We were on our way to do something that I hadn’t done in three and a half months. Even longer for Lisa. Eat out. At a restaurant.
The last time I ate at an actual restaurant was my stop at Goblin and the Grocer (read here) after my Indiana Dunes hike (read here). That was March 15, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. I caught hell from Lisa when I called to tell her about it.
“You did WHAT!?”
In my defense, on March 15, 2020 the CDC had only just issued a recommendation against gatherings of fifty or more people, and I had been in a restaurant with less than ten other human beings. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the entire United States hadn’t yet topped 3,000. Still, my father had drilled the “better safe than sorry” philosophy into me from an early age, and Lisa reminded me that I had just chosen “sorry”. Fortunately, I escaped infection.
Now, fourteen weeks later, we were tired and hungry in Westcliffe, Colorado, where we had just completed our Lakes of the Clouds hike (read here). There were only seven cases of COVID-19 in all of Custer County, where Westcliffe sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We’d had virtually no contact with other people since the start of our travels, and Chappy’s Mountain View Bar and Grill had outdoor, distanced seating. We chose a table off to the side where neither wait staff nor patrons would have to pass near us to get to and from their tables. We felt nervous, but also excited … and relatively safe.
Our server was a wiry woman in her sixties with the energy of a young child on Christmas morning. “What’ll you have to drink?” she shouted through her cloth face mask. As usual, I was looking for a local beer. The server recommended New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger. Fort Collins is not as local (or as small batch) as I had hoped, but it was a Colorado IPA and came with the endorsement of a Centennial State native who exuded confidence in her brew-smarts. I ordered one. She steered Lisa toward a watermelon-cucumber vodka and lemonade. Then she bustled off, and we surveyed the menu like we hadn’t eaten in three days.
Chappy’s menu was not particularly innovative. There was the usual line-up of appetizers – wings, chicken fingers, nachos, etc. – until we got to the bottom of the list. Deep fried Rocky Mountain oysters? Interesting, but not today. We summarily skipped over everything else until we reached:
“THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME HERE FOR!”
It was. Fire-grilled, grass-finished burgers. We perused the options.
“Grass-finished” refers to beef from cattle that were fed naturally in the last months of their lives, grazing on grass in a pasture, rather than being fed grain which tends to fatten the cow and add marbling to the meat. Grass-finished beef is said to be leaner and healthier.
Chappy’s offered a varied selection of toppings for your patty. Burgers with green chilis. Burgers with fried egg. Mushroom and Swiss, blue cheese, salsa, jalapeños – there were lots of choices. Lisa chose “The Southwestern”. It came with house-made chipotle sauce, salsa, and pepper jack cheese.
I scanned the page until my eyes rested on a selection under the heading “Other Special Burgers”. I loved this. Well played Chappy! These weren’t specialty burgers. Like children to a devoted parent, all of Chappy’s burgers were special – these were just some other special ones. It was the name of this special other burger-child that caught my eye and bade me read on:
I mean, honestly, how can you not love feeding-time-in-the-pigpen imagery? In print? On a menu? I had to know more! The menu described it thus:
A burger and fries smothered in green or red chili, topped with onions and shredded cheese
Was there a bun? Wasn’t there? Who cares!? Not me! It was feeding time in the hungry hiker’s pen and I was ready. We had just come off an almost-twelve-mile hike, and we needed sweet, sweet sustenance. If that sustenance came smothered and topped, so much the better. I chose the green chili and ordered it rare, because the only thing worse than no burger, is an overcooked burger. But, suit yourself.
Our drinks came. Lisa was extremely enamored of her watermelon-cucumber vodka and lemonade. She described it as, “refreshing – like an agua fresca, only with a kick!”. She would end up drinking two.
I sipped my IPA. I have been having extraordinary luck with the India pale ales lately. The Voodoo Ranger’s flavor burst onto my tongue with notes of citrus that are a personal favorite in this style of brew. In the glass it was a light golden amber with a hint of suds. In my mouth it was full bodied and well balanced. New Belgium has this to say about the flavor:
Pine and citrus in the fore … lightly sweet at first with a stronger, building and perfect bitterness.
New Belgium may need to get over themselves a little bit. Perfect bitterness? Voodoo Ranger was definitely a well balanced ale with an appropriate bitterness. But perfect? Beer Advocate rates the Ranger 86 points, eight points behind the 18th Street Brewery’s Under Crown IPA that I enjoyed months before at Goblin and the Grocer. That IPA was near perfect, although I’m not sure that I personally would rate Voodoo Ranger so far below it. I enjoyed mine thoroughly and ordered another.
When our food came, we dug in. Lisa’s Southwestern sat perched upon a golden brown, toasted bun, the chipotle sauce and salsa tucked in under a blanket of perfectly melted pepper jack. She had ordered it medium rare and it was spot on – a perfect pink throughout. It came with a side of coleslaw. Lisa pronounced the burger to be “scrumptious” and said that, “it had just the right amount of heat”.
My Slopper arrived, appropriately, in a trough. Sort of. Really it was an oval bowl piled high with smotherings and toppings. There was ample green chili and a healthy portion of shredded cheese dotted with freshly chopped red onion. French fries poked out at odd angles, begging to be plucked out and devoured. It was a masterpiece of slop. It took me a while to dig down and see how it was cooked – and if there was a bun. It was more medium-rare than rare but tender and juicy so – no harm, no foul. There was a bun – at the bottom, soaked in juice and green chili sauce. It was everything I could have hoped for. A magnificent mound of beef, potato, and cheese. The green chili gave it a tang that brightened up an otherwise heavy combination, and the fresh red onion added a welcome crunch. I ate all of it.
Lisa’s Southwestern, my Slopper, and two drinks a piece came to $53.93, including tip. My meal was a little more expensive than the traditional burgers – one of which (and a beer) would have come to right around fifteen dollars, but we felt that Chappy’s Mountain View Bar and Grill belonged in the two dollar-sign category. Regardless, this was a very reasonably priced place to fill your post hike emptiness. Chappy’s takes a lot of flak on Yelp for poor or slow service – ours was neither, and they seemed to be doing a pretty good job of respecting staff and patrons’ safety while delivering great food at a fair price. Most of their less-than-stellar reviews still found time to praise their burgers and beer. We agree, and recommend Chappy’s for post-hike eats anytime you’re in the Wet Mountain Valley. Bring your appetite and, if you’re put off by the idea of ordering something called a Slopper … get over it. Your stomach will thank you! ♦
Date: July 3, 2020
Location: 38.136145, -105.467849
Website: Chappy’s Facebook Page
Price Range: $$
Everything Else: ★★★