By Elliot Jackson
213 Main Street, Westcliffe, CO 81252
Monday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
For a town of its size (565, or 1,152 if you combine it with neighboring Silver Cliff), Westcliffe has an amazing number of restaurants. Not all of them are open all the time – some of them are shuttered for the off-season – but of the ones that remain open all winter long, arguably the most popular is Chappy’s, which boasts an indoor open-fire grill and an atmosphere that is an unlikely but pleasant and funky blend of sports and cowboy bar. (The TVs, which are large but surprisingly unobtrusive on a busy night, happened to be tuned to CNN and Univision when we were there, but the point holds.)
Friday night, the joint was jumping – our party got there early, and by 6:30 there was enough of a crowd to form a line at the door. So when you do get seated, be warned – you may end up waiting a little while for service, but I have always found the food is worth waiting for.
My eye was drawn to one particular item on the appetizer menu: Fresh Rocky Mountain Oysters! No, I wasn’t daring enough to try them, but I was assured by our waiter, Gil, that they are indeed fresh, and come from my favorite regional butcher, Scanga’s in Salida, as does all the beef used in their dishes.
Chappy’s hamburgers and chicken sandwiches come in a variety of delightfully artery-busting choices – featuring bacon, blue and other cheeses, and their own barbecue and chili sauces. The sandwiches are all cooked on the grill and feature a variety of sides – coleslaw, homemade macaroni and cheese (VERY cheesy mac and cheese, you have been warned), salads (nicely crisp Romaine lettuce base, tomato and yay, more cheese!), and fries of different varieties. With the Friday night fish fry feature, for example, one of my companions got thin, circle-cut fries that were like deep-fried potato chips, nicely spiced and not at all greasy, with the platter (three pieces of light-but-crisply battered cod). The fish sandwich, on the other hand, came with my favorites, classic thick steak fries.
I decided to try the sirloin steak, which happens to be a cut I particularly like, but it can be tough and chewy if not treated respectfully. Fortunately, Chappy’s grill cookery is well-suited for steaks, and the chef knows what “medium rare” means. The grilled mushrooms on the side were a nice plus. The salads, as I have mentioned, are Romaine-lettuce based, and a meal-sized salad comes not only with a choice of grilled meats (steak or chicken) to put on them, but a variety of other vegetables too. (They are enormous, so you will not be feeling deprived if you opt for a dinner salad over the other offerings, which offer two sides.) Chappy’s makes its own honey-mustard and ranch dressings, which we tried, and they are both tangy and well-balanced. For the vegetarians in the crowd, there are veggie pizzas and a garden burger on the menu, in addition to salads.
In fact, I’d say the only area of slight disappointment for this group of diners was the fact that the desserts are pretty much all artery-busters as well, all receiving the deep-fry treatment (with the exception of the ice cream). This includes their cheesecake, brownies, and apple and berry tarts. By the end of the evening that was just a bit much for us to contemplate, so we declined to try them. But we found very adequate compensation for the lack of dessert in the bar offerings, which feature not only beer and wine, but local hooches courtesy of Sangre Distilleries, newly reopened right across the street from Chappy’s. (The margaritas come in pint glasses, by the way, so be warned.)
All in all, there is enough variety on the menu, and enough mellow cheer in the atmosphere, to make this a hangout spot that appeals to locals as well as tourists. Next time you are in the Wet Mountain Valley, come and check it out!