When I took a seat at Table, the Stanley Hotel’s exceptional dining experience, I didn’t know a soul. I introduced myself to several of them on the veranda of The Lodge prior to the main event. This building, located directly to the east of the Stanley Hotel is, essentially, a smaller copy of its neighbor. Renovated in 2012, The Lodge is a boutique hotel on the Stanley campus – a more intimate, bed-and-breakfast style experience. It’s run by innkeeper Midge Kerr, a dog lover who instituted a “preferred pooch” program where dogs less than 50 pounds are not only welcome, they are treated to homemade biscuits and their own dog bed during their stay. The Lodge is also home to Table, one of the most unique culinary adventures I’ve ever experienced. (Dogs were not in evidence at this particular event.)
From the time it was built in 1910, the building (then called the Manor House), served as an adjunct hotel for bachelors who worked on the property or were passing through on a short stay. Just like its larger, more famous sister, the structure boasts of a spacious front porch with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains crowned by the iconic Longs Peak. When I arrived for the evening and saw the other guests scattered among the veranda’s various seating areas, it reminded me of the golden age of grand hotels (prior to World War II), when innkeepers encouraged their guests to take cigars and play cards on the porch. It was a time when hotel stays were measured in weeks, not days, and getting away to the mountains of Colorado was a sure-fire cure for the stifling heat of the city.
During the summer, when visitors flock to this small mountain community, Estes Park picks up some of the hustle and bustle of larger cities. But at the Lodge this evening, the relaxed atmosphere was palpable. We were there to experience a communal dinner celebration featuring the talents of the team from Blackbelly Market (Boulder) paired with wines from Kiona Vineyards (Washington).
When you partake in Table, you’re not exactly eating out. There is a limit to how many seats are available – generally no more than 20. There’s no waiting to be seated, you are not given a menu to choose from. At Table, you are presented with a menu that tells you what you’ll be savoring – it doesn’t ask you to make a choice. Mingling with other guests on the veranda, we all felt a sense of anticipation.
Blackbelly is not just a restaurant and catering company – it’s a butcher shop. The founder, Hosea Rosenberg (of Top Chef fame) opened Blackbelly Catering in 2011 and soon thereafter, established Blackbelly Farm to raise livestock and organic produce – a very literal example of farm-to-table fare. For this particular evening, Blackbelly’s culinary team, head chef Josh Chesterson and butcher Nate Singer, had prepared samplings of the finest offerings produced through the various Blackbelly endeavors. This dining experience is a nod to the creativity and artistic presentation great chefs are capable of when given free rein. Each course was paired with the small-batch vineyard wines of Kiona. Cal Rigney of Estate Brands Distributing Company was present to enjoy the meal and explain the different wines served with each course. But first, on the porch, appetizers were served to the guests who were grouped primarily in the pairs they came with.
But that all changed when we were invited inside to dine in the Manor Hall. A long table was beautifully decorated and precisely set for the multi-course meal we were about to experience. We didn’t have assigned seating so there was no helping it – we were going to sit next to and across from complete strangers. We took our seats quickly to review the menu. I sat next to Cal, with every intention of listening closely to his explanation of each wine and how it was crafted.
The menu consisted of ingredients I’d heard of… and others about which I had no clue. Luckily, Josh and Nate came out before each course to explain the dishes … and Cal, the wine. I learned Kiona’s Lemberger is “like Pinot Noir on steroids,” and that cobia is fish – in this case, cured and served with watermelon, corn, and pickled melon rind. Other courses included Blackbelly’s lamb tartar, black truffles, dry-aged beef, and lobster. Smaller plates and multiple courses (that night there were six, including appetizer and dessert) allowed the guests to become more than satisfied over several hours of dining. Impeccable servers swooped in to present plates and pour wine, and then clear between courses seamlessly. Midge was the perfect host and visited often to make sure everything was going well.
There was nothing to complain about and as I’ve said, nothing to request so there was no choice but to chat with my fellow diners. And that’s where the real magic of Table happened. Couples were there for a variety of reasons – the gentleman seated to my right was with his brand-new bride, the couple across from me was celebrating an anniversary. At one end of the table were people celebrating a birthday. Through conversations and eating this meal as if we were a family seated around the dining table, we all made new friends. We raised our glasses in celebration to each person’s current milestone with true sentiment. We shared more than a meal. We shared our lives.
You can go to any restaurant in Estes Park, get a meal, be presented with your check, and be on your way within an hour. But Table is something different. It’s an experience that emphasizes the intimacy of dining, the importance of a shared meal in the lives of every one of us. We all ended up in the Stanley’s Whiskey Bar for an after-dinner drink and more stories about life and love. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when we turned from strangers into friends. But it happened to all of us, over a meal at Table. You don’t need to be a guest of the Stanley Hotel or The Lodge to attend a Table dinner, check out www.stanleyhotel.com/table
Written by Barb Boyer Buck