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One of our all-time favorite scenic car rides in Colorado is the 20-mile long drive west out of Boulder on County Road 119 that winds its way up through Boulder Creek Canyon, through Nederland, CO, and up to the Eldora Ski Area. We had a gorgeous day to make the trek. The sky was crystal clear, the temperature hovered in the low 70s, and the aspens–at least in the higher elevations–were just starting to turn.

Here are a few pictures, so you can enjoy the drive, too.

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The historic town of Lyons, Colorado, (incorporated in 1891) sits nestled on the backside of the Front Range roughly halfway between Boulder and Estes Park on Highway 36. The actual population of the town is just under 2,000 people, but the amenities available there make it feel much bigger: a museum, two art galleries, two bike shops, a motorcycle shop, three car repair places, a furniture store, an antique shop, a quilting shop, a veterinary clinic, a medical clinic, a library, two newspapers, a fitness center, a liquor store, a produce market, a store selling all things related to honey, a fabulous little grocery store, an ice cream shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain, eight restaurants, a winery, and…whew, take a breath…Oskar Blues, Lyons’ very own microbrewery. (I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!)

Oskar’s, which sits in a strip mall that is wedged between westbound Highway 36 (Main Street) and eastbound Highway 36 (Broadway), is hard to miss. At least from what we could tell, it’s always surrounded by cars. From Main Street, you see the packed parking lot. From Broadway, you see the overflowing outdoor seating space and hear the musical performers who entertain diners nearly every night–weekdays or weekends.

Oskar Blue's - Lyons, CO

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Tom and I got there early one evening and managed to snag a table out on the balcony where we could hear the band playing bluegrass down below in the parking lot and see the sun setting over the mountains to the west. Unfortunately, neither my pictures of the musicians nor of the sunset came out very well, so you’ll have to conjure your own mental images of both. (I need to practice using my camera…sorry.)

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blue's

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blues

Oskar Blues’ claim to fame, of course, is its beers, and they’ve got plenty to choose from. On the night we stopped in, there were eight choices, including Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Deviant Dave’s, One-Nut Brown Ale, and Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. Clever. Tom chose Dale’s Pale Ale and gave it a thumbs-up. Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up beer because of the whole gluten thing…buuuummer…so you’ll have to settle for Tom’s hearty endorsement.

Dave's Pale Ale

Dave's Pale Ale

Oskar’s menu, which features the “Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort food that reflect [the] founder’s southern upbringing,” includes New Orleans-style gumbo and fried catfish along with the standard fare found on most bar/brewery menus: pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican entrees. Whatever you choose, I’m betting you won’t walk away unsatisfied. Tom had the Smoked BBQ Sandwich–a pulled pork sandwich smothered in homemade Bourbon BBQ sauce–with a side of homemade black bean salad (yuuuummmmy), and I had the “bodacious” B.B. King Burger with a side order of sweet potato fries. Brownie points to our waitress, I didn’t get the squonk eye when I asked if they would hold the bacon and add grilled onions to my burger.  Ultimately, the burger was a burger, but the sweet potato fries were gooo…ooood. Sweet, crunchy, and salty all in one bite. Does it get much better?

BBQ Beef Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Smoked BBQ Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

After eating at Oskar Blues, Tom and I understood why it’s so popular and why–we assume–it draws diners from beyond Lyons’ city limits…although, I suppose we could be wrong… maybe everyone who lives in Lyons eats at Oskar’s every night…it is lots of fun…but then, who’s eating at the eight other restaurants in Lyons?

I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!

Several years ago, when we were in Boulder visiting Tom’s sister, she took us to Tom’s Tavern on the corner of 11th and Pearl for beer and burgers. Quite tasty. So when we were debating our options for dinner on Tuesday night and spied Tom’s, we didn’t hesitate. We headed straight across the street, up the stairs, and presented ourselves at the hostess stand. That should have been our first clue. Tom’s didn’t have a hostess stand.

