fall bridge in colorado

Well, I’m back, as promised, with a lot to tell you about a beautiful, beautiful state I wish I could live in year-round, one that captured my heart with its larger-than-life mountains and golden aspens and friendly people and better traffic and meal after meal! after meal! of incredible food.

The truth is, after five days of bakeries, restaurants, sightseeing, walking—and, of course, the mountains! oh my gosh, the mountains!—I got pretty comfortable out west. I kept telling my friends Wendi and Michele, whom I traveled with, that with every new place we visited, Chicago became more blah. I mean, what have we got? The skyline? Let me tell you, while we were descending over the Windy City Monday afternoon, the John Hancock building had nothing on the Rockies. NOTHING.

rockies

What with the series of trips this year (Washington D.C., Wisconsin, Maine), I should be used to detaching from a place when it’s time to come home. But instead, all that’s been running through my mind lately are thoughts like, why wouldn’t you live somewhere that offers 300 days of sunshine? Near garden of the gods? Surrounded by snow-capped mountains? Where there is no end of good food or natural beauty, with less congestion and plenty of places to park downtown (as long as you have quarters)?

Oh, take me back, Colorado. Take me back.

mountains

So. While I work on remembering all the good things about This Place Where I Live, let me tell you all the amazing things about That Other One That I Love, you know, just in case you ever get to go there, and I hope you do, but more than that, I hope you BRING ME WITH YOU!

We arrived Wednesday night, when it was very dark, and all I could see were blips of light on the horizon, signaling where the city was. Before even checking into our hotel outside Denver, we drove straight to Steuben’s for comfort food in a diner atmosphere, and we ate, people, we really did, enough so we were patting our bellies and wondering if we’d ever be hungry again. (Oh, we would.)

My job on this trip was to pick restaurants, and this was a task I took seriously.

bistro vendome

The best meal was, hands down, at Bistro Vendome the last night, an adorable French bistro tucked away from the hanging lights on 16th Street. We split the Steak Classique with crispy, herb-covered fries and the Truite en Croûte de Pistaches (trout encrusted with pistachios and spice, topped by new potatoes, asparagus, bacon, onions, red pepper and parsley oil) and were also given amuse-bouches of some kind of potato soup that was hot, creamy and filled with flavor. Dessert was a chocolate velvet tart topped by fleur de sel, a strawberry rhubarb crepe with buttermilk ice cream (my favorite) and a caramel espresso creme brulee. I cannot tell you how much I loved this meal.

special at lucile's

Even beyond the bistro, though, this entire trip was a food fest of sorts, and here are some highlights of the places where we ate:

Breakfasts:
Snooze, Denver, wowed us with a caprese benedict and ginger-peach pancakes topped by streusel, which I will be thinking about for a very long time // At Lucile’s in Denver on Sunday, we met my Twitter/blog friends Kendall, who had not only recommended this place but many others, and Randy (and his wife and adorable daughters) and liked the food so much, we went back the next day to the one in Boulder.

rheinlander bakery

Bakeries:
After you spend a morning walking around Golden, it’s nice to stop and refuel at the quiet Cafe 13, where I ordered macarons and my friends split a delicious scone they let me sample. // The German Rheinlander Bakery in Arvada not only makes a huge selection of pastries and cakes that are soft and flaky and packed with sweetness, but there are two large sections of gluten-free options. And while I don’t remember what this thing Michele ordered was called, I would like to taste another one, right now. // It would be easy to be overwhelmed at Das Meyer Fine Pastry Chalet in Arvada, where we picked up pastries one morning, and not just because of the heavily floral, 1980s-style decor. The pastries are amazing. Both our spinach-feta and apricot choices were perfectly soft and flavorful, and the service was excellent.

ice cream

Snacks and Lunches:
In Manitou Springs, we stumbled upon Coquette Creperie when looking for a light meal after coming down from Pikes Peak, and we split an Argentinian and a Cheeky Monkey (nutella and bananas!), licking the plates clean, and the server was practically part of our table by the end of the meal, as friendly as could be. // Glacier Ice Cream has a stand on Pearl Street in Boulder, where I bought a kid’s-size cone with fresh peach ice cream, and I loved every bit. // Wendi got gelato at Two Spoons, also in Boulder, and especially liked the pistachio.

