4/11/08

If you're in Vail...


I have to take a moment here and pitch a little piece of the real, dyed-in-the-wool Vail history. As one who called the Vail Valley home for some 15 years, I can tell you that Vail wouldn't be Vail without the occasional Swiss hot dog after a long, chilly, arduous day of fun on the slopes. Swiss Hot Dog, recognizable for the blue cow on its rustic wooden sign, was an institution in Lionshead during the bulk of my years in the valley. Since the reconstruction of Lionshead, Swiss Hot Dog has been forced to move into a new (and not so iconic) location in Avon. M and I were delighted to find it there while wandering in search of lunch. Nothing — really nothing — can bolster your tired muscles and ragged soul after a punishing day of high-altitude exercise like a hearty Swiss dog, and it was just the thing to replenish our weary bones.

If you've never experienced a Swiss hot dog, it's actually two dogs in one, and then some. Two lean, artfully-spiced veal dogs (think gourmet brat-fest, but more rustic...this is the "country paté" of hot dogs) share a bun in the form of a crackling French baguette (soft and rich on the inside, crisp and gilded on the surface). Right there, it scores high points from someone like me who spent part of my early years in Southern France, where bread is...well, a cut above anything we call "bread" around these parts. But the goodness doesn't stop there. The Swiss dog is enlivened with fresh, spicy sprouts, a good, strong country mustard and a curry seasoning.
The dogs alone are swoon-worthy, and enough to revive a weary soul on their own. But if you're a foodie, ask for a side of THE SOUP. Trust me. You'll thank me for the recommendation. The house soup, billed as "the mother of all soups", is all that and a bag of chips, as we say here in the US of A.
OK, so it's "just" chicken soup. Or so you might think. In reality, it's that ancient, home-brewed cure-all plus a hearty dose of the raw-food movement at its best.
The brilliant invention of proprietor, Ernst, this is a traditional, hearty chicken soup — complete with wheaty, oversized handmade noodles — is a walk into uncharted territory.
The real "secret ingredients"? See the first photo above. In that bowl rest the diced (and, yes, secret) "vegetables" that make up the best part of Ernst's truly brilliant, and quite possibly life-extending, concoction. Sprinkled on top of the hot soup, the fresh veggie and herb mixture retains its crunch and flavor. I've you've ever had Vietnamese Pho, you'll recognize the technique, and its merits. What's in there? On the menu, it just says "fresh vegetables". The garnishes are mint, cilantro and lime (brilliant!). But there's more than that to it. There are also red and green peppers and, I suspect, a touch of fresh jalapeño. My palate isn't good enough to dissect the rest...nor would I give away his secret if I knew. But you can feel the good health in every bite, and the flavors pop and sizzle like the most subtle and elegant of gourmet fare.
Yes, this is country food...hearty food. Restorative food. But it also has that extra something, that spark of real culinary inspiration.
There are a lot of exceptional restaurants in the Vail Valley. Of course there are. And there are several worth sampling. But as a longtime resident, let me just tell you that this is not one to be missed. My husband, who was for several years the culinary director of one of the valley's swankiest and most sought-after dining establishments, would tell you the same. It may be "fast food", but it's also an inimitable slice of history.
Oh, and...a little tip: if you have a moment, coax Ernst into telling you a few of his tales. Because aside from his culinary genius (he'll tell you he can't cook...hah!) this man is a treasure trove of amazing stories that will leave you dreaming of old Europe and the early, classic years of Vail. If you're a history buff, or just someone who appreciates a good story (and I definitely am!) you won't find a better cache of exotic, adventurous stories outside of Casablanca.
Born on the Swiss border of Northern Italy, Ernst has lived more places than I can dream of. Educated for a time in Paris, he went on to serve in the French Foreign Legion in Algeria. Should you have the time, he can also tell you of his mining days in Australia, of establishing ski schools in Victoria and Vail, as well as a book's worth of memories from his years of heading up the legendary Tyrolean restaurant (his baby) in the early days of Vail.
If Avon weren't so convoluted, I'd tell you how to get to Swiss Hot Dog, but the directions are beyond my powers of description. If you see Pi*r One Imp@rts, you're almost there. If you get to W@lm*rt, you've gone too far. It's not hard to find. And you'll be glad you made the effort.

4 comments:

Mamacita said...

In the grass topped building, where Zacca Za is. I don't know what its called. My husband loves that place but gets irritated that he charges $3.00 for a can of soda. (I told him to bring his own water.) There is nothing better than a real Swiss bratwurst. I miss them. That's Swiss fast food. You buy it on the street and wander around eating it. Anything else (besides icecream cones) eaten on the street would be considered barbaric.

Juliette said...

I'd love to go visit this amazing man and try his yummy hot dog right away. Sounds a lot like the ones we had in France but they would put them 2 mn in the oven with cheese on top of it...

Lisa M. said...

First Casa Bonita and NOW Swiss Hot Dog. You really want me to invade Colorado don;t you???

Yoli said...

I don't eat meat, any recommendations for a vegetarian?