portions and a glimpse into Western history that you’ll find nowhere else. And come summer, have a drink — perhaps outside on the patio — gaze at the views down toward Denver.
Landmark restuarant celebrates a half-century of frontier-inspired food and history
“Every museum worth its salt has someplace to eat. When you visit The Fort south of Morrison, you feel as if you are dining in a museum. Within the thick adobe walls are eight dining rooms decorated with Southwestern antiques, artifacts and artwork from the region’s intertwined Native American, Spanish and Anglo traditions.” That was my lead paragraph to a feature in edibleFront Range magazine several years ago.
The Fort is a restuarant like no other – an adobe recreation of Bent’s Old Fort, a fortified garrison and trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. The restaurant was the fulfillment of the dream of the late Sam Arnold, ad man, history buff, culinary historian and passionate advocate for the frontier West. Sam’s saughter, Holly Arnold Kinney, runs it now, doing honor to her father’s vision. This is The Fort’s 50th anniversary month, and the Denver Post’s Kristin Browning-Blas told the story as well as anyone. She started her piece. “The Fort Tuns 50” by writing, “The Fort might be the only restaurant in the country that can say it has served world leaders, American presidents and a bear.” Tomorrow evening, The Fort celebrates with a house concert featuring the legendary Ian Tyson, a singer who captures the era evoked at The Fort.
Iconic landmark restaurant serves heritage foods in a unique setting
Whenever anyone asks for a recommendation of a must-visit resturant that feels “Western” or “Colorado,” always recommend The Fort— with the caveat that it is an expensive restaurant. I tell them that is an antique- and artifact-filled landmark overlooking the lights of Denver that itself is the replica of a National Park Service recreation of Bent’s Old Fort, an 1830s trading post along the Santa Fe Trail.
I tell people that The Fort is run by Holly Arnold Kinney, whose parents built the adobe structure and who actually grew up there. Holly’s late father, Sam Arnold, was a legend for his commitment to authenticity and quality. And I tell them about the food, which dips into the pioneer heritage of the West, including the fact that The Fort serves 80,000 pounds of buffalo every year — more than any other restaurant in the land. Its honors and accolades are for the cuisine, the wine and the preservation of Western culture.
The Fort’s core menu remains the same year to year, with new dishes introduced cautiously and with forethought by executive chef Geoffrey Groditski, who has been with The Fort for 20 years, with Holly the final arbiter of taste and presentation. Every classics dish seems to come with a story: a soup called Bowl of the Wife of Kit Carson, Mexican Campfire Beans and Holly’s Adobe Sundae. Read about these dishes and more lore in my article about The Fort in edibleFront Range magazine.
I’ve been to a number of special events with set menus or cocktail and hors d’oeuvres service at The Fort, but it has been a long time since I’ve eaten there, perusing a literally and figuratively meaty menu. My husband and I and our friend Mike tucked into a fine dinner, attentively served and satisfying to eat.
Price check: Appetizers, $6-$15; entrées, $20-$52 with occasional chef specials exceeding $52; desserts, $6-$9.
Two beautiful new cookbooks feature recipes from The Fort and Rioja
Many of my favorite cookbooks are those associated with restaurants I love and/or written by chefs whom I admire. Two new books — one out for just a couple of weeks and the other to be published in another couple of weeks — fall into those categories. They are not just beautiful, but more significantly, they show how restaurants of different styles have elevated the local food scene.
Shinin’ Times at the Fort: Stories, Celebrations and Recipes from the Landmark Colorado Restaurant is Holly Arnold Kinney’s new cookbook, family memoir and tribute to Western tradition. It is out, and what a book it is. Its 260 glossy pages are filled with personal memories of growing up right in The Fort (her childhood bedroom is now her office). In addition to personal memories, the book honors the traditions, culture and cuisine of the frontier West with fabulous recipes and the gorgeous images by ace food photographer Lois Ellen Frank.
While Holly is not a chef herself, she spent hear early years in the family restaurant and knew the chefs and cooks who prepared her father’s recipes and introduced some of their own. She shares recipes, both immutable classics and updated dishes that reflect the best of both the past and the present. Preserving The Fort’s traditions and her own heritage, while keeping up-to-date, is a responsbility, a challenge and a joy, all of which Holly has wrapped into this one gorgeous book.
Holly is the rare (perhaps the only) person to have grown up in the second half of the 20th century but rooted in the first half of the 19th century. The restaurant that her parents established in the 1960s was inspired by Bent’s Fort, a fur-trading post along the Santa Fe Trail in southeastern Colorado. Sam Arnold, Holly’s late father, was an indefatiguable researcher who collected some 3,000 cookbooks, plus history books and artifacts from the Old West. After Sam passed away in 2006, she began researching and writing this book, part of her way of honoring her family’s legacy and the legacy preserved at The Fort.
Shinin’ Times at The Fort has only been out for a couple of weeks, but it has (not surprsingly) made a splash. It is one of Colorado Public Radio’s picks for “Holiday Books with a Western Twist,” and this evening at 7:00 p.m, Holly is appearing at the Tattered Cover on Colfax to talk about and sign the book. Click here to read my feature about The Fort and Holly Arnold Kinney in edible Front Range magazine.
When Holly and chefs at The Fort are ready to modify the menu, they always have to balance tradition with innovation. Jennifer Jasinski, chef and partner in Rioja, is under no such constraints. She can let her culinary imagination soar. When the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant opened in 2004, Jasinki’s creativity in the kitchen spurred the culinary revitalization of Larimer Square. This popular area with locals and visitors had tired and by-then uninspired restaurants, but Rioja juiced up the block .
Jasinski’s mentor, Wolfgang Puck, instilled in her the ability to create contemporary spins on traditional dishes by finding new combinations and new presentations. Her interesting and exquisite dishes can be called “perfect bites,” and in fact, the name of her new cookbook is The Perfect Bite.
Visit Denver organized a roving media event last night that included Euclid Hall, the newest of the three Larimer Square restaurants owned by Jasinski and her partner, Beth Gruitch. Chef Jen, who has the ability to flit from one restaurant to another and one task to another without breaking stride, was buzzing in and out of the kitchen, alternately passing out trays of hors d’oeuvres and showing off a first-bound copy of the new book. It should be available on or around December 20. It was my first glimpse at The Perfect Bite, 184 pages with 76 recipes (including her signature tasting menu). And did I mention that this book too is a looker?
Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.