Bridge Street's Culinary Ode to the Alps
For some, the mark of an authentic German restaurant is whether the schnitzel is pleasingly crispy yet tender or whether the beer is suitably dark and hoppy, and served in an oversize stein. For me, the yardstick is spätzle, the small, dense, chewy egg noodles that go so well with butter and cheese or any kind of gravy. My Munich-born mutti prepared them, and a slew of other traditional German dishes, exceptionally well, while my Berlin-born father ate them with gusto. So when it comes to Old World Alpine cuisine, I’m admittedly biased. And Almresi, which opened at the top of Bridge Street in late December, does spätzle, along with many other things, exactly right.
One of several updates along Vail Village’s main thoroughfare to the slopes this season—others include the thoroughly renovated Pepi’s Bar and the new Pendulum restaurant on opposite sides of Bridge Street—Almresi was perhaps the most anticipated, taking over where the short-lived Solantros and the longtime Tap Room once held sway. The restaurant adds a welcome note of Alpine authenticity to the town’s abundance of faux-Bavarian architecture and décor. That’s because practically everything inside, from wooden tables and paneling to the red-checked curtains to the dishes, was imported from Germany. Even much of the young, friendly staff—outfitted, natch, in dirndls and lederhosen made by an official Oktoberfest supplier—is likewise German or Austrian. What could potentially have felt like a culinary theme park, however, feels at once cozy and organic, as if you’ve entered a hut just off the slopes in the Alps instead of ascended a flight of stairs in the old Vista Bahn building.
Almresi is owned and operated by the Thoma family, who also have restaurants near Frankfurt and in Germany’s Black Forest region. Franz Thoma spent two years here in the mid-1980s working at the Lodge at Vail. Realizing an opportunity all these years later, he now has his own place in the Rockies, overseen by his daughter Alyssa and son Joshua (both of whom previously worked at the Sonnenalp).
The restaurant is truly a family affair, with Diana working with a Bavarian design firm to style Almresi’s warm and welcoming interior. Arrigoni Woods in Minturn crafted the rustic ceilings, walls, and post and beam accents out of reclaimed chalet and barn siding from Austria and Germany. Pillows, faux-fur throws, and leather armchairs cozy up the seating, while cowhide accent stools and an elongated light fixture made of cowbells add a dose of Alpine-inspired chic to the bar.
Almresi’s food is not strictly German; the tightly edited menus include dishes from Austria and Switzerland. The most attention-grabbing dinner item is the tomahawk steak, at a startling $98. At more than two pounds, it’s actually meant for two, however—still a hefty price for an entrée, but the rest of the menu is more in line with comparable resort restaurants.
There’s plenty to tempt individual palates. Everything—from Badische flädle suppe (a rich beef broth with strips of pancake in it, served in a small tureen with slices of hearty house-baked bread) to Schmorbraten (tender braised beef, with sides of savory red cabbage and the aforementioned spätzle)—is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, each component delivered in a small piece of cookware. Swiss rösti is served on a thick wooden slab; the dense potato pancakes are accompanied by a cream cheese–like spread dotted with bits of red and yellow pepper; a generous portion of lox; and garnishes of endive, cucumber, and tomato.
Highlights at lunch include Nürnberger bratwurst (made with spiced pork) and an insanely rich but worth it Swiss-style macaroni and cheese containing bacon, onions, and potatoes that may well temper your desire to ski too hard afterward.
Almresi’s ambience fosters a convivial dining experience as is—there’s even a Stammtisch, or communal table, in the back—but tabletop cooking options up the social factor an extra notch. Chicken and beef fondue arrives with various vegetables and dipping sauces, while hutessen (“eat your hat”), an Austrian specialty, centers around a cone-shaped iron grill on which you cook meat while slurping up the beef broth and vegetables in the “hat brim.”
What might be a cliché elsewhere—save room for dessert—is advice wisely heeded at Almresi. The Black Forest cake is just simply too good to pass up; its layers of whipped cream and chocolate cake, topped with cherries and chocolate shavings, strike just the right level of tempered sweetness. Kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian dish of cut-up pancakes tossed with raisins and powdered sugar and served here with plum preserves, is a treat not often found stateside.
As for trinken, the winter cocktail menu offers a tempting array of après-ski spirits, from traditional Alpine warmers like glühwein or jagertee (tea with rum) to schnapps and herbal liquors. A highly recommended ending to your meal would be a digestif of Austrian zirbenschnaps—pine-cone flavored, the liqueur tastes like the essence of the forest and is served in a ski-boot-shape shot glass garnished with a sprig of pine bough.
Almresi also serves a daily breakfast buffet that includes everything from potatoes Rösti and scrambled eggs to Leberkäse (similar to bologna), farmer’s cheese and bottomless mimosas. Later this winter, a takeout window at the pedestrian-mall level will provide a convenient way to grab coffee and an egg sandwich on your way to Gondola One just around the corner.
Exiting into Vail Village’s faux Bavaria streetscape after a meal at Almresi may feel like returning from a trip abroad to Epcot’s Germany pavilion; the good news is that this is a culinary journey worth taking, no passport, or MagicBands, required. almresi-vail.com, 298 Hanson Ranch Road, Vail, 970-470-4174