We were seated immediately near the front of the restaurant and were handed menus…menus that failed to have the words “Tom’s Tavern” printed anywhere on them. Instead, blazoned across the top at a jaunty angle: “SALT.” Hmmmm. We looked around. Sure enough, the room was different. Dramatically different. Tom’s beat-up bar furnishings had been replaced with sleek contemporary tables, chairs, lighting, and artwork. People were dressed up (by Boulder standards). There weren’t beer signs everywhere, and the silverware was real. Ahhhh…you don’t have to draw us a picture. Clearly, we weren’t in Tom’s. Okay, okay. We got it…finally. Actually, we weren’t in anything remotely like Tom’s. We were, in fact, in a brand new restaurant which we learned later had only been opened a few days before.

Our initial disappointment didn’t last long.

For starters, SALT serves brews from local microbreweries and drinks they call Pre-Prohibition Spirituals. Tom ordered a Steamworks Kolsch Ale (Steamworks Brewery is in Durango, CO), and I ordered a Pre-Prohibition Spiritual called Saturn Returns, a drink I can only describe as a peach Bellini with a dark soul. Yummy. I wish I’d taken notes about the whole Pre-Prohibition business at the time so I could tell you about it. Really. I did read about it, but I was having too much fun drinking the darn thing to take good notes then, and now I can’t remember what I read. Sorry.

Libations

Libations

As for the food, the meat and produce served at SALT come from local farms and ranches. In a blurb about SALT, the Downtown Boulder website uses descriptors like “savory slow food,” “fresh local,” and “loving preparation.” I can’t disagree.  Everything we ate was fresh and flavorful. The chef is clearly doing something right with his ingredients. Tom had the Tavern Burger featuring grass-fed beef, and I had the Summer Vegetable Penne. Delish…although I paid for eating pasta the next day. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was worth it. Big grin.

The Tavern Burger

The Tavern Burger

Summer Vegetable Penne
Summer Vegetable Penne
For dessert–of course there was dessert; we were on vacation!–we shared the Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The peaches are in season in Colorado, so we had no other option. Really big grin!
Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I’ll close this post with a picture showing the restaurant from the view we had of it pre-dinner. You can decide if we’re crazy for thinking it was still Tom’s Tavern (the word “Tavern” is behind the tree). Of course, the picture also clearly shows the name “SALT” above the door. Groan.
SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

The Boulder Book Store is one of six independent bookstores on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, and with its exposed brick walls, creaky wooden floors, well-stocked oak bookshelves, tin ceilings, and tall windows, it’s a beaut! The only thing missing is a big, ol’ yellow tom cat roaming around.

The Boulder Book Store and the BookEnds Cafe

The Boulder Book Store and the BookEnds Cafe

Located at the west end of the mall, the Boulder Book Store boasts three floors filled with more than 150,000 glorious new and used books. Even better, everywhere you turn you find knowledgeable, helpful staff. Right next door, with easy access from the Book Store, a cafe called BookEnds offers tasty pastries, coffees, teas, and lots of outdoor seating on the mall.  A reader’s Shangri-la. I could have spent hours there. Well…actually, I did.

Doesn't it look inviting?

Doesn't it look inviting?

The Boulder Book Store

The Boulder Book Store

The "Grand Ballroom" on the Third Level

The "Grand Ballroom" on the Third Level

The Book Store also offers writing workshops and author events. While I wasn’t able to attend a writing workshop, Tom and I did get to attend a very informative presentation by local author, Elana Amsterdam. Amsterdam has written a marvelous, recently published cookbook titled The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook of which I now own a signed copy. Self-satisfied smile. She also has a terrific website called Elana’s Pantry with hundreds of gluten-free recipes. Be nice to me, and I might even let you sample some of the goodies I’ll be making from her cookbook and website—that is, once the almond flour arrives from the supplier. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about my gluten-free baking and cooking adventures soon in my other blog, Mary’d With Children. Amsterdam has some truly inspired ideas. I can’t wait to get started!

