RIDGWAY – We aren’t the only people who will enjoy the company of the restaurant’s owners at the new Four Corners Café in the Chipeta Sun Lodge in Ridgway.
Jack and Patsy Young greet patrons of the restaurant as if they were old friends – as many of them are. The Four Corners captures the small-town vibe of Ridgway. The people who eat there are either Jack and Patsy’s neighbors in the Solar Ranches neighborhood, or other nearby Ridgway neighborhoods, or are guests at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, which is the sort of small destination resort that appeals to a self-selecting group of like-minded people. (You know who you are.) Or they go way back with Jack and Patsy, as far back as early resort-town Telluride, circa 1972.
In short, we are all friends here. (And that will no doubt be equally true in winter, when Jack and Patsy are at one of their other homes, in Kauai or Fiji.)
I’ve enjoyed dinner at the Four Corners on two consecutive Thursday nights. Both nights I met Jack and/or Patsy before we ate at the Ridgway Town Park where there was free music. Was every single resident of Ridgway there? Sure seemed like it. The scene was right out of Norman Rockwell, dogs and kids running around, neighbors catching up on gossip, all under the gorgeous spell of a Rocky Mountain summer evening. The Chipeta Sun Lodge was a proud sponsor of the four Thursdays of free music in the Ridgway Park, and Jack and Patsy are community stalwarts, mingling in the park with the best of them.
An architect and builder, Jack developed the Solar Ranches, with the Chipeta Sun Lodge as an anchor to it. The neighborhood on the town’s south side helps define what Ridgway has become in the last ten years. Ridgway’s future was on hold for many years, Jack recalls, while plans for the Ridgway reservoir were being developed. There was a chance the town would be flooded. But after the dam’s size and location were finally determined, giving the town a reprieve, people could once again invest in their properties. Shortly after that, he and a partner stepped in to propose and then develop the first full-on neighborhood of new homes in the new, future-oriented Ridgway.
That orientation is to the south, to the sun. Looking that direction from the gorgeous decks on the wing of the Chipeta that houses the restaurant, and from the restaurant’s windows, the view is of the wide open Uncompahgre Valley, a spectacular landscape. Part of what Solar Ranches achieves is a town boundary beyond which the zoning is agricultural, hopefully forever, and the view protected.
So what kind of food should a sun lodge in the new Ridgway serve in its restaurant?
The Youngs recruited a chef from Telluride, Paul Sarmiento, who worked at a number of Telluride eateries, lastly Honga’s. His wife, Cathrine, is his unfailingly gracious front-of-the house partner. I chatted briefly with Paul, who cautioned that his new restaurant is too new to be written about. Come back in a few years, he said. The menu will evolve. Good attitude.
But, really, Sarmiento has nothing to apologize for. The starters tilt Southwestern, in keeping with the restaurant’s name and its adobe architecture, including Chipotle Garlic Prawns ($11), Mahi Mahi Tacos ($10) and Tortilla Soup ($7). All were tasty but my favorite were the prawns, dressed in an irresistible sauce. Crispy Bison Potstickers ($10) are a successful fusion of the Asian cooking Sarmiento told me he favors and the Southwest, served with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
Sarmiento makes a killer Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette dressing that I highly recommend if you order one of the salads, made with greens from Patsy’s garden when possible, but always organic regardless.
Another influence: the Youngs’ love of Polynesia. Why not “fuse” Mahi Mahi with a blue corn crust and salsa fresca Hollandaise ($24) for an entrée? Marta loved it. I ordered roasted rack of lamb ($26) one Thursday (unimpeachable) and the most unusual-sounding item on the menu the second: a pasta sautéed with roasted garlic, spinach, capers, thyme, fresh parsley, and … trout? Served with a choice of Maytag blue cheese cream sauce or olive oil? Naturally, I had to try the blue cheese sauce and am happy to report that this all came together beautifully. There was only a hint of blue cheese in the sauce, and as for trout on pasta? Well, why not? Trout is a member of the salmonid family, after all, and salmon on pasta is old hat – not that there’s anything wrong with it.
Our second dinner with Jack and Patsy we were joined by another Telluride old-timer, Kathy Wahlstrand, so naturally the dinner conversation was full of reminiscences – of “Smilin’ Jack” as he was known in Jimmy’s Red Hots Presents, from Dynamic Downtown Telluride: Rocky Mountain Fever. This classic “alternative” comic book by Jim Burleigh, another early architect/planner of the then-new Telluride, seems to get it all, though I can’t testify to that from any first-hand experience. Jack will probably be happy to tell you about a scene in the comic when Big Do Anne Hain went after him, and why and where, and with what tool.
The Four Corners Café will likely be the setting over the years for many such stories. It’s that kind of place.