John Wayne may have played a sheriff in True Grit (1969), which he filmed in Ridgway. But off the set, he ate at The Outlaw in Ouray. It was called The Outlaw even back then; the building has housed a restaurant since at least the 1940s, though before it became The Outlaw, it was known as The Pick Café and Bar, a tribute to the indispensible tool local miners used.
The place today continues to conjure up the Old West, with wagon-wheel chandeliers, weathered wood floors, and a polished wood bar perfect for bellying up to after a jostling day in the saddle (or the four-wheeler). One of The Duke’s cowboy hats hangs over the bar. The food is traditional too, and naturally that means steaks, which take pride of place on the menu. You can have a New York strip ($25), filet mignon ($26-$28), a rib-eye ($24) or a T-Bone ($28), either charbroiled or rubbed with peppercorns and smothered in cognac sauce (which sounds suspiciously like steak au poivre, though here it is called Outlaw Pepper Steak). They serve a properly cooked piece of meat around here. As a note at the bottom of the menu puts it, “Well Done Steaks are not guaranteed.”
What is guaranteed is a relaxing evening where you can hear your friends – even though the restaurant has a bar upfront, it is not dark, certainly not smoky, and is blessedly free of a big-screen TV – and a fine baked potato, fully loaded with sour-cream and chives, to go with your steak, prime rib ($24-$28), Colorado lamb chops ($27) or baby-back pork ribs ($19-$23). Though The Outlaw is turn-of-the-century Ouray by heritage and in feeling, it was originally owned by Joe and Christina Bonatti, and the pastas on offer continue to reflect the Bonatti family’s Italian roots. You could call one dish a true Spaghetti Western – spaghetti and meatballs are right there on the menu ($16), and the marinara is buttery, winey and flecked with fresh strips of basil. Ravioli with cheese or spinach ($15) comes smothered in marinara (or Alfredo sauce) too, as does Chicken d’Angelo, a breast of chicken sautéed with mushrooms and artichoke hearts, and served over angel-hair pasta. If you favor fish or seafood, selections include Alaskan King Crab legs, lobster tail (both, market price), Trout San Juan ($18), sautéed with lemon butter and white wine, or the catch of the day. The menu also advertises “Sandwiches and Salads,” but there is only one sandwich here. As it happens, it is exactly the sort of sandwich you would want in a steakhouse like The Outlaw: Prime Rib au jus ($15). Though the wine list is small, it only takes one decent wine to complete a meal, and you can choose a Washington merlot, South Australian shiraz, or Argentinian Malbec to go with your piece of red meat (or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc to complement anything else). Paul Choate, who bought the restaurant in 2009, first worked and cooked here 11 years ago. He aims to keep the food, the staff, and the atmosphere just the way it’s always been. The menu welcomes “Horse thieves, bank robbers, cattle rustlers and claim jumpers,” but you don’t have to be an outlaw, or even a fan of John Wayne movies, to have a good meal here and a fine time.
RESERVATIONS SUGGESTED: That’s what it says on the front door, and they’re not kidding. On Tuesday evening, hardly high season, the place was bustling. Best to book ahead.
FANCY THOSE SLATES? For $15 and four shots of liquor (bartender’s choice), you too can decorate a wooden slate and hang it in the restaurant. Owner Paul Choate donates the money he makes on the slates to charity. He usually gives locally – to Weehawken Arts, for example – but has also sent financial aid to displaced children in Joslin, Missouri who’ve been victims of tornados (both Choates and his wife are from Missouri).
EYE CANDY FOR MOUNTAINEERS: The famed alpinist Walter Bonatti was a relative of the U.S.-branch of Bonattis. Paul Choate is an occasional climber himself. Ask him to show you Bonatti’s carabiners.
$$$ Tuesday-Sunday, 5 p.m. until closing in winter, and seven days, 4:30 p.m. until closing in summer.