adams mountain cafe

Dinners:
Adam’s Mountain Cafe, Manitou Springs, is a lovely place that celebrates the slow food model. We shared crostini with figs and pears and senegalese vegetables in a peanut sauce, the later of which led one unnamed party at our table to say that was “the best bite of celery I’ve ever had … usually it has peanut butter on it,” so obviously that alone made the trip worthwhile. // In Boulder, we missed The Kitchen’s lunch menu by a few hours and opted out of their higher-priced dinner in favor of Boulder Cafe, where we caught up with my college English professor, Mrs. Templin, and her very sweet husband. Bonus: before 6 PM, appetizers are half the price here.

pikes peak

Are you still with me? Because, despite how those last few paragraphs may seem, we did other things besides eat, I promise.

This below picture is at garden of the gods, but believe me, it does not do the place justice. I am head-over-heels for those deep red rocks with jagged edges, surrounded by paths you can walk on, while you feel so incredibly small, the whole thing is awesome, in the truest sense of the word. If I am ever missing, and no one knows where I could be, look there.

garden of the gods

Other Colorado Highlights: a Rockies game, thanks to free tickets from a friend; a trip up most of Pikes Peak (the very top was closed because of snow/ice); winding trails and steep (!) cliffs along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, which Wendi so deftly drove us through; downtown Denver; beautiful Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs; weather that ranged from snow to heat to icy breezes to a light chill—but with all sunshine, no rain, not once; and good conversations, the luxury of having someone make your bed each day, the chance to get away from all we have here and see more of what we don’t know.

friends

I guess I’m half-kidding when I say I want to move to Colorado (OK, and half-serious!) because, as much as I loved it, I think what I loved most was getting to see it all with people I like, bunking in a hotel room together, eating together, laughing together and sharing our lives. And that? Can happen even in Chicago. It does every day—even if it’s as simple as calling a friend, getting Starbucks at lunch while you joke about your fingers freezing from the cold, sending an e-mail or even, you know, reading a blog.

– More photos of all we ate
– More photos of beautiful Colorado
– A Google map of all the Colorado highlights

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. MaryAnn

    I have been to CO for skiing in the wintertime – I agree, it’s easy to want to stay! A clear example of the excellence of our Lord’s creation, huh?
    And just wait until you visit Hawaii…talk about wanting to stay! My first trip out there I was actively praying/scheming how I could quit my job, sell my car, & get out of my lease without going home to do it :-)

  2. Joanna

    I love Colorado. It is so beautiful especially compared to Texas. The scenery down I’m planning a snowboarding trip with a former student and her husband. I heard you saw Mrs. Templin?

  3. MC

    Aw, your post really made me want to visit that state! I’ve never been very far out West (except for a layover flight and that doesn’t count) so I’ve always been fascinated when people talk about their trips. Very lovely pics, thanks for sharing!

  4. Hannah

    It looks like you had a great time! I want to visit Colorado so much, hopefully I can soon. And I’ll be trying out your restaurant recommendations!

    Beautiful pictures, that ice cream looks amazing.

  5. kendall

    It was great getting to see you and introduce you to Lucile’s:) And Minnie Beasley’s cookies. (other-named: crack cookies). It’s nice to be reminded that I get to live in such a great place. I can forget that when I am in it everyday.

  6. Manisha

    I’m all smiles cos we moved from Chicagoland to Colorado 4 years ago – out of choice – and have not regretted it one bit! OK, maybe just one thing: snakes. We are not as outdoorsy as the “thin” folks around us but we really do love it here – the sun, the mountains, the blue sky and the powdery snow that glistens like diamonds on the ground.

  7. Ann

    Hi! I’m so glad you got to go to Colorado, I’ve been lucky enough to live all up and down the front range area for about 8 years. It’s gorgeous and you picked a great time of year!

    Happy travels!

  8. Kim

    It looks like a wonderful trip! Isn’t the Denver airport cool? I visited a friend in Boulder last year, and I really loved taking the little tram through the airport…it felt like an amusement park ride. :-) I also love how the airport is designed to look like the mountains (kinda), but actually looks kind of circus tent-y.

