If you’re driving the road from Gunnison, Colorado to Crested Butte, you can’t miss Garlic Mike’s, a low-slung cabin draped in signature red-and-white-checked fabric that looks like it was snatched from the streets of Hoboken. But you won’t get to see this side of the Italian restaurant unless it’s summer, when they tent the back porch and serve a patio lunch in those glorious few hours before the afternoon thunderstorms slip through.
Chef Mike Busse spins out paper-thin pizzas, salads spiked with fluorescent green pesto, fizzy red lambrusco that tickles your tongue, and crispy fries heaped with what else but tiny, tangy cubes of fried garlic (as demonstrated here by my sister, Beth). Which would all be reason enough to visit—I mean, seriously, who else can locate spicy coppa like this in the High Rockies?—but the very specific location that Garlic Mike’s occupies on this stretch of road makes it even more of a dining adventure.
Because this is Garlic Mike’s back door. Yes, you can dock your raft or kayak on the banks of the Gunnison River and stroll across that wide lawn to a well-deserved Italian meal, fly rod in-hand. Garlic Mike’s embraces their unique situation: They even offer “culinary rafting” packages and happy hour specials on food and drink to reward those who arrive by boat or bike. I would think that if you timed it right, you could even place a “to-row” order for “float-through” pickup. But then, of course, you’d miss out on the cocktails.
Icing your paddle-weary arms with Coronas, you and your crew can enjoy a sunny beer-splashed lunch while you’re still soaked from navigating rapids. And the warm lawn is the perfect place to splay your wet clothes and gear while you dive into Sunshine Wheats and thick meat-stacked sandwiches named things like The Godfather. And you’ll lounge for at least an hour in mozzarella-slathered bliss wishing that more restaurants had the sense to orient themselves around such magical alternative transportation routes.
And wishing, of course, that more restaurants had the sense to orient themselves around the magic of garlic.