I introduced myself to Chef Dava Parr at the Willitts Farmers Market. She was selling meats, eggs and cheeses and organic produce from her vegetable garden in Paonia.
Claiming to be An Ever Expanding Spirit Junkie, I believe Dava to be just that with a wholesome smile and a low-key voice that leaves me thinking of Humphrey Bogart. Her wise cornflower blue eyes, golden ochre hair and creamy rosy skin glow with the spirit of a woman one with the earth.
A reputable Chef and a leading force in bringing organic and local food to nearby communities, Chef Dava is also known for her organic cooking classes, her farmers cooperative and her charming Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn & Gardens located just outside of Paonia, a place where I was determined to check out on a weekend getaway with Wade.
Located just over McClure Pass, the Inn is popular amongst Aspenites who are looking for inexpensive comforting food and a change in scenery. With an elevation of 5,674 feet, as opposed to our 7,890 feet, and room rates beginning at only $95 per night, the Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn offers just that.
Situated on the North Fork of the Gunnison River, Paonia is not only known for its “Wild West” history and the nearby Meeker Massacre where the Ute Indians were forced to leave Western Colorado but it is also known as a mountain town situated in a lush valley with the perfect soil for vineyards and orchards producing peaches, apples and cherries.
Desperately in need of good food, copious amounts of wine and a solid chunk of alone time, we were determined to arrive in time for the Inns Friday evening farm dinners and we took off the moment Wades brave parents arrived from Denver to take care of their three grandsons.
The Inn is tucked away off the back roads of Paonia and we were glad that we had lifted the directions off of the website. We parked the car and followed the flagstones to the outside patio to check in and were greeted by Paco, a beautiful long-haired resident German Shepard who promptly dropped a miniature log at our feet. Also at our feet was a sweet baby girl with baby food all over her chin. Not wanting to break up the love affair between her daughter and Paco, her mother was spooning her baby food as she leaned against the 1908 blue-bird painted farmhouse. Introducing ourselves we discovered that we were practically neighbors. The young couple had been married at the Inn and were on a return vacation from Basalt, this time with their baby and her grandparents. She just sat in Pacos water bowl, the mother informed us as her baby crawled away with a very wet bottom.
The door to the Inn swung open and Marian, an Inn employee, emerged with a tray of wine glasses. She offered us a glass or bottle of wine from the local Bethlehem Vineyards. With cocktails in hand we strolled over to our charming apartment suite located in a wing of the Inn. It was the perfect layout for a couple with a baby, or without, with a kitchenette, living room, twin bed, sleeping sofa and bathroom offering all organic products. The main bedroom was separated for privacy. Wade flew onto the bed and stretched out to test the mattress. The firmness would gauge how much wine he was going to drink to ensure a good night’s sleep.? Nice and firm.
As the guests gathered for cocktail hour we strolled through the vegetable garden and said hello to the chickens whose fresh eggs we would be eating in the morning. Memories flowed of the time we left Brevitt on his second birthday to enjoy a culinary trip to Napa that we had won through the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. This time we didn’t have to fly all the way to California to experience delicious home grown food.
(Wade grows tired of my camera)
We made our way to the dining room for the only seating at 6:30. Dinner began with an Antipasta platter for two with steamed artichokes to be dipped into a creamy chipotle mayo and Avalanche cheese that woke up our palette for the entre of barbecued pork spareribs. The tasty meat tenderly fell off the bone and was complimented by corn on the cob, so beautiful with plump kernels glistening in butter I almost didnt have the heart to eat it. Dessert finished up the meal nicely with a moist blackberry upside down cake with fresh whipped cream.
With nothing left but a pile of bones on our plates, we went out into the warm summer night and walked down the long dirt road. The moonless evening was intoxicating with the sound of cicadas filling the air. I reached my arms high into the air thinking that I might get sucked into the Milky Way spread out above us like a magic carpet. Reaching the paved road we continued to walk, we had a lot of food to walk off. Wade pushed me to the side of the road as a speeding local in an old jeep zoomed by. This road was his and it was up to us to get out of his way.
The next morning as Wade slept I read through The Encyclopedia of Country Living, a book left in the rooms for guests to greater connect with food. Reading about mushrooms and the best way to gather and saute them, I could have read the entire book but the need for coffee prevailed. I poured the hot black steamy liquid into an old country mug and wandered into the sun-drenched kitchen where I found the breakfast Chef, John Garrison, cracking eggs double-fisted into a large bowl, the fastest egg cracker in the West. He agreed that he was so good at it he used it as a performance in a talent show, dressed in drag, at the renowned Steamboat Dance Theater where he also worked in the summers. That was a story I needed to hear more of but Wade was sleepily awaiting his coffee to be delivered.
Breakfast was served at 9:00am and John did us right with an outstanding meal consisting of organic sausage patties, an enormous fluffy omelet, corn salsa I couldnt get enough of and more of that upside down blackberry cake that tasted even better than the night before.
Packing up to head off to explore the nearby Black Canyon, we thanked Dava with a warning that we would be returning with the boys to pick apples and partake in the “We Bought the Farm and pig roast Party” held at the Inn during the Mountain Harvest Festival, a three-day event October 7-9.? She gave us her beautiful smile and encouraged us to come back as she combed through her books, Better book early, she said. I wanted to reply, “Here’s looking at you kid.”