Colorado restaurants celebrate harvest with peach-inspired menus

For the next month or so, Theo Otte’s morning routine goes something like this: Get up, get ready for the day, drive the 2 miles from his Palisade home to Sweet Cheeks Organic Peaches to pick up a few boxes of fresh-off-the tree peaches, then head into the kitchen at his Grand Junction restaurant, 626 on Rood.

This is what peach season looks like for chefs and bartenders in Grand Junction, Palisade and neighboring communities, who are happy to once again incorporate the delectable, fuzzy fruits that the region is so well-known for into their menus — some in unexpected ways.

Provided by Visit Grand Junction

The 2021 peach harvest in Grand Junction, Palisade and neighboring communities has been terrific, growers say. (Provided by Visit Grand Junction)

Sure, they’re making peach cobbler, peach crisp and other traditional peach desserts. But they’re also incorporating peaches into tart sauces, savory appetizers, refreshing salads and punchy herbal cocktails.

And this year’s harvest is especially exciting, since it comes on the heels of one of the worst peach seasons on record. In 2020, a hard April freeze wiped out upwards of 90 percent of peach crops for some growers on the Western Slope, which meant there were very few, if any, peaches to come by last summer.

This year, however, despite another hard freeze last October that killed off some growers’ fruit trees, the peach harvest is looking promising overall.

The sky-high temperatures that Colorado experienced in early June helped make the peaches intensely sweet. Then, the heavy rains that doused the region in July helped the peaches grow in size. The result? A “beautiful crop,” said Theresa High, who owns High Country Orchards & Vineyards and Colterris Winery with her husband Scott.

“We’re at about 75 to 85 percent of normal production. The peaches are looking wonderful,” said High. “Finally the stars are aligning — the peaches are aligning themselves.”

Though travel on Interstate 70 may be slow because of the late July Glenwood Canyon mudslide (officials have now reopened one lane in each direction), peach growers like High hope visitors will still make the trip for this year’s Palisade Peach Festival, which runs Aug. 19-21.

“It’s definitely worth it,” she said. “Everything’s so beautiful up here right now, the fruit is good and we really appreciate the support of the Front Range.”

And travelers who can’t make it to the festival itself can still experience the region’s bounty by visiting local restaurants and bars, many of which hope to keep peaches on the menu into September and October.

If you go

What: Palisade Peach Festival

When: Aug. 19-21

Where: Downtown Palisade, Riverbend Park

Cost: Some events are free; day and weekend passes range from $3 to $25. Children under 5 are free.

More info: palisadecoc.com or 970-464-7458

At 626 on Rood (626 Rood Ave., Grand Junction), Otte and his culinary team are using peaches instead of tomatoes in their unique take on a Caprese salad. They top grilled peaches with fresh mozzarella and Sweet Dani basil, an uncommon varietal with a lemony taste, then drizzle the whole thing with a smoky, Mezcal vinaigrette.

The restaurant also uses peaches in several of its plant-based menu options, including coconut red curry tofu “scallops” with spiced peaches and a crispy tofu appetizer with ginger ponzu and peach habanero sauces.

Another savory menu item features bucatini pasta with shrimp, charred tomatoes, grilled peaches and spicy Beaver Dam peppers.

“The scope of peaches and the enthusiasm for them — it’s there every year,” said Otte, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Brenda Wray. “What we bring to the table, figuratively speaking and literally, is the innovative approach of using peaches in savory dishes, not just sweet. You can do a lot more things with peaches.”

(Provided by 626 on Rood

Peach Napoleon at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction. (Provided by 626 on Rood)

On the sweeter side, 626 on Rood is bringing back its popular peach Napoleon, made with layers of thin, sugar-cookie-esque crisps, peaches, pastry cream and crème anglaise and plated with hibiscus and mint syrups. They’re also making a simple peach galette with a light drizzle of caramel sauce and lavender ice cream.

“Our idea is to showcase the peaches in the galette and not overwhelm them with cinnamon or spices,” Otte said. “Just a bit of sugar to caramelize it and then a good shortcrust.”

At Bin 707 Foodbar (225 N. 5th St., Grand Junction) and Tacoparty (126 S. 5th St., Grand Junction), chef-owner Josh Niernberg likes to get creative during peach season, but he also fully embraces the longstanding uses of the fruit.

“I like to showcase them in really traditional forms because they’re just so good plain, you can’t really beat that,” he said. “It’s so hard to make a great Palisade peach better than what it already is and I can’t just put one on a plate.”

The peach cobbler and panna cotta pie (top) at Bin 707 in Grand Junction.

Case in point: the Palisade peach cobbler at Bin 707, which is served with housemade Olathe sweet corn ice cream.

“It’s completely traditional, it’s not chef-ed up, it’s just super high-quality ingredients and it’s technique-driven, with very minimal intervention,” he said.

In the heart of the season, his kitchens go through 200 to 220 pounds of Palisade peaches a week. At Bin 707, he uses some of those in a salad with heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, sumac flan and soy caramel.

“Texture-wise, it should eat like a Caprese salad. Flavor-wise, it should be indicative of the Grand Valley,” he said.

He also makes a peach tapenade to serve with elk tartare topped with bearnaise and puffed tendon. At both restaurants, his culinary team uses peaches to make a tangy French sauce called a gastrique, which takes the place of lime juice in Tacoparty’s made-to-order guacamole (which also features fresh peaches on top for garnish). They also use the peach gastrique at Bin 707 in a dish featuring Jimmy Nardello peppers, white cheddar fondue and puffed grains.

“The premise of Tacoparty is to showcase Colorado, and that’s really difficult to do with a cuisine that has so much citrus,” he said. “The way that we’ve tried to address that is to use local cider from Hotchkiss and use that cider vinegar to make gastriques flavored with fruit from the valley. We’re using gastrique on any dish we’d use acid or lime juice or something similar — it’s all over the menus.”

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