When things slow down during winter, Durango chefs like Jeffery Lewis Clark and Shaun Keeney at Ska Brewing Co. slow down and test new menu items.
In December, the Ska chefs released the brewery’s expanded winter menu, filled with new eats that Clark and Keeney test out on the locals to see whether the dishes are worth keeping during the summer tourism season.
“This is when we get to cook for the locals, and we get to cook for us at the same time,” Keeney said. “It’s really beautiful. This is my favorite time of year.”
One new item that Clark said is selling well is a grilled-cheese sandwich that’s probably not like Mom used to make. The sandwich features marble rye bread with a generous spread of roasted garlic green chile aioli, sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese, sopressata salami and fresh jalapenos.
“I felt the spice from the jalapenos and the saltiness from the salami was a really good combo,” Clark said.
Served with the grilled cheese is a side of cheddar beer soup, made with the brewery’s Pinstripe Red Ale.
“I love dipping sandwiches in that Pinstripe soup, and we wanted an easily disposable wintry 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 made out of the same dough Ska uses for pizza. Keeney’s house focaccia will be available only through the winter, he said.
“As much as I’d like to keep it around, we’re not a bakery, and it would be a logistical nightmare during the spring and summer months,” he said. “People need to come enjoy it in the next couple months while they can.”
Clark’s new wing sauce, which he calls the Face Smelter sauce, is made with 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 right when the heat starts to be too much, it stops,” he said. “It’s really spicy, but it does back off at a certain point. I’m really surprised with how they’re selling. I thought it might not sell as much, because people here aren’t really heat heads.”
Clark said the Face Smelter wings sell a lot during happy hour, and for him, it’s the most exciting menu addition.
“Seeing the Face Smelter sell has been great. That’s just one I haven’t made before, and have never experimented with something quite like that before,” he said. “Seeing something new that people are really getting into I think is great.”
Keeney’s excited most by the new jerk grilled wedge salad. The salad features a salad wedge that is tossed in Ska’s jerk sauce and grilled. Then the wedge is topped with bacon blue cheese and tomato.
“The wedge is probably what I'm most excited about, because it was in my brain, and there’s a satisfaction to bringing it to life,” he said.
Some other new menu items include a barbecue pulled pork sandwich, a meat lover’s flatbread pizza and a new veggie pizza, which comes with a variety of vegetables on it that Keeney referred to as “the works.” The works includes artichoke hearts, balsamic marinated tomatoes, spinach, onions and garlic oil.
The two chefs take their time when working on new recipes; for example, the expanded winter menu took them more than a month of tweaking different things and running specials to find out what was working with customers.
“This was pretty difficult because we didn’t take any items off the menu, we really just expanded it,” Clark said. “So, trying to get the logistics for storage and prep work was a challenge, too.”
The expanded menu will be available for the next few months, but will tighten up when tourism picks up in spring.
“We have to trim it up for the spring and summer push,” Keeney said. “Some of that is limitations on space, and some of its logistics. We can get away with it when the tourists aren’t hitting us as hard.”