Opening Saturday, Steamboat’s Cloverdale Restaurant to offer a new kind of fine dining experience
Amid the pandemonium of a kitchen preparing for opening night, a seemingly obscure reminder remains to be seen.
“Listen to the mustn’ts child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen child. Anything can be.”
These words by Shel Silverstein have guided owner/chef Patrick Ayres, along with his team, to make Cloverdale Restaurant a reality.
Just drive by the new fine dining restaurant’s historic residence at Ninth and and Oak streets, nestled in the old town neighborhood and concealed from the steady rush of traffic — a hidden gem awaits the arrival of guests.
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Saturday, Cloverdale Restaurant will officially open to the public.
Built in 1918 by celebrated local builder Art Gumprecht, the restaurant will be the first of its kind in Steamboat, offering a locally-based, farm-to-restaurant, fine-dining experience.
Upon stepping through the entryway, the decor reflects the restaurant’s logo, a Colorado’s sagebrush.
“The idea behind the whole restaurant is Colorado,” Ayres said. “So, we’re trying to use as much from our farm as we can and as much from Colorado as we can.”
The 32-seat restaurant — including the seats at the bar and the 10 upstairs in the private dining room — was crafted by designer Vertical Arts using Ayres’ vision. It allows the historical features of the existing structure to be showcased, while also modernizing a traditional farmhouse. This motif extends to the wine cellar, where Cloverdale will feature a ratio of 70 percent old-world and 30 percent new-world wines.
One of Cloverdale’s main philosophies, Ayres said, is quality.
“It’s about shear freshness,” Ayres said. “There’s no way to get something as fresh as going out and picking it that morning. Every single thing in here is picked for quality. Every cocktail and every dish will be made with the best ingredients, and every wine is picked meticulously. Every single one of us is passionate about restaurants. It’s what we do and have always done. I think that might be what sets us apart.”
The head staff includes Cody Robison as the wine and service director, Brian Sites as the sous chef, Russell Goodman as the pastry chef, Kyle Currell as the bartender and Britni Johnson as the farm manager; each was selected to be an expert in his or her field, which Ayres said complements another element of his philosophy for Cloverdale: collaboration.
“At end of each night, we’ll sit up stairs with staff and meet to talk about what’s coming up the next day. I want to have the cooks tell me their ideas, what they think they can do with it,” Ayres said. “This collaboration and openness makes them way more passionate about what they are doing, which is what we’re all about.”
Not only that, he requires both the front of the house and back house staff to work at the farm a few days each week so they’ll know exactly where the food on each dish comes from.
“The idea is, I want them to buy into everything and have more care with what they’re working with,” he said. “It makes our staff much more knowledgeable about the food and where it’s coming from. They know exactly what variety it is and how long it took to grow or harvest — the whole story behind it.”
The original name comes from the farm property, built in 1902 and known as Cloverdale Ranch. The Bartholomew family, who owned the ranch, moved to town from Cloverdale, Kansas, hence, the name. Ayres said he wanted the name to have meaning instead of just grabbing something out of thin air.
Just outside town, off Colorado Highway 131, the Cloverdale Restaurant Farm is overseen by Johnson, who is a Master Gardener and also serves as farm manager. She is usually seen attending to the 40 different varieties the provide the restaurant with fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, honey, eggs, bees and goats (for milk and meat).
This is the farm’s second season, but its first season growing specifically for the restaurant. Johnson was hired in spring 2016 by Ayres, and though she has had experience working in Bozeman on 12 acres of a diversified vegetable farm, she has also performed hours of tedious research and put in the time to learn by doing.
“Any farmer will tell you that working on a farm will be a great experience, but, at same time, you have to take the leap and go for it, because you will learn through doing,” she said. “Farming is problem solving … it’s inevitable, because farms have microclimates that you are always having to adjust to your specific location. You can rely on others for advice and resources, but the answers are never black and white. Sometimes, you just have to do it yourself.”
Last year, she was the only employee but now has four part-time employees working on about two-thirds of an acre, and they hope to grow into two acres of cultivated space in the next few years.
Soil health and land stewardship is of utmost importance to Cloverdale Restaurant’s farm, so no herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are used. Instead, they find ways to work with nature. This is particularly important, given the 59-day frost-free growing season.
Hand weeding, the use of beneficial plants and insects, application of annual soil amendments, crop rotation, cover cropping, crop diversity and minimal tillage techniques are a few of the practices they employ, Johnson said.
Items such as Radish, Wood Sorrel; Frosted Greens; Potato; Wild Gooseberry; Moon Ranch Lamb; Sienna Peas; Blossoms; Dry-Aged Duck; Hakurei Turnip; and Rhubarb, Sweet Alyssum are a few of the creative concoctions Ayres and his team will have on their ever-changing 1o- to 14-course menu.
“Food unites all of us,” she said. “It’s common ground from just the simple nature of it being a community-based effort. It’s about giving back to the soil as much as it is about giving back to the community.”
Ayres said the dishes will use little protein except what comes from having food sourced from the farms, however the restaurant will be able to feature a wide variety of vegetables throughout the year. Ayres said a restaurant of this concept, combined with fine dining, is not something Colorado has seen.
“I think people will be surprised but excited,” he said. “Expect a lot of variety and different techniques and products. A 12-course meal doesn’t actually take as long as you think. We move quickly, and some dishes are small, one-bite dishes, while others are more substantial. It’s our job to make sure you’re full, but not disgustingly full. We want you to leave satisfied, and that’s part of our job with portion sizes.”
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