Fun fondue on high |

Fun fondue on high

Alex Miller
summit daily news

One of the best things about having people visit us here in Summit County is that it pushes us to do some of those fun “touristy” things we occasionally overlook. When my wife brought her childhood friend out from Missouri last week, she was determined to show her some real “mountain” stuff. In casting about for those experiences, it’s difficult not to land on Keystone Mountain, where two exceptional dining experiences sit at the end of two gondola rides (which, for a newbie to the county, is half the fun).

Alpenglow Stube is Keystone’s Four-Diamond restaurant at the Outpost – at 11,444, one of the highest fine-dining restaurants in the world. But we had some kids with us and opted for the less-formal place down a few doors at the Outpost – der Fondue Chessel. As an intro, I’m just going to note here what our 8-year-old son said on the way out after the meal: “That was the best dinner ever. It wasn’t like those boring restaurants where you just sit there and eat!”

What Andy was referring to is the Chessel’s approach to European beer-hall style dining. With a fire roaring in the massive fireplace, flags of various nations hanging from the beams high overhead and long wooden tables for family-style dining, there’s no mistaking this for an overly formal restaurant. And yes, the waitstaff are dressed in traditional German garb while the oompah band members rove about in lederhosen. If it’s a fun atmosphere you’re looking for to delight an out-of-town guest (and the kids), this is the place.

Der Fondue Chessel is essentially a four-course, prix fixe menu that starts out with traditional cheese fondue plunked down on burners at your table. The fondue is a mixture of emmental and gruyere cheeses with a touch of kirschwasser and served with bread, fruit and veggies for dipping. The bar has several beers on tap, but go for the Paulaner Pilsner or Oktoberfest for the real German pairing.

Next up is a simple Caesar salad, and take time to listen to the waitstaff as they explain what’s coming up next. You need to choose your meats for the raclette course, which includes “traditionals” like chicken, steak, shrimp, pork, scallops or a vegetarian option, plus the “specials” option: lobster tail, yellowfin tuna or New Zealand lamb chops (there’s an extra charge for these).

While you eat your salad with some of the house-made bread, the grills on the table have been prepared with oil and are heating up. When the tray of meats arrive, it’s time to start a-grillin’. Served with the meats is a relish tray, some potatoes, a variety of dipping sauces and a plate full of raclette cheese (that which gives the meal its name). These go on little trays that you stick under the hot grills and get nice and melty – the better for smearing on bread, potatoes or anything else. There may be nothing simpler than melted cheese, but for the kids it was probably the highlight of the whole night.

While there is a “gringo” kid’s menu available with the traditional chicken fingers, hot dogs and the like, this is a good time to nudge kids out of their comfort zone and get them to try new things. For our 8-year-old, the mere fact that he could cook his own stuff right there put him in a very non-picky mood, and he tried everything – including the lamb and scallops.

While the portions are generous, you’ll still want to save room for the final course which is, of course, chocolate fondue. There are four different kinds, from traditional dark or milk chocolate to turtle style (with caramel) and even cookies and cream. The fondue is served with a variety of dippers like strawberries, raspberries, pound cake and even marshmallows and graham crackers for a S’mores mashup. For a guaranteed crowd pleaser for any age, it’s hard to beat pots of warm chocolate bubbling away in front of you.

Along the way, the band plays, many photos are taken and, at some point, you’ll be compelled to stand for “The Chicken Dance.” Dancing on the thick wooden table is not verboten, and the waitresses and bandmembers happily pose for photos.

Finally, you’ll grab blankets and head back down the mountain, pretty much assured that you showed your visitor a fun time – and something they’ll remember for a long time to come.

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