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San Luis Valley: A trio of worthy spots to drink and dine 

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

The Windsor Hotel & Dining Room

605 Grand Ave., Del Norte,

I first wrote about the historic Windsor Hotel in July 2014, noting the Springs-relevant connection of co-owner/F&B Director Kodi Whitehead, who graduated from Colorado College and worked at The Broadmoor prior to working for Wolfgang Puck for a stint. With chef Tim Alfrey and co-owner/GM Kevin Hass (also a Broadmoor alum), he maintains fine-dining standards in a town of less than 2,000 people that could easily compete in a city Denver’s size.

In other words, it’s a true gourmet oasis on the San Luis Valley’s west edge. A new seasonal dinner menu just released with highlights like local quinoa with duck confit and Alamosa Bass under sour cherry gastrique, but here I’m spotlighting a couple brunch items we caught: Chef Tim’s Hash, and the Elvis is in the Building. The first gives local love to Monte Vista-made Gosar Ranch andouille sausage and area fingerling potatoes, mixed with yams, onions, peppers and pork belly cuts and served under two eggs in a cast-iron pot, with vinegary house hot sauce and cheese-capped grits on the side. Fine and hearty, but the King is the King, with caramelized bananas and kick-ass coffee-glazed bacon atop French toast floated in maple syrup, with lavish peanut butter mousse garnish. (I’m all shook up.)

Sand Dunes Recreation/Steel Box Bar

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
1991 County Road 63, Hooper,

As surprising as it is to find strong fine dining in Del Norte, we find it equally wild that this hot springs located in the middle of the San Luis Valley, 30 miles east — like, “middle of nowhere” we hear said more than once — also provides a level of gourmet goodness none of us are expecting. Proprietors Donnie and Carly Bautista more than tripled her family’s business after adding golf simulators and the 21-and-up Greenhouse of soaking pools, complete with lush plant life and the Steel Box Bar.

The big outdoor pool’s nice for sun (it has a separate eatery as well), but inside, chefs Jennifer Riddle and Sylas Franks plate everything from charcuterie boards and lamb lollipops to chimichurri steak bites next to a wide craft alcohol assortment. Still dripping wet, we walk just feet from the pools to dine on a mound of balsamic-drizzled cherry tomatoes topped with a burrata mozzarella hunk; a cold, vegan soba noodle Asian salad; blushing pink, seared sesame-crusted ahi tuna; and blistered shishito peppers glazed in sweet soy sauce; and a special plate of cayenne-dusted maple-bacon seared scallops, perfectly under-seared and gooey tender.

We collectively drink more Three Barrel beers before discovering Alamosa’s Square Peg Brewerks’ fabulous Peanut Butter Stout. It’s truer to the PB than most breweries get and we dream of drinking it with the Windsor Hotel’s peanut butter mousse.

Three Barrel Brewing Co.

475 Grand Ave., Del Norte,
click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

Yes, I also lauded Three Barrel in the same 2014 article, but since that time the outfit has expanded out to the main road from a smaller side-street brewery and become a legit wood-oven pizzeria too.

After a day of both hiking on the sand dunes and snowshoeing in an adjacent valley, we easily obliterate the Bob-B-Que pie with commercial Cattlemen’s BBQ sauce, red onions and chicken hunks. We build a sample paddle to try beers we hadn’t already sipped at the Windsor Hotel’s bar the night prior.

A peach wheat goes down almost as sweet as peach juice, while the Espin Bock features the unique ingredient of aspen leaves for bittering (I love the menu’s “geek version” and “translation” descriptors). The Black Yak black lager delivers on advertised chocolate and coffee notes stylishly, while the Freeze Cat winter lager hits described bready, nutty notes beautifully. Anyone who digs Breckenridge Brewery’s popular vanilla porter should aim for the Dort Chocolate Vanilla Porter, basically delightful dessert in a glass. But I will forever be faithful to the Thurday Special (yes there’s no “s” — it’s a local joke) coconut brown lager, a beer for lovers of Oskar Blues’ Death by Coconut, lighter of course and richly coconutty in the best way.


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