Wine dinners, a buzzy bar and accessible, locally sourced comfort food make Free Range Kitchen downtown Basalt’s busiest restaurant
By all accounts, 2017 was a banner year for Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar, and owners Steve and Robin Humble. After almost 30 years in the Roaring Fork Valley spent overseeing kitchens and wine lists at venues such as Renaissance, Caribou Club and the Roaring Fork Club, in December 2016 the Humbles finally embarked on their own restaurant located in historic downtown Basalt.
Inspired by hyper-local farm-to-table restaurants like Grand Junction’s Bin 707, Steve Humble says the couple’s original vision was to open a community-focused restaurant with a “cool vibe” that was a touch more upscale and modern than what was then available in Basalt and the midvalley.
The restaurant’s first year was a success under the command of then– Executive Chef Flip Wise, who has made a name for himself in the Valley for his commitment to local growers and his mastery of butchery. Coming off a successful winter, a summer lunch menu was added, which attracted cyclists from both up and downvalley. And yet, for the Humbles, something was missing.
“We realized that while Robin and I love creative, avant-garde cuisine, it wasn’t necessarily what Basalt and the Roaring Fork Valley was looking for,” says Steve. “We were missing the mark.”
Last fall, they decided to expand their vision, and tweak the menu to appeal to a broader audience. Wise moved on to develop his own business, Open Fire Catering, and the Humbles brought in a new chef they’d worked with at the Roaring Fork Club, Chris Krowicki. The chef had also done stints at The Little Nell, St. Regis Aspen and Lynn Britt Cabin in Snowmass.
“We saw an opportunity to craft a restaurant like the one we first were inspired to open,” says Steve. “Chris is a young guy who is really talented and amped up about the food scene here. You can just see the passion exude from him.”
Free Range Kitchen’s focus is now on what Steve calls “craveable comfort food.” “We’re offering classic dishes that we can put our own twist on,” such as an Asian-inspired salmon noodle bowl, handmade pastas and a standout heritage pork chop from Basalt’s Rock Bottom Ranch. Because they work closely with local farms, Humble says, each season’s menu is created based on local ingredient availability.
Sourcing high-quality products from regional farms and ranches has always been, and continues to be, one of Free Range’s main objectives; the restaurant works closely with Paoniabased distributor Farm Runners, which coordinates custom harvests from local growers such as Ela Family Farms, South River Aquaponics (for tilapia and freshwater lobster) and Two Roots Farm.
The bar offers craft cocktails and beer from Carbondale’s Roaring Fork Beer Company and Broomfield’s 4 Noses Brewing. For Steve—a longtime sommelier with deep connections in the wine industry—the concept of conviviality aided by excellent producers ranked high in his vision for Free Range. With a cellar stocked with more than 1,000 bottles, the restaurant may just have the finest boutique wine list west of Snowmass.
“I’m a huge believer in handmade and small, limited-production wines,” he says. “The best wines in the world aren’t mass produced. When someone walks into my restaurant and says, ‘I don’t know any of these wines,’ I say, ‘That’s great—let’s go explore.’”
The Humbles take the opportunity to showcase Free Range’s global wine program and their connections to winemakers at ongoing wine dinners. Last year, they featured wines and makers from illustrious houses like La Spinetta, Peay Vineyards and Robert Sinskey Vineyards, among others. Each dinner’s special menu is crafted around the featured wines.
“Wine dinners are always going to be a focal point of what we do,” says Steve. “We’ve developed some phenomenal contacts who come to Colorado and ask if they can do an event with us. That’s fun for us. We love introducing our guests and the local community to new wines made by great friends.”
With the wine dinners and locals’ specials like Fried Chicken Wednesdays, Thursday night guest bartenders (any member of the community can step in; recently Aspen High School football coach Chris Peshek was shaking things up) and taps for locally made beers, the Humbles foresee Free Range Kitchen becoming the spot for midvalley patrons who value good food and wine.
“Our goal has always been to be a gathering place for the community that pulls resources from local farmers,” says Steve. “Our first year, we needed to figure out the right formula, and this year, we plan to expand on that vision.” | eA
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Free Range Kitchen
305 Gold Rivers Ct., Basalt