To start, the eatery is located in Sawpit, which geographically speaking isn’t far from Telluride yet boasts a flavor all its own. Not Quite Telluride is in fact the slogan of the Sawpit Mercantile, in which the Sawpit Food Club is located. Metaphorically speaking, the Sawpit Food Club is an outlier to the fancy restaurants and upscale bistros that typify dining in Telluride and Mountain Village, with a family diner ambiance transposed into a culinary treasure.
Owners Paul Goodman and Kelly Thomas actually prefer not to call their Down Valley eatery a restaurant, choosing instead the name “Food Club” as a nod to the establishment’s inimitable character.
“There’s just so many avenues we’d like to explore, we knew we couldn’t call it a restaurant in the normal fashion,” Goodman says, referring to the business’ multi-dimensional nature with its production of Fat Kid Ice Cream (which they vend weekly throughout the summer at the Ridgway and Telluride farmers markets), its restaurant located inside an upscale gas station/grocery store, as well as its aspirations for private catering and mass production of the Fat Kid Ice Cream brand.
Chef Goodman comes from an across-the-board culinary upbringing, in which he’s flipped burgers at ski resorts and flambéed desserts at upmarket restaurants on the East Coast. His diverse gastronomic background has molded the Sawpit Food Club’s menu into something that combines both down home comfort and virtuoso innovation, with classic meals infused with more than a touch of the unexpected. There’s their best-selling slow-cooked barbecued pork sandwich, given an Asian flare with exotic spices and served with jicama slaw, pickled peppers and an apple cider maple mustard. Or Goodman’s buttermilk fried chicken, doused in maple-agave glaze.
There is also less conventional fare on the Sawpit Food Club menu, like a potato and cheese-stuffed poblano pepper drizzled with chocolate barbecue sauce, or maple-glazed chicken fingers served in a hand-made waffle cone.
The Sawpit Food Club caters to the breakfast and lunch crowd as well, serving up breakfast sandwiches on chunky yet light poblano bacon biscuits and breakfast empanadas stuffed with eggs, cheese, potatoes, and roasted chile. There’s also a wide selection of sandwiches and salads that range from the naughty, like the bacon burger (a 50/50 ground beef/bacon patty served up with carmelized onions or pickled jalapenos) to the nice – a mixed greens salad with roasted red bell peppers, fried shallots and goat cheese.
Although there are a few standbys on the Sawpit Food Club menu, Goodman and Thomas advise their patrons not to become too attached to any one dish. Part of the Sawpit Food Club mission, they explain, is to utilize as many local purveyors as possible, enabling them to infuse their food with local flavor while aspiring toward a more sustainable food model. Which means constantly changing the menu, depending on what’s in season and available locally.
This kind of ever-evolving menu fits Goodman just fine, he says, and is in fact how he prefers to run his restaurant. “With my imagination I would have a hard time doing the same thing day after day. Everything here has to have a personal touch to it, otherwise it’s not worth doing in my opinion,” he says.
Thomas and Goodman got to their new business via a road as windy as the one leading to Sawpit from Telluride, where Goodman was most recently a chef at Honga’s Lotus Petal. His many years in the restaurant business ignited in him a special love of making ice cream, spawning his opening of Fat Kid Ice Cream with Thomas last summer. They started ice cream production in the commercial kitchen at Honga’s, but soon realized they needed a place of their own. The two recently wound up in Sawpit, where Sawpit Mercantile owners Morgan Metzger and Chris Matson were looking for someone to reestablish an eatery there.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the people who have become our regulars,” Thomas says, explaining that initially the couple thought a big part of their business would come from commuters. The nicest compliment they’ve received since opening on Memorial Day, Thomas says, is that the Sawpit Food Club has revived a little sense of community in sleepy Sawpit.
“People have told us that the restaurant is bringing the community together,” she says, as Goodman notes, “People have been really excited that there’s something here, and it’s not just the basic meatloaf and iceberg lettuce salads.”
The Sawpit Food Club is open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information or to see their menu visit sawpitfoodclub.com, or call them at 970/729-1800. Dine-in is available on the Mercantile’s expansive outdoor deck or inside at the counter; take-out is also available.