These days the dining scene in this valley may seem over-cultivated with kale and sashimi, but it is wild game that still captures the imagination of many snow season diners. There’s something very Game of Thrones about chowing down on Flintstones-size bison ribs, dainty whole quail, or an entire caribou rack carved tableside. And it has been that way since the Village’s first few restaurants opened (witness a listing from the 1977 debut issue of this magazine, extolling Alfie Packer’s Wild Mountain Inn, where “all would-be cannibals are invited to the porch every Wednesday for the weekly animal roast”).
“Wild game really isn’t wild because it’s raised on a farm or ranch, but that means that the meats are very mild, never gamey.”
Back then, wild game menus made sense since the resort was modeled after a European alpine village and many of the town’s culinary pioneers hailed from the mountains of Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, where elk, goose, and rabbit were always served in hunting and ski lodges.
Down-valley today at the Gashouse Restaurant in Edwards, game dishes fill the menu and trophy heads line the walls of the former gas station-turned-roadhouse. Among the bestsellers are the venison rack, buffalo carpaccio, bone-in venison chop, roasted buffalo ribs, and Gashouse’s signature Ultra Game Grill platter loaded with grilled quail, elk tenderloin, a bone-in venison chop, and game sausage.
“Wild game really isn’t wild because it’s raised on a farm or ranch, but that means that the meats are very mild, never gamey,” says general manager Andy Guy. “Now we sell more buffalo burgers than beef. People really want to taste what’s local.”
At Pepi’s Restaurant and Bar in Vail Village, executive chef Helmut Kaschitz has been cooking caribou for 18 years, but game has always been on the menu seasonally since the restaurant opened in 1964, served in the appropriately named Antlers Room (open late fall through early spring, with nightly seatings at 6 and 8:45 p.m). “It’s a special thing,” explains Kaschitz. “In Austria, wild game is mostly served in the fall and winter during hunting season.”
Many of the Antlers Room dishes are served tableside in grand European fashion. Kaschitz’s signature rack of caribou is carved at the table, as are roasted duckling and elk loin, plated with traditional sides of spätzle dumplings and red cabbage, and most spectacularly, elk medallions theatrically flambéed with cognac. The game meat he most wants to add to the menu again is antelope, which he describes as tender and mild, perfect for neophytes.
Finally, Buffalos at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch recently introduced a weekly revolving series of serious wild game preparations such as pheasant au vin and Bloody Mary bison hanger steak. Made-for-winter entrées include roast goose served with butternut pappardelle, sage, and pancetta, and venison osso buco with gremolata.
And out on the slopeside terrace on Wednesdays: a whole animal roast, a throwback to the gone but not forgotten Alfie Packer’s Wild Mountain Inn.
A Whitman’s Sampler of wild things from other Vail Valley menus
Beano’s Cabin: Riesling-braised Iowa rabbit; smoked venison loin
Flame: Elk corn dogs with smoked tomato ketchup; 16-ounce dry-aged, bone-in bison rib eye
Game Creek: Rabbit with purple potatoes; bison with confit potatoes; venison with red onion jam; elk tenderloin with huckleberry sauce
Golden Eagle Inn: Game burger (elk, venison, wild boar, and bison); port wine venison sausage; elk tacos; apricot-bacon-chipotle-glazed bison meatloaf
Juniper: Grilled Colorado bison loin with cremini mushrooms, gnocchi, and gorgonzola
Ludwig’s: Roasted venison rack with caramelized parsnips and lingonberry sauce; Guinea fowl with chanterelle stuffing and black truffle sauce
Minturn Saloon: Charbroiled quail with cheese enchiladas; grilled duck breast with pepper jelly
Mirabelle: Roasted elk filet with date chutney
SaddleRidge: Bison sloppy joes; Iowa rabbit loin with air-dried ham; elk carpaccio; elk rib chop; bison strip steak; venison tacos