The times they are a-changin’. Long gone are the days in which Grand Junction could be viewed as a pitiful stopover — a rather unimaginative venue full of urban sprawl and all the culinary blandness that once went along with it. Today, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. With each passing week, dozens of winemakers, visionaries and hyper-local restaurateurs are revealing a place that reflects a new culinary routine that, while not currently competing with the Front Range in the sheer volume of talent, is helping to define itself as a more sincere underdog. More and more, the place is forging an unexpected path where hyper locality is helping to create an entirely original regional cuisine. Slide over Tex-Mex. Western Colorado may soon have its time in the sun thanks to a growing number of key players who envision the region as an idiosyncratic agricultural playground that no longer needs to be lumped in with its perhaps more self-aggrandizing southwestern neighbors.
Palisade, the growing region just east of Grand Junction, has become a real wine destination — a zero-snoot alternative to some to its central coast peers out west. The place has all the lackadaisical romance of pre-Bottle Shock era Napa, with a palpable transformative sense that looms over the casual valley suggesting that this place is just on the verge of popping. Colorado wines — for the first time in anyone’s life — are beginning to have a seat at the table as a real force to be reckoned with. Sauvage Spectrum’s fruit grower Kaibab Sauvage and winemaker and Infinite Monkey Theorem alumni Patric Matysiewski’s work ethic might have something to do with it. But the overwhelming culture of pushing the envelope further might be the real catalyst for a new generation of producers bringing grapes fit for the region’s particular terroir.
Most recently, The Ordinary Fellow Winery opened up in downtown Palisade, replacing a historic peach packing plant responsible for nearly a century of getting the region’s undeniably juicy fruit into the hands of produce lovers nationwide. Situated on the same corner as Peach Steet Distilling and Palisade Brewing Company, The Ordinary Fellow is set to fully cement a growing downtown as a place to enjoy the magnificent bounty the valley has been elevating for years.
Opened in 2019 by Infinite Monkey Theorem founder Ben Parsons, The Ordinary fellow was established as a return to more localized winemaking — with Parsons producing many of his own grapes on a personally-owned vineyard near Cortez where he does most of the farming himself.
“I’ve always really liked working with the fruit down in Cortez,” Parsons said, having previously helped establish Sutcliffe Vineyards near Durango from 2003 to 2008. Each expression reflects Parsons’ over 25 years in the games — a trajectory that was partially inspired by his study of Oenology at Adelaide University in South Australia.
The Ordinary Fellow’s juice is mostly produced and distributed on-site and is one of the growing reasons to visit the place, continuing a rapidly accelerating pace that has been turning the region from a bacchanalian backwater into a real contender, perhaps one day even finding itself in a position to vie for the throne. Entrenched pretense — a wine industry favorite — can only overshadow for so long in the presence of unassuming and legitimate greatness. This is what gives the place its radiant romance, as it sits precariously, glistening towards the horizon of real possibility.
Further west, Bin 707 Foodbar and Taco Party‘s Josh Niernberg just opened a brand new concept serving American-adjacent comfort and bar snacks out of nearby Ramblebine Brewing Company. Having opened Monday, November 8, Block Party — primarily crafted by Taco Party employees who concoct the food from the same compact kitchen — has been carting a small list of snacks across the street to the nearby brewery. Each cart comes with up to 10 items that largely reflect a nibble-friendly selection of Niernberg’s more bar-friendly options. Ordered via QR card from any of the bar’s many high tops, the food is a tremendous improvement in quality from the options provided by the previous food trucks and has been generally better suited for downtown Grand Junction’s first major investment brewery to grace the city’s growing downtown.
Food-wise the 10-item list is currently appetizer-heavy, though Niernberg says more entrees are set to join in the coming months. Standards like queso fundido ($10) come drizzled in sage honey, coalescing with a scent that can easily be detected across the region’s faintest breeze. The artichoke hushpuppies ($10) might currently steal the show, with puffed amaranth reminding visitors that this is Colorado cuisine, being fully formulated from the land whose delicate and robust flavors were forged and perfected through millennia of limited rainfall and other agricultural limitations.
The Western Slope is flourishing. And in true desert fashion, much of what is being produced is being made all the more elegant, ornate and downright beautiful by merit of apparent disadvantage. While the Front Range might not need to be afraid of an imminent takeover by their neighbors to the west, Coloradans would surely be remiss to ignore that what was formerly something of a blip on I-70 may soon be the epicenter of a cuisine that has never been afraid to shamelessly represent itself as the most Colorado of it its peers. Cosmopolitanism has always been crucial in developing great cuisine, but with folks like Niernberg, Matysiewski, Sauvage and Parsons helping to lead a new guard, it may only be a matter of time before a loose set of culinary ideas and ruminations have become a movement ready to kick Chez Panisse back into the last century.
Block Party is available in the taproom of Ramblebine Brewing Company at 457 Colorado Ave., Grand Junction.
The Ordinary Fellow is located at 202 Peach Ave., Palisade. It is open Sunday – Wednesday from 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., and Thursday – Saturday from 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.