Dining Al Fresco: Front-Row Seat to Mountain Peaks

Dining outside is one of the delicious delights of summer — a European tradition that has captured American diners big time. We find patios in gardens and malls, on rooftops and streets, and even in parking lots. But nowhere is the al fresco ambiance more appealing than in mountain resorts and towns. Whether it’s beneath a backdrop of towering mountain peaks or tucked away in a patch of posies, dining outdoors in the fresh (and cool) mountain air is the ultimate dining experience.

Here are 10 mountain eateries with unforgettable outdoor settings.

Garden Terrace at Hotel Jerome
The Garden Terrace sits far enough off Main Street in the side yard of the Jerome to be its own private sanctuary. Pots of flowers add summer beauty while rim-to-rim umbrellas create cool shade for the impeccable table settings with service to match. Since the glory days of Aspen, the Jerome has been the town’s most distinguished legendary hotel, restored several times to its Victorian elegance. Become part of the legend by having breakfast, lunch or dinner in the garden. Try fresh fish of the day served with sautéed vegetables and herbed risotto.

330 E. Main St.; (970) 920-1000 hoteljerome.rockresorts.com/dining/index.asp

Sundeck Restaurant
For one of the grandest vistas in the Colorado high country, ride the gondola to the 11,000-foot summit of Aspen Mountain and have lunch at the Sundeck. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world as you look across to the snow-capped Elk Mountain Range and the slopes of Aspen Highlands and Highlands Bowl. The ambiance intensifies on Saturdays when students of the Aspen Music Festival play for free at lunchtime. The cafeteria serves grilled items, fresh sandwiches, vegetarian dishes, soups, salads and desserts.

Top of Aspen Mountain; (970) 925-1220; www.aspensnowmass.com/summer_rec/ dining.cfm

Beaver Creek

Toscanini: elegant terrace dining in the heart of Beaver Creek Village.

Italian musician Arturo Toscanini would have loved dining at his namesake restaurant before conducting a concert at the Vilar Center for the Arts one floor below. He would have enjoyed watching skaters twirling on the ice rink under the stars while dining on the terrace at this award-winning restaurant in the heart of elegant Beaver Creek Village. He likely would have ordered linguine with littleneck clams, garlic, white wine, parsley, chile flakes and grilled ciabatta.

60 Avondale Lane, Avon, 81620; (970) 754-5590;
The second-level veranda of Relish overlooks the rushing Blue River at the Riverwalk Center — the town’s main happening place. All this lies just below the high peaks and slopes of the ski area, so diners can absorb all of Breckenridge in one sitting. Chef Matt Fackler brings a delightful blend of flavors and fun to his menu. A favorite is the free-range veal meat loaf with Tillamook cheddar mac-n-cheese and porcini mushroom gravy.

137 S. Main St.; (970) 453-0989; www.relishbreckenridge.com

Fatty’s Pizzeria

The upper and lower decks of historic Fatty’s yield some of the best views of the ski resort and Ten Mile Range, but more impressive is the overwhelming display of brightly colored flowers spilling over hanging baskets, flower boxes and pots everywhere. Owner John Daisy is as passionate about his pansies as he is his pizza — hand-made with the freshest ingredients — and other Italian classics. Create your own pie or order one of the specialties.

106 S. Ridge St., (970) 453-9802; www.fattyspizzeria.com

Brightly colored flowers spill over hanging patio baskets at Fatty’s Pizzeria in Breckenridge.

Grouse on the Green
Most golf course verandas overlook verdant greens with spectacular scenery. But Grouse on the Green, part of the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera and perched high on the mountain, not only overlooks the Dave Pelz Short Course but also commands sweeping views of the entire Vail Valley from Edwards to Vail. This authentic Irish pub (originally designed in Ireland and shipped to Cordillera) features classic Irish fare with an extensive choice of microbrew beers. A good golfing lunch is the turkey wrap with Fontina cheese, romaine, roasted peppers, basil, Kalamata olives, red-wine vinaigrette wrapped in a spinach tortilla with waffle fries or chips.

2205 Cordillera Way, Edwards; (970) 926-5788;

The Island Grill at Frisco Bay
Unobstructed views of Fourteeners Torreys Peak and Grays Peak rising above the pine-forested shoreline of Dillon Reservoir are free at Frisco’s newest eatery, The Island Grill. Perched right on the shore, the second-story porch is perfect for taking in marina activity or watching distant sailboats skimming across the lake. Chill out at happy hour in true island fashion with one of their island cocktails served with a half-rack of ribs with a spicy Hoisin barbeque sauce.

Frisco Marina, 900 Main St.; (970) 668-9999;

Edgewater Café
Like the name implies, Edgewater Café sits on an expansive deck overlooking Keystone Lake at the base of Lakeside Village. The water glistening below the green slopes of Dercum Mountain creates a calming atmosphere for lunch after vigorous morning activities. Watching people glide through the liquid on paddleboats and canoes adds a dimension of entertainment, especially when they take a spill! The casual lunch fare includes chipolte chicken panini with roasted tomatillo and green chile Aioli and smoked cheddar.

Lakeside Village at Keystone Lodge & Spa; (970) 496-4386;

Steamboat Springs
Cottonwood Grill
The Cottonwood Grill skirts the banks of the Yampa River that meanders though Steamboat like a giant snake. Tables donned with white cloths on the backyard lawn invite diners to share a lazy meal while listening to the gurgle of the river and birds chirping in the trees. It’s a perfect setting to enjoy the Pacific Rim cuisine of this upscale restaurant. One of the authentic offerings is a Thai pork tenderloin marinated in Hoisin sauce and ginger, served with vegetable fried rice, coriander bok choy and green curry sauce.

701 Yampa St; (970) 879-2229; www.cottonwoodgrill.com

The Wildflower
In the gardens of The Wildflower at the Lodge at Vail, lights play on Aspen trees and accentuate the vibrant colors of the amazing array of flowers in full bloom spilling around the dining area. Add candlelight on top of tables dressed in linen, and you have everything required for a romantic evening. Seasonal dishes are prepared from the garden’s bounty at this multiple award-winning restaurant. Try the roasted rack of lamb with smoked vegetables, rosemary polenta with balsamic, Laudemio olive oil and tomato conserva.

Candlelight and crisp linen make for romantic sunset dinners at The Wildflower.

174 E. Gore Creek Drive; (970) 476-5011; lodgeatvail.rockresorts.com/dining/the-wildflower.asp

Colorado native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning ski and travel journalist and the author of the book “Women Ski.” She writes for local, national and international publications.

From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.