    Downtown Boulder is so neat, with the mountains Right. There. So. Close.

  9. Shannalee

    MaryAnn, I love that you wrote “when” I go to Hawaii, like it’s for sure going to happen. Let’s hope you’re right! And let’s hope I can talk myself into coming back home afterwards!

    Jo, The fall colors were just starting, and I know what you mean -love them! BTW, we did see Mrs. Templin, and the short version of that story is in this post, lost among the dinner recommendations, I think.

    MC, You should go, I mean it. The only other place I’ve been out west before this was California (well, and Dallas, but that’s a long and uninteresting story), so I didn’t know how I’d like this area of our country. LOVED it. So gorgeous.

    Hannah, That makes me so happy! I think you’d love Colorado, and I hope with all my heart you get to go.

    Kendall, Thanks again for everything! Your comment answered a question we discussed all weekend: do the mountains start to feel everyday when you live there? I guess that’s the nature of life, and I guess it should also mean there’s good to find in Chicago, right?

    Alicia, How about some Indiana farms next weekend, ha!

    Manisha, SIGH. Sounds wonderful! Although, ohmygosh, snakes certainly do not!

    Ann, Oh, it is the perfect time of year, isn’t it? You are so blessed to enjoy it!

    Shelley, It is! Too bad you guys never got to visit Denise when she was there. You should go someday!

    Kim, Yes! We found out the circus-tent-looking-thing in the airport is made of teflon-coated fabric. Crazy, right? Loved it.

  10. giao {kiss my spatula}

    welcome back! looks like you had a most relaxing and delicious time. when i left chicago and moved out west, i never thought 10 years could pass by so quickly! the mountains are truly inspiring and do their magic every time, don’t they??

  11. Jenn Sutherland

    How funny – I was in Colorado last week too, and we totally fell in love too…and like you, flying back into Chicago was the first time I wasn’t thrilled to be home. *sigh* But, we’re actually SERIOUS about moving there! If anyone wants to buy our lakefront condo, let me know! :P

    We didn’t make it out to eat at as many yummy spots as you, but we did lots of hiking in the Rockies!

  12. jarrelle

    shanna! i am going to live there one day. . . i never wanted to leave and i think colorado is for sure one of the best vacations i had. i may be going back in feb. and i cannot wait to now go in the winter and ski the beautiful mountains! also i ate at lucile’s. i had a vegetarian eggs benedict with eggplant instead of bacon!!! it was so good there i still remember it and the biscuits are out of this world! i cant wait to go back!

  13. Michele

    Ok…. this made me homesick and foodsick for Colorado. So ready to be back there! And thanks for not saying who made the celery comment. I am sure Wendi appreciates it.

  14. Niki

    I have a friend that moved to Denver from the south subs of Chicago b/c she loved the calmness, she loved hiking and the mountains and the air and… yeah she came home after a year. She was bored out of her mind after about 6 months and didn’t come home sooner only b/c her lease wasn’t up.
    I have to say, I get the way you are w/ CO whenever I travel to a new place. I get all happy and homey somewhere, but deep down I’m a Chicago girl, even if I’m just in the subs. There is just something about this place that has me hooked. Maybe it’s b/c of the fact that it’ll take me a lifetime to try each and every restaurant and bakery, maybe it’s the culture and the theater, maybe it’s the lake and the parks or maybe it’s just the suburbs. I don’t know, but I will never leave Chicago. Although my bf threatens that one day we’ll move to KY, it’s not gonna happen!!!

  15. Alicia

    I was in Indiana last weekend and I saw a farm that I totally bet we’re going to! It looked SO fun. I wanted to stop, and my friends made fun of me lol. Can’t wait to get my farm fix.

  16. Shannalee

    Sue, I didn’t know you’ve been to Colorado!

    Giao, Thank you! Oh, yes. Yes, they sure do!

    Jenn, How funny! I wonder if we walked along the Rockies on the same day? Welcome back to rainy, hazy Chicago – crossing my fingers you get to move, and I’ll live vicariously through you!

    Jarrelle! When you move there, can I come visit? We will go to Lucile’s together before we hike a mountain. Sound good?

    Michele! I’m homesick for it, too, and HA about the celery!

