Not all food and drink experiences need to be gourmet, vintage, or expensive. They should, however, be memorable, delicious, and unique. So it was on a recent trip through the Arizona desert to the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.
Presenting several educational single malt Scotch whisky tastings at the fabled Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado was the purpose of the trip. The tastings, in tandem with a concert, were fundraising events for the Durango Celtic Music Festival. Single malts included Highland Park, Glenmorangie, The Balvenie, Oban, and The Macallan, all from the Strater’s various bars, and each characteristic of specific distillation regions of Scotland. Pass around samples of peat and pieces of Bourbon and sherry wood from aging casks helped guests appreciates the intricacies of fine Scotch.
Our base for three days in the Durango area was the Rochester Hotel, built in 1892 with the latest renovation about ten years ago. Breakfasts at the Rochester reflected the fine-quality, authentic nature of the area. Homemade breads, scones, and muffins greeted us daily, along with substantial egg and potato offerings delicately enhanced with superb cheeses.
A magical discovery for lunch in Durango was at the Derailed Saloon and Eatery. Their dessert specialty, do-it-yourself S’mores, was served at the table. Taking turns hovering our skewered marshmallows over the burner and squeezing the hot gooey mess between Graham crackers and chocolate was one of the highlights of the entire trip. The aroma was heavenly and one not usually associated inside a restaurant.
Silverton, about 50 miles north of Durango, is primarily a seasonal town, being the terminus of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, running the route to Silverton only three seasons per year. Lunch for our party at the Brown Bear Café was a combination of hearty soups, chowders, chili, and hot sandwiches, all enjoyed under the glow of the authentic 1893 pressed tin ceiling. Brisk, tasty and warming in the below-freezing temps outside, the lunches were a great send off for our drive up the Million Dollar Highway and spectacular scenery, covered with a pristine snow cover.
Homeward bound, our route took us past Four Corners Monument, part of the Navajo Nation, and to a welcome snack of Navajo fry bread. Reminiscent in size and shape of pita bread, the Navajo version develops a light, puffy profile, as frying causes air bubbles to expand. It is most enjoyed with a light sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar or honey. Invigorated, we each placed our hands and feet into four states at the same time: Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, where their boundaries all meet a single point.
Stopping at a supermarket in Kayenta, Arizona for our last stop, we experienced another quasi monument, to a popular and iconic food. The largest display of SPAM any of us had ever seen dominated one of the store’s aisles. Still sated by the Navajo fry bread, we passed on the SPAM, but had a good time with smart phones, learning several variations on what the acronym means.