Many Durango-area restaurants have stunning views of the surrounding landscape. But the best might be on the other side of the county line.
“We’ve got the best views in Durango, hands down,” said Christina Dearien, an owner of The Lift at Cascade, which sits just across the border of San Juan County on U.S. Highway 550. “I’ve been to every restaurant in Durango and every restaurant up here, and unless you’re on the backside of Purgatory, this is the best view.”
The restaurant, just south of Engineer Mountain and west of Potato Hill, opened at the former location of the Cascade Grill in Cascade Village on Memorial Day weekend.
After ownership changed hands a few times, the building eventually ended up under the possession of Cascade Village’s HOA, which brought the Dearien family in to put a restaurant back in the space, Christina said.
“The timing just seemed right,” she said. “The HOA was pushing for a restaurant, I have been in the business for 25 years – I used to manage The Sow’s Ear – and they really wanted me to come in, and we decided to do it as a family venture.”
The Dearien family makes up the majority of The Lift’s staff, and many of them cut their teeth at The Sow’s Ear, on just the other side of Purgatory resort, including Josh Dearien, Christina’s husband and The Lift’s chef.
“The climate we were trying to get was: we’re family-run, family-oriented, we want people to come in and feel comfortable with what they’re ordering, get a good dinner that’s homemade – that they’re not going to feel like they’re spent their entire vacation’s spending money on one dinner,” Christina said.
She describes the food as modern cuisine.
“It’s kind of a cross between fine dining and casual dining,” she said. “Everything is homemade. We do everything from scratch.”
Christina said many of the menu items are favorites with a twist.
She recommends first-timers start with artichoke fondue or the spring rolls – local favorites – before moving onto the restaurant’s signature dish, the Frenched Chicken Saltimbocca.
“People seem to love it – it’s my best seller,” she said. “It’s a French-style chicken in the way that it’s cut, and we sear it, and then we finish it in the oven, and its got pancetta and spaghetti squash – it’s kind of a twist on a saltimbocca.”
Christina said the restaurant is also making a name for itself based on its craft cocktails.
“The cocktail list – because we named ourselves The Lift – we named after chairlifts at Purgatory,” she said.
For instance, Chair 1, “Baby Stepping or Just Beaching It” is a beach-appropriate tropical rum drink; Chair 2, “When Life Hands You Lemons, Add Coconuts,” refers the its corresponding chairlift’s propensity for breaking down. The last chair of nine is “The Famous ‘Chrissy’ Margarita.”
“If anybody knew me from working at The Sow’s Ear ... they know my margarita is ridiculous,” Christina said.
Bartender Joshua Dearien (Christina’s son) said The Lift is enthusiastic about bringing local art into the restaurant and wants to branch into community events.
“We’re big on community outreach with local artists and local musicians,” he said.
Silverton’s Eileen Fjerstad, who once owned the Needles Country Square, is the restaurant’s current featured artist, Christina said.
She said that as of yet, the restaurant has hosted a mostly local crowd, albeit a newly local one.
“I think the climate up here is changing,” she said. “The mountain has really grown. There was a huge turn of real estate this summer, so we’ve got a lot of new people and kind of a different feel. Me and my husband have owned and lived up here for 25 years. ... We know the community pretty well. ... There’s a lot more money in the area than there used to be.”
In a way, she said, this made it the perfect time to start a new restaurant at Cascade Village.
“As much as the timing might have been terrible to open a restaurant between COVID and the unemployment that's happening, it’s kind of a huge opportunity if you look at it one way because we have this different clientele that’s coming but doesn’t know a ton about the area, so they’re not biased on places where they want to eat,” she said. “They’re just happy that they have something up here.”