Very few things go together as well as beer and pizza. The mystic alchemy of the two together on the palate can arouse culinary ecstasy at times, even when one or both are not top notch.
This super duo of food and beverage has not been lost on craft brewers and eateries; many have for some time specialized in that bastard son of pizza, calzones, at their pubs. More and more are venturing into that crown jewel of molten mozzarella, artisanal pizza. Eddyline Brewing in Buena Vista and Amicas Pizza and Microbrewery in Salida have both ventured and with tasty results.
The occasion for this excursion was the yearly camping trip for the wife’s birthday, specifically northeast of Gunnison along the Taylor River. It gave us the opportunity to take something other than I-70 into the mountains, Highway 285 being a more expedient route. Buena Vista and Salida sit on the western edge of the roughly defined area known as South Park along the Highway 285 corridor, both just a slight detour from it.
We stopped in at Eddyline on the way up, just in time for a late lunch. If you visit, do not, I repeat, do not follow the directions from Google Maps. We spent a good fifteen minutes trying to navigate around the dead end streets the app was pointing us to. To get to the original location do the following: turn East on East Main Street from Highway 24 (right coming from the South, left coming from the North), go to South Main Street and take a right, follow it through twists and turns through the newest development until you nearly reach the end of the street and it will be on your right at the intersection with Riverpark Road. There’s a public parking lot across the street, and when we arrived, parking along both streets of the intersection.
This entire region is known for river rafting, kayaking, and other outdoor activities; the brewery reflects this with not only its name, but also in the decor. Oars, mountain bikes, and other sporting equipment hang in the relatively small bar area; most of the square footage being occupied by restaurant seating. Of course we sat at the bar.
Starting off with the Crank Yanker IPA for myself and a Drag Bag Lager for the wife, they quenched our thirst very satisfactorily as we waited for the pizza to arrive. Both beers, while not being overly exceptional, were perfect examples of the above average taste that is the hallmark of most of the smaller Colorado breweries scattered throughout the state.
The pizza, when it arrived, was typical of its artisinal brethren; squarish, sparsely sauced, top notch ingredients, and with a lightly browned crust. If there’s one thing I fault with this style of pizza, at least the examples I have tasted at maybe half a dozen places, is the lightness of the crust. I like to have some color, at least a golden brown, to the crust, adding to the flavor. Most artisinals that I’ve had barely tinge the the crust, baking the dough, but leaving it pale and somewhat tasteless other than the aromas infused by the woods most are baked over. The Margherita with pepperoni we had, other than the light crust, was very good and fortified us for the remaining drive.
This was the year of the late Winter, the snowpack was well above average, and the cooler temperatures had kept a good portion of it on the slopes. Halfway knowing the answer, I asked the staff if Cottonwood Pass was open, they all were doubtful. So it was to the secondary route up Monarch Pass that we made our way to the campground via Gunnison. Because of the lateness in the day, and an extreme case of willpower, we just drove on by as we passed the Gunnison Brewery; as it turned out, I needed all my wits about me when we made our way to the Mosca campground the wife had picked out.
Mosca is fairly close to 10,000 feet, about 16 miles outside of Almont. As we got farther up the dirt road leading to the campground, I began dodging both rock and snow slides, slowing to a crawl in our turbo Beetle to get around some of the rougher sections. The farther up we got, the more I expected to see some lost survivor of the Donner Party waving a half gnawed human limb as we inched our way near treeline.
Pulling up to the gates barring our way once we got there, we discovered that the site was closed due to the late snow, and so had to make our way back down to look for a place to stay since the sun was nearing the horizon.
On our way up we had passed a compound of cabins for rent, and so we made for it at the junction of Colorado Roads 744 and 742. The place turned out to be Harmel’s Ranch Resort, but they only booked the cabins for two or more nights, luckily they also had a motel that they gave to “one nighters.” The wall to wall dark paneling and 60s furniture gave the room we got a Twin Peaks vibe, so much so, that the wife said she was waiting for the backwards speaking dwarf to come out from around a corner. But it was clean and well maintained, and a welcome respite from the harrowing drive we had just experienced. In the end, we sat outside on the aluminum scalloped back chairs drinking craft beer out of cans and enjoyed the sun going down. The complimentary buffet breakfast we had the next morning was surprisingly good; the bins of eggs and breakfast meats replenished frequently. If you have children and aren’t into the tent or RV camping thing, I would highly recommend it for you.
That day we did end up finding a campsite on the Taylor River to pitch the tent, and spent the next few days enjoying some peace and quiet with a little fishing tossed in. The drive back on the final day was a much more relaxed affair, the physical and emotional batteries fully recharged. We again didn’t have the opportunity to stop in at the Gunnison Brewery, leaving well before they opened that day. So we decided to take a slight detour to Salida on the way home and have lunch at Amicas.
We made good time over Monarch Pass and so had time to kill when we arrived in Salida. What we saw of the town as we window shopped waiting for Amicas to open, made us want to come back for a longer visit. And we have an additional reason to come back since the town’s other pizzeria, Moonlight, began brewing a few months after that day.
Amicas had been open about five minutes by the time we made our way in, and the place already had a number of customers in for an early lunch. Other than somebody waiting for a pizza to go, all of the other patrons were seated at tables spread throughout the eclectically decored room. We, of course, sat at the bar.
It quickly became apparent that people really like this place. The doors were aswing with a steady stream of pickup orders and the hungry dropping in for a pizza and a pint. The Headwaters IPA I had was delicious and just to my taste, a tad hoppier than most, and just strong enough at 7% ABV. The wife’s Black Beard’s Delight, a dark lager, was a delight with its slight toastiness, and yet light tasting body. This isn’t a bock or other traditional style dark beer, it’s looks are deceiving, but the taste is satisfying.
The Salsiccia pizza we had, pepperoni, sausage, marinara, mozzarella, and oregano, was baked to perfection in Amicas’ wood-fired oven. The crust here was much more to our liking; golden brown with a hint of crunchiness, it complimented the ingredients on top with a smoky aroma. The quality of both beer and food was predominately a step above many of the places we have visited. While enjoying an after lunch beer I tasted a couple of their other beers, a brown and an amber, both good, if slightly less hop forward than my tastes.
As we drove out of Salida, admiring the small town vibe of the place, we put it on our list of places to get to know better. We’ll be back sometime in the years ahead, especialy now that there are two pizzerias in town that both brew their own beer.