I'm not really one for sandwiches — well, other than a classic PB&J on fresh white bread.
And it's been a life-long struggle explaining to people around lunch time that I'm just not that interested in their Reuben or their BLT, their turkey club or their pastrami. Perhaps it's the multitude of textures that muddle the flavors on my palate. Or the bulk of most sandwiches that makes them oh-so cumbersome and sloppy to eat. Or maybe I'm just an idiot missing out on one of the easiest and tastiest lunch options.
Either way, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I sat down to lunch at one of Aspen's newest eateries, White House Tavern, appropriately located in the white house at the end of Restaurant Row on Hopkins Avenue. As is my custom before sitting down for a meal at a new spot, I checked out the menu online. And with what I can only describe as a combination of dread and horror (drorror?), I discovered that the menu consisted almost entirely of sandwiches. Seriously. Seven sandwiches, a de rigeur kale salad, and a few other items described as “snacks.” I mean, the wine and libations menu are literally twice as long as food menu.
Resigned to my fate, I glanced past the fresh ground chuck cheeseburger and the Canadian bacon hickory burger (and yes, I classify burgers as sandwiches), the sweet soy glaze veggie burger, the Gulf Coast fish sandwich, the French dip, and the crispy chicken sandwich, settling on the herb-roasted lamb sandwich made with Colorado lamb, roasted peppers, and arugula. If I was going to eat a sandwich, at least I was going to eat a local one.
Prepared to be underwhelmed, the first thing I noticed as the friendly waiter and trainee (most of the staff was imported from other Hillstone Restaurant Group properties) dropped the plates was the bread. Passersby might have seen the exhibition kitchen on display in the backyard add-on to the White House Tavern building. That magical place is where the restaurant makes all of its bread for its sandwiches. Fresh. Every day. (Something I think they should advertise a bit more on their menu.)
And as I dipped a corner of that fresh bread into the accompanying jus and bit in, I was more than delightfully surprised to discover that the flavors melted together in my mouth. The lamb was perfectly cooked and tender, the peppers were juicy, the arugula added just the right hint of earthiness, and that warm, fresh bread just tied it all together. And in that moment I was a sandwich convert.
A quick word about the sides: the dip duo, featuring a cold jalapeno queso and guacamole with warm tortilla chips is a must-try; the hand-cut French fries were standard but delicious; the peanut vinaigrette elevated the kale salad, and the citrusy Mediterranean tabbouleh salad was the perfect light pairing to a hefty sandwich.
But one of my favorite parts of the experiences was the ambiance. The warm wood and lighting along with the quirky artwork made for a very comfortable dining scene, and I only imagine that would be heightened at dinner time (though don't expect the menu to change, you'll see those same seven sandwiches).
A quick note about the pricing: None of the sandwiches come with sides, so adding fries or a tabbouleh salad is an additional $5, the kale salad an additional $7. So ordering the lamb sandwich and fries will run you 20 bucks before drinks. But as the sandwiches are on the large side, I've heard from a lot of couples and groups of friends that splitting a sandwich and getting a “snack” or salad is the way to go.
I also think it was a great idea for White House Tavern to open during the off-season (they've been open for less than two weeks), especially when it seems like every other restaurant in town has been closed. It's an excellent time to build up one's local following, and perhaps even convert a few sandwich-hating food columnists. Just don't expect to see me skipping down the deli aisle anytime soon.