FOOD: Next time you eat out, try a non-chain eatery

Lee Mathis
Free Press Food Columnist
Lee Mathis
Staff Photo |


Downtown Grand Junction Farmers’ Market starts up June 13; and if you are feeling adventurous, the Glenwood Springs Farmers’ Market kicks off June 11.

Having spent way too many weeks on the road, I have had the opportunity (most of the time, good, sometimes not) to eat out at many restaurants and eateries. Now, I tend to stay away from the chains, even though some of the mini-chains aren’t that bad, especially the ones that source most of their food locally. But a question that always pops in my too-cluttered mind is why do so many people eat at the chains when there is an abundance of great local places?

In Richmond, I have sampled the wares of Caliente (yes, heat! Ghost Chile Fries), The Black Sheep, EAT and Flynn’s, to name a few. And here in the Grand Valley, we are not slacking in some really great locally owned and operated restaurants. Some of the ones that come to mind are Bin 707 Foodbar, 626 on Rood and Inari’s Bistro. While there are some others (you have to check out Chez Lena during the semester at the Culinary School at WCCC/Colorado Mesa University), these always seem to be pushing the boundaries somewhat and we thank them! One can only take so many variations of the same menus at the chains, so if you want to try some great foods, with cool presentations and people who still really care about what they are serving, not only in the food but in supporting our local growers and suppliers, check them out.

If you have had a great culinary experience at another local place, let us know and we will post your comments in a future column! So, if you feel like taking a break from the kitchen, get on out there and hit some of the local restaurants.


The Website of the Week is a great source for finding our more about local foods in a particular area. The Recipe of the Week is from the website from our friends at 626 on Rood — a Japanese Pumpkin, Vanilla and Garlic Soup. Doesn’t that sound delish!?

Lee is the founder and owner of Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes and Catering. He can be reached via email at, on the web at, or by calling 970-256-4688. Also, find him on the web by searching Facebook, Pinterest or by visiting Twitter (@decadenceGJ).

Japanese Pumpkin, Vanilla, and Garlic Soup

2 small Japanese Pumpkins (Kabocha squash)

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup peeled garlic cloves

1-3 cups water

1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups heavy cream

Pomegranate seeds and fried sage leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheet with baking paper or foil. Cut Japanese pumpkins in half and remove seeds and membranes. Place cut side down on prepared baking sheet and place in oven. Bake until pumpkin is extremely tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, place maple syrup and garlic cloves in small heavy saucepan over very low heat. “Sweat” garlic cloves until soft, about 20 minutes. Do not let garlic brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

When pumpkin has cooled, pull skins from pumpkin, discard skins. Place a quarter of the cooked pumpkin into a blender, along with a quarter of the maple syrup–garlic mixture.

Turn the blender on medium. Add just enough water to get the pumpkin moving in the blender. Increase blender speed to high and puree, stopping the blender and scraping down the sides of the beaker often. Remove pumpkin–garlic mixture from blender and, working in batches repeat with remaining cooked pumpkin and maple–garlic mixture.

Combine all pumpkin–garlic mixture in a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan.

Stir in vanilla extract, sea salt, black pepper, and heavy cream. Bring soup to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often and adjusting seasoning as necessary.

Pour into soup bowls and garnish with pomegranate seeds and crumbled fried sage leaves. Serve immediately.

The recipe makes one gallon.

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