Chefs take advantage of an off-season respite to try new recipes
When things slow down in the winter, Durango chefs like Ska Brewing Co.’s Jeffery Lewis Clark and Shaun Keeney slow down and try out new menu items.
In December, Ska Chefs released the brewery’s expanded winter menu, filled with new dishes that Clark and Keeney are testing on locals to see if the dishes are worth keeping during the summer tourist season.
“This is when we cook for the locals and cook for ourselves at the same time,” Keeney said. “It is really very beautiful. This is my favorite time of the year.”
A new item that Clark says is selling well is a grilled cheese sandwich that’s probably not like Mom used to do. The sandwich includes marbled rye bread with a generous roasted garlic green chili aioli spread, sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese, sopressata salami and fresh jalapenos.
“I felt the spice of the jalapenos and the salty taste of the salami was a really good combo,” said Clark.
The grilled cheese is served with a cheddar beer soup, made with the brewery’s Pinstripe Red Ale.
“I love dipping sandwiches in this Pinstripe soup, and we wanted an easy-to-throw, wintery kind of sandwich,” Keeney said.
Keeney said this winter he wanted to bring back a variation of the Jerk Chicken Sandwich that has been a menu favorite in the past. The sandwich is served on homemade focaccia bread from the same dough Ska uses for the pizza. Keeney’s homemade focaccia will only be available during the winter, he said.
“As much as I’d like to keep it, we’re not a bakery, and it would be a logistical nightmare during the spring and summer months,” he said. “People have to come and enjoy it in the next few months while they can.”
Clark’s new wing sauce, which he calls Face Smelter, is made from a whole bunch of habaneros. The heat of the sauce is balanced by the addition of coconut milk.
“I tried to balance the heat so that as soon as the heat starts to get too much, it stops,” he said. “It’s really spicy, but it recedes to a point. I am really surprised at how they sell. I thought it might not sell that much, because people here aren’t really that passionate.
Clark said Face Smelter’s wings sell a lot during happy hour, and for him, it’s the most exciting menu addition.
“Seeing the Face Smelter sale was great. It’s just something I’ve never done before, and I’ve never experienced anything like this before, ”he said. “Seeing something new that people are really getting into, I think that’s great.”
Keeney is most excited about the new Jerk Grilled Quarter Salad. The salad includes a wedge of salad that is mixed with Ska’s jerk sauce and grilled. Next, the quarter is topped with bacon blue cheese and tomato.
“The wedge is probably what excites me the most, because it was in my brain, and there’s a satisfaction in bringing it to life,” he said.
Other new menu items include a BBQ pulled pork sandwich, a flatbread pizza for meat lovers, and a new vegetarian pizza, accompanied by a variety of veggies Keeney called “the works.” The works include artichoke hearts, balsamic-marinated tomatoes, spinach, onions and garlic oil.
The two chefs take their time to work on new recipes; for example, the expanded winter menu took them over a month to tweak different things and run promotions to find out what worked with customers.
“It was pretty difficult because we didn’t take anything off the menu, we really expanded it,” Clark said. “So trying to get the logistics for the storage and the prep work was also a challenge. “
The expanded menu will be available over the next few months, but will tighten when tourism resumes in the spring.
“We have to cut it for the spring and summer push,” Keeney said. “Part of that has to do with the space limitations and part of its logistics. We can get away with it when the tourists don’t hit us as hard. “