Aspen Scores with Home Team
Buttermilk’s newest restaurant celebrates South Carolina-style “chef-driven barbecue”
“I was looking for something else, something different,” says Chris Lanter of his evolution from creating the classical French dishes that elevated his beloved Aspen restaurant Cache Cache to celestial status, to toiling over smokers and fire boxes as executive chef/partner at Buttermilk’s Home Team BBQ.
“Barbecue has always been a passion of mine. I’m always tasting, constantly thinking. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
For years, Atlanta native Lanter, 44, had also longed to fulfill a dream cooked up with his former University of Georgia roommate (and Culinary Institute of America–trained chef), Aaron Siegel: to one day partner in a restaurant.
Siegel was Lanter’s first sous chef at Cache Cache; in the years since leaving the Valley, he’d founded a trio of South Carolina–based Home Team BBQ restaurants. When Siegel expressed interest in opening an outpost in Aspen, Lanter was sold. The restaurant space at the base of Buttermilk, formerly McKenney’s at The Inn at Aspen, became available, and kismet sealed the deal.
“When I first looked at it, with its huge kitchen, I realized barbecue was one of the few concepts that would work there,” recalls Lanter. “Part of the appeal was not having high rent like in Aspen’s core.” He also welcomed the opportunity to serve the local community. “With the North 40 across the way and the Truscott and Burlingame subdivisions close by … it was all perfect. A light bulb went off.”
With alacrity, the Home Team crew, some of whom temporarily relocated from South Carolina, worked to get the restaurant open for the ski season (Lanter’s wife, Rena, also helps out front-of-house). Infused with a down-home Southern vibe, the new layout features simple wood-topped tables, walls trimmed with tin ceiling panels sourced from Georgia, and siding reclaimed from a chicken coop. Tin lights by Basalt designer Tanya Miller hang above the booths, and a half-dozen flat-screen TVs accent the centralized, 22-seat bar.
To handle the heat necessary for fall-off-the-bone ’cue, Southern Pride gasfueled, wood-burning convection rotisserie cookers were trucked in from Texas, and installed outside of the Inn. A walk-in trailer housing a pair of customized Lang BBQ Smokers was constructed to meet Lanter’s specifications for both catering and in-house needs; cords of oak logs from Roaring Firewood in Palisade are stacked in a makeshift woodshed.
Behind the scenes, the Home Team menu was tested and perfected (there are some deviations from the Carolina offerings) using the combination of skills put forth by Lanter, Siegel and Home Team BBQ operating partner/executive chef Taylor Garrigan, who oversaw the Buttermilk opening.
“It’s chef-driven barbecue,” says Siegel. “Our home is in the culinary aspect of things, making sure the traditions and techniques of both France and the South come together in the best way possible.”
Adds Garrigan, “We’ve taken our fine-dining culture and elevated it to make something different. We fight the battle meatwise, and kick ass with atmosphere and sides.”
Of course the raison d’être for any barbecue joint is the meat. “Down south, the first thing people go to are pulled pork and sausage,” says Lanter. “Here, they’re rib crazy.” Each day, half- and full racks of St. Louis–style ribs are brined, seasoned with salt and pepper and rubbed with brown sugar and chile powder before hitting the smoker.
A tasty alternative, brisket is trimmed, rubbed with the same mix of spices and dried overnight to seal in the flavor before it sees smoke. The result? A crisp outer crust, or bark, that takes diners below the Mason-Dixon Line with every bite.
At high-top tables and sideline booths sit caddies filled with squeeze bottles of signature Home Team sauces (Red, Red Hot, Sweet Red, HT Hot, in addition to plain old yellow mustard and pepper vinegar). Crunchy dry-rubbed pork cracklin’s are served in a brown paper bag; the best way to eat them is shaken with a bit of the smoky-fiery HT Hot sauce, then dragged through chunky, house-made pimento cheese. Fiery Ron’s (Siegel’s nickname) smoked chicken wings are flavorful and succulent, while barbecue nachos piled high with pulled pork or chicken, or smoked chicken chili, get a kick from a trio of salsas and pickled jalapeños.
While the menu may take some liberties with traditional barbecue, hallmarks like integrity, authenticity and skillful technique earned Lanter accolades at Cache Cache (longtime chef de cuisine Nathan King has overseen the kitchen for seven years, to the same acclaim), and those same attributes are exemplified by Home Team’s staff. Lanter’s experience with butchering and whole-animal cookery as a volunteer chef during Sustainable Settings’ annual Harvest Festival has proven invaluable, as well.
Of course, beer goes with barbecue—but so do wine and cocktails. Home Team's beverage program includes craft cocktails and Colorado brews on tap. In addition, local Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher is consulting on a wine program that includes a number of offerings by the glass.
This spring, Home Team will launch a music program with a focus on blues, bluegrass and Americana, played by local and national touring musicians in what operating partner and talent buyer Tony McKie calls a listening environment with an “unplugged” bent.
“It’s a balance of good food and good music,” he says.
As for Lanter, despite having so much on his plate, he’s managed to retain his role at Cache Cache, spending two nights a week in the kitchen. He credits his business partner and general manager Jodi Larner along with King, for supporting his newest endeavor. “Jodi and Nate have been incredible, they get it,” he says. “I couldn’t have done this without them.”
A few months into his role at Home Team, Lanter finds continuing motivation, and takes considerable joy, in exploring the fine art of barbecue. “I’d used smokers before, but nothing like this,” he enthuses. “The different methods of cooking are so exciting, so appealing. Learning about them, and doing something so completely different, is the fun part.”
GO FIND IT!
Home Team BBQ
The Inn at Aspen
38750 Highway 82