Well, folks, after months of anticipation and speculation, Town, Mark Fischer’s most ambitious restaurant to date, is finally open in Carbondale. To say it has met the expectations of those waiting for its arrival, here and beyond, is an understatement. Town, in the space that once housed Ella and Hestia on Main Street, is bold, dynamic, experimental and ever changing. It is an adventure and one that people who loved his flagship restaurant, Six89, and Fischer’s Glenwood outpost, The Pullman, will drive from near and far to experience.
Since opening for dinner on May 1, the restaurant, with chef de cuisine Bryce Orblom, has been bustling. It’s a packed house where diners find new and interesting dishes and ingredients on the menu. Crispy pig’s ears and fried cheese curds are popular starters for the curious. The English peas, served edamame-style, tossed in oil, sea salt and sesame seeds are sweet and satisfying and just as addictive as its soy brethren.
Back to the pig’s ears. Although I am sometimes “veganish” — meaning I choose plants on a menu more often than not because I like the taste and think thoughtful vegetable preparations can be the greatest sign of innovation for any chef — I’ve never met a pig part on a plate that I didn’t like. When I walked in, the dish was recommended over and over. Fischer himself admits to eating them all day long. And now I know why, these fried strips of yes, you guessed it, pig’s ears, are salty, crunchy, sometimes soft pieces of bacon fries. Oh and there’s a ranch-like dipping sauce. I’m getting fatter just thinking about these things.
Reading the menu at Town is fun in itself. Nowhere else will you see chilaquiles for brunch next to Hamachi crudo with barrel-aged fish sauce and crispy shallots or a sunchoke, artichoke and sunflower salad next to rabbit tacos with pickled onions (all of which are highly recommended). At dinner there is an artisan bread course prepared by Fiona Smollen, the baker at now-shuttered Grana bread. Bread is back, people!
When Fischer announced his first and defining restaurant was closing last summer, my heart skipped a beat. Anyone that reads my column knows it was my favorite restaurant in the Roaring Fork Valley for many years running. What would he do to top it? Fischer never seemed concerned, and never questioned if a town like Carbondale would be able to handle whatever edge he decided to jump off of next. But the new place had to be uniquely Carbondale, with all its quirks and casual sophistication.
That’s what Town is. It’s a reflection of what is happening in this small outpost of local food, experimental living and thoughtful execution. Where else in the valley, or in the state for that matter, will you hear a farmer saying to the chef: “I’ve got a goat that I’ll bring in for you.”
While the menu features many wonderful duck, pork belly and lamb dishes, for me if there is a dish on the menu that is all of these things together it is the butternut squash enchiladas. Carbondale is the butternut squash enchiladas. Here’s why: this dish was inspired by a one served at a dinner party that Fischer and his wife and business partner Lari Goode attended in Carbondale. It has Latin influences. It’s cubed butternut squash — fresh, bright, with texture. It’s vegetarian but makes no excuses for it. And who knows if it will be on the menu next week? It goes against the grain: Community. Flavor. Local. Unexpected.
It’s what this Town is all about.
Amiee White Beazley writes about dining, restaurants and food-related travel for the Aspen Times Weekly. She also works at Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt. Follow her on Twitter @awbeazley1, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.