This is a painful thing to admit, but once (just once!), this happened: A friend and I decided to go skiing up at Bogus Basin, and we suited up in all our polypropylene and shell pants and Sorels, gathered up all the equipment and piled into his Isuzu Trooper.
We got about midway up the hill, not so far that we were surrounded by snow yet, but past the major clumps of houses, and we realized that what we were really looking forward to most wasnt the slopes at all, but the beers and burgers that awaited us afterward.
So we turned around, sped back to the city limits, and clomped into Highlands Hollow Brewhouse, ski gear and all. If anybody assumed we were coming back from an incredibly early set of freshies (and man, they just dont look like they exerted themselves at all they must be in great shape!), then we did nothing to disabuse them of that notion.
The first snow, for me, brings an almost Pavlovian craving for this small brewpub, with its array of microbrews, over-generous portions and old-world ski bar charm, circular fireplace and all.
And this time, when I say old-world, I dont mean it hearkens to Chamonix or St. Moritz or anywhere in the Alps, I mean it reminds me of an earlier time of Western ski culture, when carb-loading was the point (even if you werent heading out for a big pow day); snowboarders were just a few pesky newcomers; and small, local brewmasters in a few edgy towns were pushing the boundaries for a whole bunch of us whose most adventurous taste to date was something we called Natty Ice. (You know, the 90s.)
Highlands Hollow, once known as Harrison Hollow, may hail from that era, but it does more than hold its own right now. Even today, with micro- and nano-breweries on every corner, it is not unusual to find local beer drinkers who swear by the old standbys here (the accessibly light Spoon Tongue, the bolder Hippie Shake and British-inspired Fiegwild), and for the growing masses of hop-loving IPA fans like myself, I have to say the latest seasonal, Toad, acquits itself nicely among the Outlaws and Dagger Falls. A pint is just $3.75 (and a buck cheaper for happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m. every day). One lunchtime beer costs just $1.50 with your meal.
The old photos, ski posters and countless obscure and vintage beer coasters that line the walls and dark wood rafters provide the ultimate surroundings for the outdoorsy and adventurous, and you always look around and realize a few of the folks in there have had a WAY cooler day than you did. Our last visit, an entire professional team of off-road motorcycle racers filled a back table.
The burgers, Im happy to report, still taste just as good as ever. I recently downed the smoke burger ($9.95), which married a smoky, salty bacon cheeseburger with sweet and tangy BBQ sauce on the side so you can choose just how smothered you wanted it. I opted for quite.
A friend got the special, an $8.95 shrimp po boy, with a hearty pile of well-seasoned shellfish and an unexpected (though always welcome) couple of strips of bacon. Our salads were crisp and fresh, a mix of greens.
The Hollow, to me, is a great place to hang with friends, though its great for families, too. We always see happy kids in there, because they love good burgers and fries as much as any skier. I spent an earlier weeknight there with another buddy a few weeks ago, and he had a great-tasting meatball sandwich ($8.95). I tried an entrée that I simply couldnt refuse: the mess-o-chops ($15.50), a pile of thick-cut pork chops on a mountain of French fries, drizzled with molasses.
It sounded like a piece of late-night brilliance from an eccentric college roommate, and it tasted a bit like that, too like it was awesome that one night, but the magic is hard to replicate.
The breadth and depth of the menu hearken to an earlier era as well. There was a far greater pressure to be all things to every eater, and many eaters were just as timid in their culinary experiences as they were with their beer choices. Today you can opt for Italian linguine (with chicken or shrimp), peppered steak with Japanese soba noodles, Southwestern chicken or fish tacos, Middle Eastern hummus or British fish and chips.
My advice: unless one of these nails your craving, stick to the basics. The burgers and sandwiches have never disappointed me, even after a marathon day of extreme tree and mogul runs. (As far as you know.)
Email Gregory Hahn: firstname.lastname@example.org