Amsterdam's New Cookbook

Amsterdam's New Cookbook

I realize that not everyone in this country shops for groceries in a giant, stocked-to-the-rafters grocery chain, but many of us do. I do, so it was a real treat to walk through the front doors of the old-timey St. Vrain Market in Lyons, Colorado. Instead of being greeted by fancy floral arrangements, huge rolling bins of watermelons, and drippy Muzak music, we were greeted with a warm smile from Connie, one of the owners.
The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Shopping for the items on our list took us less than 15 minutes–the St. Vrain Market would fit into half the produce section of my local grocery store–but we found everything we needed and were amazed to find many things we never expected to see. Moreover, I was reminded that shopping, when I’m given only a few options to choose from, can be a rather pleasant, stress-free experience. Seriously, why do we need 253 different cereal choices?

The St. Vrain Market

The St. Vrain Market

Connie and her husband, Neil, recently purchased the St. Vrain Market and have big plans for it in the near future, including expanding the meat and deli counter, adding a bakery, and introducing new products that will help their customers “enjoy a delicious, healthy, and balanced diet” (yes, the two of them are incredibly physically fit and appear to be health nuts like everyone else in Colorado, but we’ll not hold that against them). Fortunately, they truly seem to appreciate the rarity of their wonderful little store and plan to maintain “the nostalgia of [their] hometown market.” I hope so. I wish them great success and can’t wait to go back. Visit their website to learn more.

Yummy Produce!

Yummy Produce!

In celebration of an upcoming milestone birthday, Tom and I decided to head to the cooler climes of the Colorado Rockies for a little R&R. We did a bit of research individually and, after putting our notes and our heads together, settled on a small riverfront resort called Shelly’s Cottages a few miles northwest of Boulder. Nine cottages situated along 900 feet of the North St. Vrain River, each cottage offering a king-size bed, full kitchen, private hot tub, and “tranquility.” Oh, and no guests under the age of 13. According to the website, this policy does not reflect a dislike of children, rather a belief that adults need “a little time away from the stress of everyday life.” Sounds good. Explains “tranquility.” I don’t have a problem with kids, but sign me up.

Tom called the resort early on Sunday afternoon to make the reservation, but no one answered. He left a message with our home phone number requesting a call back. A very pleasant lady from the resort finally returned his call early the next afternoon and was more than happy to take our reservation. Although the cabin we had hoped to rent was no longer available, several others, including one similar to our original choice, were still available on the dates we wanted; however, she informed me with a bit of an edge in her voice, before she could take my reservation, I needed to be clear about their booking policy. And here’s where the whole thing started getting a bit strange.

First, to book a cabin, you must put down 50% of the total cost of your stay. We’ve stayed at lot of places, both mom-and-pop and corporate properties, but rarely do I recall having to put 50% down. When we have, the deposit was fully refundable up to a day or two before the arrival date. Not at Shelly’s. If we cancel more than 30 days out, the deposit–minus a $50 cancellation fee–is refundable. However, if we need to cancel less than 30 days from the date of our scheduled arrival, tough. They keep the whole deposit. In our case, we’re only staying a few nights, so it won’t break the bank if we should happen to cancel, but I would guess the cancellation policy is a deal killer for many guests, particularly those making reservations for an extended stay.

Second, before the reservation is complete, the prospective guest must go online, read The Policy, the same Policy that he or she has just been told over the phone. Then the guest must enter his or her confirmation number and click on the submit button, indicating that he or she agrees to and will abide by The Policy. The Policy includes, and I quote:

  • No smoking (no problem)
  • No pets (bummer, Teddy)
  • No children under 13 (a fact established earlier)
  • No visitors (Huh? Seriously, the website says, “To preserve the quiet and intimate setting, we do not allow additional guests or visitors on the property. There are pleanty [sic] of parks in the area that you can meet your family/friends for BBQs or get-togethers.” When told about this particular policy, Tom wanted to know if we also have a curfew. Makes you wonder.)

Still the website is rife with complimentary comments and recommendations from previous guests. Plus, the setting looks really beautiful. Tranquil and beautiful. At minimum, our experiences there should be fodder for future postings. But, I must remember to leave my docking station and Tom’s squeaky tennis shoes at home. Shhhhhh. Seriously. Keep it down!

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