630 Main Street, Ouray. 970/325-2042.
Chef Sid Cavallo admitted he was a little nervous (okay, terrified) when I showed up with my kids at his namesake restaurant in Ouray on the night he and his wife Kelly debuted their dinner menu.
“Children can sometimes be the harshest critics,” he explained afterwards. But, he needn’t have worried.
“Anyone gonna take that last squash?” my 16-year-old son asked midway through our meal, wiping sauce béarnaise off the plate with his fingers. I would have scolded him, but I was too busy scooping my jaw up off the table to bother. Since when does my kid eat squash???
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about food before,” he added, as he licked his fingers.
Not to be outdone, my 10-year-old daughter chimed in: “Whenever I come here, ‘mmmmm’ is the word I say most.”
Since Cavallo’s opened last August, we’ve all developed a taste for the Cajun/Creole restaurant’s breakfast and lunch menu. The “Regular Ol’ Benny” (which is anything but) has become a huge family favorite. But I had to agree with my daughter – dinner at Cavallo’s was a whole new level of mmmm.
As we settled into our booth, I already knew what I wanted to order, having just had a lively conversation with Sid about the new menu the day before. This cat gets excited when he talks about food.
We started with the Poutine (Poo-TAN) – a sort of Cajun chili-cheese-fries that Sid was super-psyched about. Imagine a plate of spicy, salty Cajun-seasoned french fries, smothered with a puréed duck and andouille gumbo with melted provolone cheese and fresh herbs on top.
“It’s intended as a nice, heavy something to set in the middle of the table, and everybody kind of chows down on it,” Sid had explained. “It’s a very Creole dish.”
With three of us chowing down, our poutine disappeared in a hurry and we were hungry for more. Lucky for us, a hefty serving of May Belle’s Chicken Rochambeau was on the way.
This dish was named in honor of May Belle Charrier, Kelly’s great-grandmama, who lived out her life in Dupont, La. and would never come to visit Sid and Kelly when they lived in New Orleans, because she couldn’t leave her chickens.
Sid described the Rouchambeau as a “stacked dish,” consisting of savory bacon and caramelized onion bread pudding (ours came on a bed of delicately sautéed and seasoned summer squash and julienned carrots), topped with shaved ham, marchand de vin (beefy mushroom sauce), and poached chicken with sauce béarnaise on top.
There was so much going on with this dish, it was like a culinary circus act balanced on a plate – whimsically playful, and just as Sid had promised, “ridiculously good.” Though it sounded improbable, the bacon bread pudding turned out to be the ultimate comfort food, and the two different sauces contrasted each other beautifully.
For dessert, we opted for the deliciously oooey-gooey Banana S’more– a roasted banana served in the skin, filled with chocolate ganache, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream a la mode, topped with crumbled graham crackers and honey molasses.
Yes, honey and molasses do go well together. But who would have thought to try? That kind of playful experimentation is the hallmark of Cavallo’s cuisine.
It’s evident throughout the menu, starting with aps that offer Cajun-Creole favorites with a twist, like crabcakes on corn macque choux (Creole creamed corn) topped with remoulade (Cajun mayo); and Crawfish Bread – Sid’s take on a Jazz Fest staple that serves up grilled sourdough bread topped with melted brie, crawfish and andouille cream sauce.
The entrees showcase Sid’s playfulness and culinary prowess, with names that often pay homage to Kelly’s Cajun roots. The Duck Dupont, for example, is named for the city in New Orleans where Kelly’s family put down their roots. The dish features sage-crusted duck on top of a medley of white beans and split peas à mirepoix (minced onions, carrots and celery), quinoa and bacon all sautéed together with a little duck stock, topped with pear and caramelized onion marmalade.
Fans of Cajun/Creole cuisine will thrill to traditional offerings like Creole Jambalaya, Seafood Etouffee, Jambalaya-Stuffed Pork Chop (topped with a bourbon mustard molasses), Catfish Amandine and Bourbon Street Shrimp – basically a pimped-out “shrimp and grits” prepared with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and andouille sausage cooked in Bourbon meuniere (spicy Worscestershire butter sauce) served with herbed creamed corn, roasted garlic cheese grits and grilled sourdough.
Committed carnivores will be tempted by the Fleur de Lis Filet – an 8-ounce pepper-crusted bistro fillet “that’s marbled just like a fillet mignon but cut longer, butterflied and folded over onto itself,” Sid explained. It’s cooked Pittsburgh-style – rare, or blue, in the middle, and seared in duck and bacon fat for a crispy, blackened exterior. It comes with mashed potatoes, veg du jour and the option to add bacon or blue cheese, marchand de vin or béarnaise, and shrimp, crawfish or crab for a slight upcharge.
Why dinners? Cavallo’s opened last August with a concept to offer breakfast, brunch and lunch, 7 days a week. But that business model was not sustainable, at least during Ouray’s shoulder and off-seasons. Now, they’ve switched things up to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner from Thursdays through Mondays. Those of us who have become addicted to Cavallo’s breakfast, brunch and lunch offerings will be pleased to know that nothing has changed on that front.
Gluten-Free & Vegetarian Options: Gluten-free options are clearly marked as such throughout the menu; even more items may be modified to be gluten-free for a slight upcharge. Just ask your server. Other dietary needs or allergies are also happily accommodated. Vegetarians may substitute a grilled, herbed portabella mushroom for most proteins on the menu.
Salad Days: If you can peel your eyes past the rich variety of dinner entrees, there are some real delicacies to be found among the Entree Salad selections, starting with the Esplanade – a spinach and bacon salad jazzed up with creole pecans, blueberries, blue cheese and red onions with a lemon Dijon vinaigrette. The Shrimp Remoulade offers greens, sliced tomatoes, pickled red onions, capers and hard-boiled eggs topped with shrimp in remoulade sauce. The Charrier (Kelly’s maiden name), features greens with a purple cabbage-bacon apple slaw and crabcakes, again topped with remoulade.
Price Point: Aps run from $10-$12. Soups are $4-$8. Entree salads range from $9-$14; add chicken for $4.50 or shrimp, smoked salmon or crawfish for $6.50. Entrees (which come with a small side salad) range from $15 for the Creole Jambalaya to $23 for Duck Dupont or Jambalaya-Stuffed Pork Chop. Desserts are $6-$7. Portions are big. “We want people to get their money’s worth,” Sid explained.
Open Thursday through Monday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-close.