Tucked a few hundred feet up Flagstaff Mountain, Flagstaff House has perched above the Boulder food scene since the early seventies, and has recently undergone a refresh. Those who have visited know the restaurant takes fine-dining seriously, from the car door with its valet to its wine list (buoyed by 15,000-plus wine bottle cellar).
On Wednesday afternoon this week, the space just began to buzz as staff set up the semi-circle bar, and vacuumed and set the tables with fresh flowers. Part-owner and executive chef Chris Royster led me through the labyrinth to the patio out back, which opens to a glorious view of the Flatirons and Boulder Valley.
Chris shared some of Flagstaff’s three-year journey to redesign much of the restaurant, from the entry way to the bar, the new dimly-lit and cozy lounge area surrounding the bar and the dining room. Updates include lighting, tables, glassware, walls and artwork.
“We redesigned just about everything you can think of in the past three years,” Chris tells BLDRfly. The renovation itself took place in the beginning of January 2020 and lasted three weeks, ending right before the state declared lockdown.
The long-planned refresh occurs as a segue to the restaurant’s up-coming 50-year anniversary, slated for November 2021. It expands upon previous renovations run by its original owner Don Monette and his wife Carole, who opened the restaurant in 1971.
All in the family
Built in 1929 as a summer cabin for a school teacher, the Flagstaff House became an event center in the late 1930s and became a restaurant in 1971, when army cook Don Monette purchased the house.
Don had a vision of transforming the property into a fine-dining spot. Eventually, three generations of Monettes grew up around the restaurant. Don’s sons Scott and Mark, who served as head chef, took over the business next and later Mark’s son, Adam, who had worked in the restaurant since he was a teen, doing everything from food running to running the bar as lead bartender. In 2018, Adam became the restaurant’s general manager and Chris Royster, who had worked there for seven years as sous chef and chef du cuisine, took over the kitchen as its executive chef.
With the remodel, Flagstaff House aimed to modernize while staying true to its classic roots with stunning views aided by good food and service. “We don’t want to take away from who we are,” Chris says.
Chris and Adam wanted to amplify what the restaurant already did well. They began with the menu, which had seen little change in two decades. Along with adapting some long-standing items, Chris developed tasting menus — multi-course menus of smaller portions, allowing patrons to explore foods they may not otherwise try. Guests can either select a four-course menu or the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which changes regularly.
The Flagstaff House updates its menu daily — and now, with Covid, prints a new menu for every guest. It sources its food from local farms, like Cure Organic’s pork and produce, Aspen Moon, and Denver’s Sunnyside Farms and Altius Farms, a vertically growing, aeroponic urban farm. For some menu items it can’t source locally, Flagstaff works with farmers in Texas, Canada and New Zealand.
Cooking under pressure
Chris, who moved to Boulder from New York just over a decade ago, started cooking at 14 years old when he landed his first job as a dishwasher on a New Year’s Day. When he dropped out of high school at 17, he found a home, and a career, in restaurants.
When his brother, who attended New York’s Culinary Institute of America, moved to Boulder for an internship at Flagstaff House, Chris also landed an opportunity to apply for a position with then-executive chef, Mark Monette, who hired him as the restaurant’s sous chef.
“I’ve never done anything but work in kitchens. [I did] the school of hard knocks,” Chris laughs. “I’m still chief engineer of the dish pit!”
Chris likes to experiment in the kitchen. For example, two years ago he remixed Flagstaff’s staple French Onion soup into breaded and baked gelatin discs. Chris also has a love for pates and charcuterie, which make their way in frequently in various forms.
The longest-standing, most popular dish on the menu since Chris took over comes to Flagstaff House’s S’mores Flambe, made with graham cracker blondie, roasted marshmallow ice cream and fresh marshmallows encased in a dark chocolate dome.
Chris pumps Applewood smoke underneath, and the chocolate seals it to the plate. Then, when he lights it on fire, the chocolate melts and the smoke releases, creating an indulgent campfire dessert experience for diners.
For more on Chris working under pressure, check out our IGTV video where he tells us about his experience on Food Network’s cooking competition reality show, Chopped.
[One Boulder couple’s journey working in the local restaurant industry]
Header Image: Flagstaff House’s front gates. Image: Tatyana Sharpton.