The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern – Estes Park, Colorado

The Rock Bar & Restaurant in Estes Park, Colorado

During my years at St. Anthony’s in Peñasco, I frequently tried the patience of the saintly nuns.   Thankfully capital punishment was not permissible or you wouldn’t be reading this.  It’s bad enough I wore out a few rulers and hopefully one elderly nun’s knuckles which often found their way to my head (that may explain a few things).  I wasn’t a malicious student, just one who didn’t always conform.  It wasn’t the age of “doing your own thing” though I certainly did my best to be an individual.  Albeit, I was an individual who didn’t do his homework or study for tests (but still managed to ace them all).

My antics were never deliberately destructive.  In some ways I was like a gangly newborn giraffe trying to get my legs under me.  Unusually tall for an elementary school student in Northern New Mexico, I was a poster child for clumsiness.  Fellow students feared my lack of coordination would result in injury.  When the nuns insisted on having us square dance, the girls feared my do-si-do more than they did an impromptu math quiz.  My dancing resembled a combination of roller skating on ice and steer wrestling.   

Expansive Dining Room. At 5PM Live Music Starts.

My Kim loves dancing and would very much like for her (slightly more graceful than in elementary school) husband to take her on the dance floor and sweep her off her feet though she knows that term would probably be literal.  She entertained hopes of dancing with her dashing husband when I shared the history of The Rock Inn, a lively restaurant located at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park. Built in 1937 as a sandwich shop and expanded in 1943 to include a dance hall, The Rock Inn has a rich history of being a community hub.  

We were among the first to arrive, but by the time we left every spot on the parking lot was taken and then some.  Habitues frequent The Rock as much for its hand-crafted, hearty comfort food (with a focus on health and sustainability) as for the live music showcasing the best in local talent.  Because we arrived at 4PM and music doesn’t start until 5PM, we were able to listen to only a handful of songs.  My Kim didn’t get me out on the dance floor, but I had an excuse: The Dude, our debonaire dachshund was accompanying us and he doesn’t know how to dance.

Devils on Horseback

The Rock is renowned for its sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains and the continental divide.  Alas, because of an unusually rainy summer, those views were mostly shrouded by fog and low-lying clouds.  The nearby mountains, by the way, are still blanketed by snow and probably will be until snowy season begins in October.  Visiting The Rock during winter time rewards intrepid guests with two wood-burning stoves which create a warm and cozy environment.  With temperatures in the 50s when we visited in June, 2023, we were seated in the spacious dog-friendly patio.  Portable overhead heaters kept us warm.  There is never a bad time to visit The Rock.  

The Rock prides itself on its hand-crafted comfort food that nourishes both the body and the soul. The menu features a number of the best foods the region has to offer, including all-natural Colorado chicken, Gold Canyon Natural Gourmet Angus Beef, and so much more.  It’s an eclectic menu with a surprising variety and interesting naming conventions on some items.  Entrees are Served with vegetables, a side of your choice and warm bread.  Sides are creamy polenta, organic red quinoa, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, fries or smoky lime black beans.

Gorg Filet

These aren’t your usual starters.  The Rock can start you off with such unique offerings as smoked elk sausage, chili-lime sweet potato and black bean soup and other interesting appetizers.  You can adorn (for a pittance more) any one of four salads on the menu with your choice of sautéed tenderloin tips, salmon filet, sautéed shrimp or smoked elk sausage  Three sandwiches–flatbread chicken, bella pita and a half-pound char-grilled burger–are yours for the asking.  The menu even offers a ten-inch, thin crust pizza which you can customize to your preference.  Three beef-based entrees and two pescatarian favorites.  Grains and pastas are also available as are desserts.

With a western-themed ambiance, it didn’t surprise us to see cleverly named menu items, none more surprising than devils on horseback (garlic-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates with homemade aioli).  Dates are ultra-sweet and garlic is almost sulfuric in its bitterness.  Still that combination works very well.  Served six to an order, the Satanic appetizer is quite good on its own.  The aioli (typically garlic and olive oil) has a hint of sweetness as well.  As a mad scientist in the kitchen, I wondered what a little citrus would have added.

New York Strip

Though my Kim has threatened to take away my man card because of my indifference to steak, one of her very favorite food items, I actually ordered a steak item at The Rock.  It wasn’t the seven-ounce hand-out Gold Canyon all natural gourmet Angus filet mignon grilled to order that enticed me.  It certainly wasn’t the seasoned and roasted vegetables (zucchini, carrots and other items you often find in school cafeteria waste bins).  Our server had me at homemade gorgonzola cream sauce which he raved about.  Gorgonzola, which Daniela Bouneou, co-founder of Torinos @ Home called “the blue cheese for people who don’t think they like blue cheese” makes for an outstanding sauce.  The steak was fine, but I would have been just as happy with a bowl of that sauce. 

My Chicago born-and-bred bride could have steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner with steak snacks in between.  When she prepares it at home, I usually exchange my steak for her baked potato.  I sure get the better end of that deal.   Her favorite cut is the New York Strip, a hand-cut, char-grilled, 10-ounce, Gold Canyon Natural Gourmet Angus steak.  She enjoyed her steak sans sauce and prepared at medium.  As New York Strips go, this was a good one.  I would have exchanged only half my steak for half a baked potato though that wasn’t an option.  Instead of baked potato, Kim had smashed potatoes, also sans sauce.

Strawberry-Mango Cheesecake

Among the more intriguing dessert options were a Creamsicle cheesecake and a strawberry-mango cheesecake.  Our server planned to take the latter dessert home to his wife.  He said it was her favorite.  How easy am I to influence if that was enough reason for me to order it, too.  It turned out to be a pretty good cheesecake and it was made in-house.  

The Rock Inn really is at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most spectacular national parks in the country.  Though there was far too much snow on the mountains to drive to the top of one of the park’s 14,000-foot mountains, remaining closer to sea level can be quite rewarding, too.  

The Rock Inn
1675 CO-66
Estes Park, Colorado
(970) 586-4116
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 June 2023
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Porterhouse Steak, Strawberry-Mango Cheesecake, Gorg Filet, Devils on Horseback, Loaded Potato Soup, Sourdough Bread with Cinnamon Butter
REVIEW #1344

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