© Jen Murphy
Cocktails at the Drinks Company in St. Anton am Arlberg.
Amid the wooden chalets, ski and snowboard shops and fabulous artisanal food stores on the main street of St. Anton am Arlberg is a window showcasing glowing neon liquids in all sizes of bottles. What looks like a futuristic mad scientist's laboratory is actually a shop, called the Drinks Company. With roots in one of the oldest Tyrolean herbal distilleries, it works with herb farmers and specialized mountain farmers who supply the ingredients for excellent herbal elixirs, brandies, schnapps and grappas. Each beverage is stored in a gorgeous, beaker-like glass vessels, and customers can taste samples of Alpine Herbs Root Spirit, Farmer Fruit Brandy and even pre-made caipirinhas. Once you find your favorite, you pick a bottle to fill with your drink of choice and take it to go.
© Kristin Donnelly
A riff on a hot toddy at High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.
I’m not really a skier but I always love the après party—which, as my coworker Jen Murphy mentioned in her envy-inducing posts about a recent trip to Austria, is more popular in Europe than in the U.S. David Perkins, founder of the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah, is trying to change that. On Saturdays, in the cozy new saloon next to his copper stills, he’s serving hot late-afternoon cocktails to skiers fresh off the slopes while a local bluegrass band plays. I popped into High West while I was out in Utah last month and loved the Rock n’ Rye. Made with freshly muddled oranges and lemons, hot water and High West’s Rendezvous Rye, it’s essentially a riff on a hot toddy with a cute little addition: a rock-candy stick so drinkers can sweeten it to taste. After finishing the drink, I couldn’t decide what surprised me more: that I got this lovely, warming buzz hassle-free in Utah (read more about that here) or that I briefly considered taking up skiing.
© tourist office St. Anton am Arlberg
Fearless rodelers in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria.
After six epic days in the Austrian Alps, I must admit that the highlight involved a sled, not a snowboard. In St. Anton am Arlberg, children and adults alike partake in rodeling (what we know as sledding in the States). One brilliant restaurateur (apparently with no fears of liability) decided to set a restaurant called the Rodel Alm mid-mountain. Adventurous diners take their toboggans up the gondola, sled down the steep, barely lit hill and stop for dinner at this supercozy Tyrolean restaurant with live Tyrolean music and enormous portions of pig’s knuckle (schweinshaxe) with honey-infused sauerkraut, spinach spaetzle and kaiserschmarren (chopped up pancakes topped with warm apples and powdered sugar—a favorite of Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn). Of course dinner is accompanied by fantastic wines and a shot or two of schnapps (we opted for hazelnut) to keep rodelers warm on the 2.7-mile ride back down the mountain. At the bottom, a little hut with a bonfire outside awaits. Locals cheer on the rodelers, passing out celebratory glühwein (mulled wine) and beers. They then dare you to ride a tiny, circular tray down a nearby hill to see who can get the most air off of a jump. Our friend Stefan became a local legend that night, setting a new tray-sledding record.
© Hospiz Alm
The cellar at Hospiz Alm is reached by slide.
In Austria the fun starts long before après-ski, as people break for leisurely two-hour lunches at excellent on-mountain restaurants. My favorite find was a rustic, ski-in, ski-out chalet in the tiny hamlet of St. Christoph called Hospiz Alm
I knew we were in for a surprise when I saw a Godzilla-size, blow-up bottle of Dom Pérignon marking the turn downhill to the restaurant. Waiters wearing lederhosen and wooden bow ties serve chef Gunnar Huhn’s hearty dishes like Tyrolean potato soup with smoked bacon rinds and croutons and braised oxtail with fried butter dumplings and pommes frites
. The restaurant claims that its Bordeaux-heavy cellar holds the world’s biggest collection of large format bottles. I was certainly impressed by the variety of rare vintage magnums and jeroboams, but even cooler was the spiral slide that takes guests down to the cellar.
© Jen Murphy
The après-ski party at Mooserwirt.
Dining at American ski resorts has undergone a radical transformation over the last few years, but Europeans still one-up Americans when it comes to post-ski indulgence. I’ve just come back from a week of snowboarding in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria. The charming Tyrolean village is considered the birthplace of modern skiing and is also arguably Europe’s best après-ski destination. I’ll be blogging this week about my adventures.
Adventure One: The legendary Mooserwirt bar claims to sell more beer per square meter than anyplace else in Austria. As skiers come down the slopes around 4 p.m. they stop off to dance on picnic tables to techno-versions of "Sweet Carolina" and "YMCA" and warm up with Jägertee (black tea spiked with rum, schnapps, sugar and sometimes a bit of lemon) or my new personal favorite, Heiße Witwe, a warm plum liqueur with cream and cinnamon. Wilder than the dancing is watching tipsy partiers try to ski home down the mountain in the dark.
When I vacationed in Chicago last weekend, my first stop was star chef Paul Kahan’s latest bar and taqueria, Big Star. The large rectangular bar that dominates the space holds two of Big Star’s three specialties: some 50-odd bourbons and a couple dozen tequilas. The other specialty comes from the kitchen: tacos—hundreds of tacos.
Tapping along to a Loretta Lynn record, I elbowed my way to the bar to order a drink, from a list conceived by the team from the adjacent cocktail haven The Violet Hour. I started with a San Antonio Sling, a bracing combination of tequila, St-Germain and grapefruit. I followed that with the Hud, an Old Fashioned–like lowball heavy on the bourbon and light on the citrus—tangerine, in this case. Then I turned to food. First up was a fondue-like casserole of rajas chiles, house-made chorizo and cheese. A quartet of tacos followed: lamb, al pastor (marinated pork) and my two favorites, poblano with queso (cheese) and pork belly. The food was delicious, and with nothing exceeding five dollars, also a bargain.
When the weather gets warmer, Big Star will offer a huge alfresco dining area. As long as the music remains louder than the nearby El train, Big Star will be a party few will want to leave.
© Restaurant August
New Orleans star chef, John Besh.
My only complaint after an epic three days of eating in New Orleans earlier this month was the letdown when I arrived hungry at the Louisiana Superdome to watch the Saints' Monday Night Football game. In a city known for great food, I was disappointed by less-than-stellar Creole gumbo and the stadium’s signature red beans and rice with sausage. So I was excited to read a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Saints executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, in which she mused about possible food improvements for the stadium, like dishes from her favorite NOLA chefs John Besh and Emeril Lagasse.
When I asked John Besh what he’d prepare if he had an outlet at the Superdome, he told me he’d cook andouille and chicken gumbo and barbecued Gulf shrimp. Said Besh, “We are on top of our game this year, thanks to the New Orleans Saints. Visitors come to New Orleans not only to support their team, but to enjoy the cuisine and culture of this historic city. In every possible venue, from the Superdome to the New Orleans Convention Center, it is important that we welcome guests in our city with what we are so well-known for—food.”
© Palm Place Hotel
Kerry Simon takes the fried chicken trend retro with TV dinners.
While other star chefs are opening flashy, over-the-top restaurants in Las Vegas, chef Kerry Simon is going the opposite direction and offering TV dinner–inspired comfort foods for room service at Las Vegas's Palms Place hotel. Meals like meatloaf with mac and cheese, peas and carrots, and chocolate cake, and Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes, are delivered in cafeteria-style compartmentalized trays.