Chautauqua’s lovely lunch spot

Boulder landmark aces it for ambience and atmosphere

| Sep 16, 2010

Boulder provides an embarrassment of restaurant riches, including many that are simply lovely to behold and/or offer wonderful outdoor dining. But nothing — with arguable exception of the Flagstaff House — matches the setting of the historic Chautauqua Dining Hall.

Chautauqua is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the gray frame building with white trim is now a public restaurant overlooking the broad lawn and large trees of Chautauqua Park. It is open almost year-round, serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner on a schedule that changes depending on the season. Right now, it is still going full-tilt.

Maybe because we lunched a bit on the late side, two friends and I managed to scores a table on the porch with a park view across the roadway.It was exceptionally pleasant to sit there, of course, with a light breeze and the sun flirting with the clouds.

The Southwestern Chicken sandwich (grilled chicken breast, green chiles and cheddar) comes on focaccia bread with a choice of fries or chips. The thin fries, which came out hot, nicely crisp outside and smooth inside, were a good choice.

The pulled pork on a bun also comes with a choice of fries or chips, but my friend didn’t care for either. The first example of what I consider unnecessary nickel-and-diming was that there was no offer of a substitution. The waitress could, and IMHO should, have suggested a substitute, or the kitchen could have put extra cole slaw or a bit of lettuce and tomato on the plate.

I ordered the beet salad (spinach, sliced beets, orange segments, sliced red onion and champagne vinaigrette plus goat cheese, a $2 extra). That salad is precisely what came out of the kitchen. No more. No less. I requested a roll or a piece of bread. Ten minutes later, out came two pieces of focaccia, which was twice as much as I wanted and which added $1 to the check. It’s not about the dollar, which I certainly didn’t dispute, but this was what, to me, seemed like a second example of chintziness. I understand that the old building is expensive to operate, and the seasonal guest fluctuation adds to the challenge of operating there, but still…..

These are quibbles, because of the grade-A setting that makes me overlook the flaws. The Chautauqua Dining Hall is so appealing that the food, in a sense, is an add-on — and I don’t think that of too many places.

Price check: At lunch, appetizers, $6-$12; soups and salads, $6-$8; sandwiches, $7-$9 (and $14 crab cake); “late breakfast” items, $7-$10; lunch entrees, $14-$16; sides, $3-$4.Dinner is considerably more expensive. 

Guest blogger Claire Walter follows the food scene in Boulder and beyond on, where you’ll find more of her reviews of Boulder-area restaurants. A Colorado-based, award-winning travel, food and snow sports writer, she has written thousands of newspaper, magazine and online articles and have authored or co-authored some 20 books.