Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Estes Park III

At Elk Meadow RV Park, Estes Park, Colorado…

Today was set aside to explore some of Rocky Mountain National Park, which we did--all the way to the Alpine Visitor's Lodge and then to Bear Lake. The weather was perfect on the leg to the visitor center, but I elected not to take any photos until heading back toward Estes Park, because the sun's position would be so much better, I thought, to light the landscape going that direction. To say that the scenery from this mountaintop highway--over 12,000 feet elevation in places--was magnificent would be an epic understatement. Sandy and I were agape at the splendor before us, as each turn seemed to reveal a view more grand than the last.  Waiting until the return trip to take photos turned out to be a terrible idea, however, because the beautiful puffy white clouds by then had morphed into thunderheads, and the blowoff from the tops cast a giant shadow over almost all of the northern part of the park. The stupendous vistas and the surrounding peaks, now absent the sunlight, had lost their three-dimensional grandeur, the crags and canyons having dissolved into distant bluish blobs. Taking photos of this would have been meaningless. I had hoped that we would be able to get some relief at some point en route back to Estes Park, but it was not to be. In fact, the storms and rain became more widespread as the afternoon turned into evening. Naturally, I was mortified at this turn of events, but we are going to try again to get some good photos tomorrow. We won't go all the way to Alpine Visitor Center, but there are plenty of photo opportunities without having to go that far. Fortunately, we had the good sense last year to get the lifetime senior America the Beautiful pass from the National Park Service, so we don't have to pay the 20 bucks each time we enter the park. I suppose my advice would be to take advantage of good photo opportunities when you can when in the mountains; the weather changes rapidly, and you might find yourself in my predicament.

By the time we returned from the park, we were hungry, so we stopped again at Smokin' Dave's BBQ.  The wait this time was even longer than the last, but it was a busy Labor Day weekend.  We decided to order something besides barbecue, to see if they are a one-trick pony.  Unfortunately, they may be: We ordered catfish and fish and chips; the catfish was mushy, so we sent it back, and the fish and chips appeared to be pre-formed little planks you could get from the frozen foods section of any grocery store. I left most of it in the plate. I didn't bother to take a photo of the food; I really didn't want any evidence to remain.  I must take the hit for this bad idea--ordering this kind of seafood in a barbecue restaurant in a remote mountain village was just plain silly. Did I really think they would have served fresh catfish instead of frozen? I think the high altitude is getting to me. This was strike two for me today in the common sense department.  

After an obligatory nap in our recliners in Phannie, we drove to town for Sandy to do a little shopping. I decided to visit Laura's, one of several little storefront candy shops on the main drag. 

 Now I need this stuff like a pig needs a bicycle, but the thing that drew me in here was the homemade toffee for which I have a huge weakness. The toffee is stacked in large planks right there in the front window along with other wonderful confections and sweets, including a devilish assortment of candy apples. Better get out your hankie to wipe off the drool at this point:

The toffee in the window is covered in white chocolate and macadamia nuts, and it is just as good as it sounds. I tried to resist it for, oh, about eight seconds. I purchased a small container and considered returning after closing to break the window and do a smash and grab. Phannie could hold all the loot in her belly compartments with no problem!

Here's a little tip: Remember how we've talked about things being expensive here? This store is no exception. Is it worth breaking into your piggy bank? Yes.

In all our wandering around Estes Park, we discovered another Thai restaurant! In an earlier post, I reviewed the tragic Everest Thai Cafe and erroneously mentioned that it was the only Thai eatery in town. 

The Cafe de Pho-Thai, in an unassuming location off the main street, offers Vietnamese and Thai dishes, and this place is the real deal. In fact, it turns out to be the best restaurant of all we have tried so far. Sandy and I shared some fresh and fried spring rolls as an appetizer and a chicken and vegetable stir-fry (not pictured), 

and everything was very fresh and tasty. I am very fond of Nam Pla Prik, a fish sauce-based table condiment common in many Thai restaurants and, noting none on our table, I asked our very efficient Thai waiter for some. In a few minutes, he returned with it, which he had freshly made himself. I told him it was delicious (and it was, although hellishly hot, which I also liked) and he beamed at my compliments. When Sandy and I share asian dishes, I always order them mild, as she doesn't always appreciate having the membranes inside her mouth burned away, as I do. With good spicy condiments, I can make my servings as incendiary as I wish. It's a win-win!

Since we are talking about restaurant reviews, I need to acknowledge a comment from one of my revered readers who felt I was being a bit harsh with my review yesterday of Penelope's Hamburgers here in Estes Park. She pointed out that she had eaten more than once at this restaurant and found the experience very satisfactory. She speculated that the cook may have been having a bad day on the occasion of my visit, and that I should not write the place off based on this one event. Now I take very seriously feedback like this, and I respectfully acknowledge that observations based on multiple experiences can provide a greater sense of a norm. That having been said, here are some thoughts that may explain my intolerance for restaurants that do not measure up.

A restaurant--like you and me--has only one chance to make a good first impression, so successful ones must have in place some controls that will ensure consistent quality that is not dependent upon something like the mood of the cook. In most cases while traveling, I will have only one chance to assess a place. The same will also be true of most of the readers of my blog, as most of them are travelers, too. If any of my readers patronize a restaurant based on my review, I want them to know exactly what I experienced and how I felt about it. 

While I don't profess to be an expert (I have never worked in nor owned a restaurant), I do have experience. We tend to eat out much more often than most people, so I have patronized thousands of restaurants of every kind imaginable. I believe I can assess pretty quickly the winners and losers and whether the problem is systemic. But bear in mind that this blog reaches an infinitesimally small number of people who may visit any of the restaurants I mention. I will certainly have no impact on their business, so what I write is more for entertainment than for enlightenment of the masses, and it is certainly not meant to be defamatory or retributive. The facts, inescapably, are the facts.

If you have read my blog for a while, you will hopefully notice that I try to give differing levels of criticism and that I don't blast a place unless I notice no redeeming qualities. When I do feel the need to lower the boom, however, I would like for what I write to be emphatic, thus memorable. Do I sometimes use a bit of hyperbole? Well, yes, but that is common in a writer's toolkit in order to help a piece be more interesting, memorable and yes, funny.

My experience at Penelope's was abysmal, and I admit to being highly peeved that the near confiscatory price of that modest meal did not ensure that the cook's mood would not be a factor in what we were served. I expect consistent quality, irrespective of whether it is our first time or umpteenth time at a restaurant, and that should be the goal of the owners as well, if they're serious about their business. The bottom line is this: If I'm paying 21 dollars for a couple of small burgers, an order of fries and two drinks, they had better be the best doggone burgers on the planet, every time. These weren't, and that's why I wrote what I did.

I hope my commenters will continue to hold me accountable and tell me when I have left earth orbit. I read every comment and respectfully offer my thanks for your input. I would be interested in knowing from others if they think my remarks about Penelope's were unfair. 


  1. As a resident of the Estes Park area, thanks for visiting our area and the restaurant reviews. We are always looking for decent places to eat in Estes, and candid reviews are appreciated. I'm sure if that burger place could serve up one disaster, and they only serve one more this season, that would be mine. We are down Highway 34 - the real Big Thompson Canyon (not Hwy 7) - and on behalf of every local driver, thanks for pulling over when you can.

  2. You gave your review totally based on your experience and I really think we all understand that. If we're ever in that area we will take into consideration your review but we can make up our own minds as to whether we want to give it a try anyhow. So keep on reviewing.


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