While reviewing Ranch Foods Direct's Web site recently, I read through a list of local and regional restaurants that serve the meat company's hormone- and antibiotic-free products. Among establishments I'd missed: Woodland Park's Tabeguache Steakhouse. (It's pronounced "Tayb-watch," the name of a nomadic Ute tribe native to the area.) With it having opened a few years back, I decided it was past time to head up the pass.
A charming, natural-wood-dominated dining room adorned in archival area photographs greeted me directly off U.S. Highway 24, followed by a knowledgeable server, well-acquainted with the various cuts of meat and a respectably Colorado-heavy wine list. Pretty soon, sipping an excellent Palisade-produced Two Rivers Winery Syrah ($8), my girlfriend and I besieged the flaming cheese dip appetizer ($6), which our waitress had ignited with a dash of Everclear.
Upon first bite, our mouths twisted in wonder and horror. Could it be? Is this some sort of joke? Not only did the big, round corn chips taste fit for 7-Eleven, but the cheese did, too. We're talking high-school-football-game-concession-stand nacho cheese, the kind I suspect comes pumped from a giant handle on a menu featuring $30 steaks.
If and when I want nacho cheese, I'll go bowling and get adequately drunk first.
I couldn't help but wish our waitress would have given us a coded heads-up: "It's good [pause for emphasis], but I really like the shrimp cocktail and the spinach dip." (You don't betray the kitchen or management, and I get a yummy app and probably over-tip.)
Thankfully, the remainder of our meal washed that cheesy abomination from our palates. We each opted for a $2 up-charge to sub the Strawberry Fields and Feta Spinach half-salads (regularly $8 full-size) in place of house or Caesar salads that typically accompany entres. The first, worthy enough to steal the Beatles' thunder, mixed candied walnuts and Maytag blue cheese with the fruit under a pleasant, honey poppy seed vinaigrette. The second paired the glory that is chopped bacon with pine nuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion and ample feta in a straightforward balsamic. These leafy gems, for the record, are absolutely what should accompany beef on a gourmet menu.
Next, we opted for steaks, because if you're at a steakhouse to order chicken and pasta, you're missing the point.
My 8-ounce filet mignon ($30) arrived a precise medium-rare, snug in a bacon wrap that surrendered its goodness to the tender meat. Its dual flavor profile eclipsed the accompanying wild rice and grilled zucchini and carrots. My girlfriend's 12-ounce New York strip ($22), medium-rare and only slightly less tender, delivered a clean, natural taste alongside the veggies and a fair garlic mashed potato mound. In opting for leaner cuts, we passed on the juiciness of a fat-marbled ribeye, but still, they needed neither condiments nor special saucing. (Though I'd never turn down truffle butter.)
Another flammable item, bananas foster ($8), served tableside, proved worth its weight in brown sugar a rummy delight over vanilla ice cream. Tabeguache executed a decent crme brle ($6) to put us over the top.
With prices comparable to and even better than other local steak destinations that don't serve socially conscious products, this mountain meat house deserves a stop-in. Just steer clear of the cheese.