    Niki, Well, you’re helping anchor me back where I am, so thank you for that. I know (in my head) that any place can be good and that, really, there are a lot of good things about the suburbs where I’ve grown up. But I’m just saying – did you see those mountains?

    Jessie, Oh, yes, we did!

    Sprouted Kitchen, You seem very Colorado to me, is that a strange thing to say? Trust me, it is a compliment of the highest kind. Wish we could’ve gone to Aspen – maybe next time?

    Alicia, Your friends just don’t get it! Wait until they here about our watching a calf get born….

    Angela, How nice! You always pick good places, so I’m not at all surprised.

  17. Wendi

    Fabulous vacation!! Food, Fun and Friends – What more can you ask for?? Shanna, magnificent job on the food. BTW I agree with MaryAnn up there – WHEN you go to Hawaii – Kauai specifically… I know just where you can stay!! :-)

  18. Tara Anderson

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Colorado! You don’t know me, but I work for Lijit (the search plugin you recently enabled) and have fallen in love with your site. The next time you come back, you’ll have to let us know so that we can make sure you get a tour of the Lijit offices, in downtown Boulder, and a t-shirt.

    While I know how lucky I am to live here, I always get a little jealous of all the theater and comedy you have up there in Chicago.

  19. Shannalee

    Jessica, You know what? Looking back at the photos, I want a little bit of everything on the plates, too! HA!

    Wendi, Oh, now my hopes are all up and you know what they say about hope deferred… we have to go!! Thanks again for all your organizational know-how – such a pleasure traveling with you!

    Niki, HA! Food does that to me, too!

    Oh, Suzanne. I WILL LIVE THROUGH YOU.

    Tara, Thank you so much! I wish I had gotten to stop by and visit you all; you certainly have a beautiful town, that’s for sure. PS, between us (I mean, don’t tell Boulder), I guess Chicago’s not all that bad, you’re right. Especially in fall. In fact, if someone has to come to Chicago from Colorado, I think it really ought to be at the end of September/beginning of October, when the Midwest is at its finest – consider yourself warned.

  20. Carrie

    Oh no! I’ve lived in CO all my life (26 years in the Rockies) and JUST moved to Chicago this summer. Your post made me miss it even more, especially the beautiful Aspen trees… And Steuben’s and Snooze, I miss them too. Seriously, brought a tear to my eye, thank you.

  21. Shannalee

    Divina, Thank you and I hope so, too! You will love it—or at least, I did. Very much.

    Carrie, Oh! Take heart, new neighbor. Chicago has some OK things, too! Especially this time of year—how beautiful is the fall, right? There’s no way we’ll outdo the Rockies, not ever, but we have a few good sights. And in the winter? The city is magical. Hey, listen, if you want advice or places to try, shoot me an e-mail: shannalee@foodloveswriting.com. I feel connected to you already, just because of the lovely place you come from.

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  23. Shannalee

    Ethan – Well, the one thing I will say is that at least this year, Colorado got SO MUCH SNOW so much sooner than we did. When I would hear people talking about it on Twitter, I felt a tiny bit happy I wasn’t there. :) Hope you’re enjoying school in Chicago!

  24. Amanda

    I’m so glad you liked our state! I live in Manitou and a short walk from Garden of the Gods. Anytime you’re in town, you gotta let me know and I can show you all the amazing places that tourists never find … like the rock steps up the hillside to the ruins on Lover’s Lane. Or the trails along the creek. Or the hidden graveyard. Or the BEST spot in Garden of the Gods to stand and see all of Colorado Springs and mountains on three sides. OR! Black Cat bookstore with the most magnificent reading areas ever with castle-like alcoves looking out onto the creek.

  25. Shannalee

    Amanda, You live a short walk from Garden of the Gods? I am totally and completely jealous. That was one of my favorite areas from the whole trip. Absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for all the cool tips!

  26. Amanda

    Yeah, I do, and I completely love it! My mom used to work on the other side of Garden of the Gods, so she would ride her bike through ‘GOG’ to work and back every day. No problem for the tips and here’s another one: Ask a local to help you find Williams Canyon during the spring/summer/autumn. Once you actually find the place, you can pick wild fruits and vegetables as you hike through. It’s also filled with caves and natural little pools.

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