These are words to evoke images of tradition, quality that endures, the tried and true, everything good that isn’t trendy. And since 1967 the Red Barn in Montrose has occupied a curve of Main St. (Hwy. 550) just east of downtown like an icon of the West, not only because of its venerable form and color, but because here, one imagines, is where the ranch families who pioneered the Uncompahgre Valley would feel right at home. Not incidentally, in the summer of 1967 as today, the Red Barn is equally poised to catch the attention of families on a Rocky Mountain road trip.
This place just looks like where the West wants to eat. You expect great burgers and steak, and that’s just what proprietor Chuck Presby proudly delivers, along with a large number of other traditional family dining options – especially if you’re the type to consider Rocky Mountain Oysters traditional, but more on that later.
A frequent special is the Cowboy Bone-In Ribeye ($26.75), which anyone who likes a serious steak will recognize as the most savory cut of beef because it is so flavorfully marbled. Presby serves only upper choice or prime beef, seasons it minimally, and serves it perfectly charred. The Red Barn also roasts prime rib seven nights a week, offering small, medium and large cuts ($19, $23.50, $26.50), the best, Presby justifiably boasts, between Denver and … points west. Again, the trick is to buy the best beef on the market and then prepare it simply. Any prime rib that may be left over is shaved the next morning and made into an irresistible lunch special of a Philly-style cheese steak sandwich, made with cheese, not cheese sauce, Presby notes.
Everything is made from scratch at the Red Barn, defying your worst fear of what a “traditional” ranch-style restaurant in a small city in the rural west might be, and instead turning out to be much closer to your ideal of what it could be. You feel like you’re being treated right from the start, when your waitress delivers a basket of freshly baked breads, served with three choices of whipped butter: plain, garlic-jalapeno, or cinnamon honey. Could that mellow Cabernet Sauvignon served by the glass really be just $4?
Presby has owned the Red Barn for just about a decade, and brings flavors of his New England childhood to the menu, including a creamy clam chowder, and, on a recent evening, an all-you-can-eat special of Italian favorites: chicken parmesan, sausage and peppers, fettuccini Alfredo. And is that display case filled with impressive cakes and pies reminiscent of a classic New England diner? Yes, and the coconut cream pie alone is enough to command a visit to the Red Barn.
Western tradition is honored not only by the aforementioned appetizer of Rocky Mountain Oysters, breaded and served with ranch dressing and cocktail sauce for dipping, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, and truly reminiscent of oysters, so get over your squeamishness and chow down; but also by beef stew, served by the cup or bowl as a soup starter or as an entrée, in a cast iron pot, one of the few items on the menu that has not changed one bit since 1967. Because some traditional things – tender chunks of sirloin, potatoes, onions, carrots – easily stand the test of time.
Breakfast Thursday-Sunday; lunch and dinner 7 days a week, open until 9:30 weeknights, 10:30 weekends.
LATE NIGHT: The Red Barn is known for staying open later than most other Montrose eateries. The bar is as traditional as the dining room, and as convivial, frequented by regulars, with live entertainment many evenings.
ALL YOU CAN EAT: Barbecue on Wednesday nights, Italian on Thursday nights.
RECOMMENDED: Rocky Mountain oysters, Cowboy bone-in ribeye, a pot of stew, and coconut cream pie. Meatloaf seasoned with chilies.