Hot Sulphur Springs: Cafe caters to area history
February 8, 2008
The County Seat Cafe in Hot Sulphur Springs has laid down the tracks for an entirely new image, with new chefs joining the cooking staff, new menus and even a new name.Called The Depot at Snow King Valley – Home Style Cooking, the spruced-up eatery is pleased to start a new journey that now reflects the area’s extensive railroad and skiing history. Photographs of Engine 110 appear on the menu’s cover. Snow King Valley was the name for the ski runs on the mountain directly across and south of the cafe, which was home to the town’s historical ski jump and ran until the 1950s. I love the snow skiing and history; it’s just amazing, said Josh Riffle, new chef. We’re trying to bring that curiosity back up. I’d like to see this town thrive like it used to.A love of baseball brought Riffle and cafe owner Spaulding Goetze together. The two met at Coors Field and, as they watched the Colorado Rockies play, Goetze shared his new vision for the cafe. With Riffle nearing graduation in May at Johnson and Wales Culinary School in Denver, the two began to envision the cafe with him in the kitchen and a fresh new look.Goetze started talking to him about a lot of ideas he had – especially about how he wanted to step away from the pre-made items of the past and lift the appearance of the place. He has been its owner for almost nine seasons and said he felt it was just time for some change. The name and menu had been the same since the late 1980s.Goetz gave Riffle freedom for creative input on the new menu and said he likes everything he and his staff (including operating manager Theresa Horne) has done. After 25-plus years of doing the same thing, it was time for a change, he said. I hope Hot Sulphur Springs is excited about it as I am.Riffle started his culinary career touring with the Captain Easy rock ‘n’ roll band for seven years. He played percussion for the band and cooked for himself and the band’s members. Growing up in Columbia, S. C., Riffle attributes his culinary creativity to his family who cooked all the time. I’ve cooked since I was knee-high, he said, adding that he learned a lot from his grandma and always had a thing for cooking. Within half a year, he said, the band had broken up and I was enrolled (for cooking classes).Gabe Adams, Riffle’s sous chef and former roommate, also had a stint as a musician before attending culinary school. Before they were both chefs for trial lawyers at a college in Wyoming, Adams went to recording school in New York. A soups, stocks and sauces class in the Napa Valley is what really sparked his interest, even though he had been working in the restaurant business since he was 14.While at the class, he had the chance to meet vineyard operator Robert Mondavi and last winter Adams had the chance to cook at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas under Chef Rick Moonen, whom he met at a Taste of Vail event. He graduates from Johnson & Wales this month with an associate’s degree in the arts with a culinary emphasis.The school was kind enough to send him up with me, Riffle said. He’s been my right-hand man through all of this, Riffle said. Adams’ younger brother, Kyle, who has been cooking in Oregon, is also scheduled to join the team.Guests might have the opportunity to try one of Adams’ favorite dishes as a special: His cheesy potatoes first introduced to him by his mamo, whose recipe he dissected and reconstructed into perfection. My expertise is Deep Southern, that’s my true experience, he said. ‘Jo Mama’s’ meatballs are also an item to try, with what Adams said is a good, full flavor.The team shut down the cafe for a couple days last month to install new carpeting, touch up the interior paint, and visited the nearby Hot Sulphur Springs museum to purchase prints of antique area photographs to showcase the new historical decor. Several pieces of new equipment were also placed in the kitchen, mostly to upgrade baking and storage.The new menu faded out of lot of previous products and includes several items that are a lot fresher, some of Riffle’s signature Southwestern dishes, as well as some of the favorites customers have come to love. The turkey melt will still be there, as well as great burger and burrito choices. New items include grilled maple pork chops and pot roast that falls apart on your fork, which Riffle guesses will become a signature item at the cafe and warms you up, warms your soul. Riffle also brings with him his family’s Southern fried chicken recipe to share.Other big plans in the works for Riffle and Adams is a mobile catering business called Nomadic Tour Catering Solutions, with trailers staged out of the lower level of the cafe. Riffle hopes to include traveling acts with the transit kitchens and said the ultimate goal is to have locations across the country within the next couple years. Goetze said he also plans to incorporate the area’s ski history into the pub he owns next to the cafe.I just kind of came in with my knowledge, Riffle said modestly, adding that he takes pride in staying current. Everything’s made from scratch, he said. Sides, too. He said since he’s moved up here in November he’s felt very comfortable in his new position. It’s been great, Riffle said. We’ve really gotten along with everyone here and look forward to meeting more (people). The hospitality’s been awesome. Everyone’s real personable. It really reminds me of my home town.The Depot at Snow King Valley is located at 517 Byers Ave. just north of U.S. Highway 40. Hours of operation are: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week except Sunday, when they are open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.The cafe is still seeking old train relics. Those who may have items of interest are encouraged to call (970) 725-3309.