Breakfast at French Pastry Café: Cinnamon roll and a latte
When France natives Franck and Marilyn Thirion opened their bakery at the Aspen Airport Business Center (AABC) in 2007, they quickly earned a devoted following for their fresh, authentic baguettes, brioches, croissants, and more. But success has its price, too, and after 11 years, they wanted a break. Fortunately for Aspenites who frequented the petite space for breakfast and lunch, longtime employee Margarita Alvarez bought the business in 2018 and has continued turning out the same delectable pastries, as well as an egg sandwich and breakfast burrito and, at lunch, paninis, soups, salads, and other sandwiches.
Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Alvarez has added a few native dishes of her own, like taco and enchilada specials and the occasional très leches cake. “I still call Franck for advice,” she says. “He’s behind me all the time, and he comes here regularly.”
Alvarez also recruited her husband, Federico Mercado, who had been making sushi at Matsuhisa for 13 years. The couple and their staff bake bread and pastries for local restaurants and coffee shops, too, and cater parties.
What the café lacks in looks, it makes up for in taste. Warmth from the ovens in the open kitchen and a homey buzz fill the simple dining area. A display case holds the hero items: an array of fruit tarts; mini quiches and beignets; lemon meringue, apple, and caramel pecan tarts; macarons; croissants; madeleines; cinnamon rolls; and more.
Alvarez says she wishes for a bigger place to better serve her customers, and she would eventually like to open another bakery in the midvalley. In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the café, one crusty baguette at a time. 111G AABC, 970-925-3569
Lunch at Francesca’s Pasta Market and Empanadas: Any of five flavors of empanadas
For an authentic Argentinian empanada—not to mention handmade pasta—go no farther than this small but sleek spot in the AABC. Owner Martin Meineri has built his culinary reputation in part by serving up tasty, traditional versions of the South American turnovers—beef, chicken, ham and cheese, corn, and caprese. Each one bears his signature touch: two small leaves stamped in edible caramel ink.
Despite that expertise, Meineri, whose mother is Argentinian and father Italian, first garnered attention locally through the fresh pasta part of his business, using family recipes. After moving to Aspen from Argentina nine years ago, he and his former wife sold the pasta from a shop next to City Market. “I started making empanadas to give to customers while they were waiting,” Meineri says.
He later sold both pasta and empanadas at the Aspen Saturday Market and opened up a catering kitchen in the AABC five years ago, adding a storefront, named after his young daughter, for takeout orders last winter. Now tangles of fresh pappardelle, fettuccine, and spaghetti are on display—egg, beet, squid ink, carrot, or spinach, and some of them gluten free—as well as ravioli, lasagna, and four kinds of house-made sauces.
New this winter are breakfast empanadas as well as ones filled with Nutella and banana or apple and cinnamon. Gluten-free and vegan empanadas are also available by advance order.
Not one to sit still for long, Meineri reopened Aspen’s iconic Popcorn Wagon in January, together with Ryan Chadwick of Mr. Grey restaurant. The wagon offers doughnuts, dumplings, hot dogs, and other fare in the evening. Meanwhile, Meineri’s catering business continues to thrive; among other gigs, he provides food for summer matches at the Aspen Polo Club, where Argentinian players are some of his most discerning, and appreciative, empanada consumers. 300A AABC, 970-274-9011
Dinner at Mawa’s Kitchen: Pan-seared sea bass with vegetable ratatouille Provençale, purple rice, and lemon garlic butter
Aspen diners have long been familiar with effervescent chef and restaurateur Mawa McQueen. The Ivory Coast native has been cooking locally since 2004, first opening a catering kitchen in the AABC, then morphing it into a sit-down breakfast and lunch spot in late 2014. McQueen and her husband, Daniel Liesener, also operate the Crêpe Shack in Snowmass Base Village and frequently cater events.
This winter, Mawa’s Kitchen offers regular dinner service for the first time, Tuesday through Saturday until April (with a mid-June restart). “It’s the first upscale dinner restaurant ever in the ABC,” McQueen says of the intimate 12-table space, which you enter through the aromatic kitchen.
In addition to readily available parking, diners have been coming for Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes like house-made labneh (strained yogurt) with spices, curry, and potato chips; bison kefta; and Colorado lamb tagine with fonio, as well as standards like blackened Norwegian salmon and meatballs with polenta.
“I always try to create something a little bit different,” explains McQueen about the seasonally changing dinner menu’s current focus. “As your palate grows, you need to evolve.”
Diners can also order dinner to go or even have it delivered. “There’s nothing better,” says McQueen, who herself takes advantage of the delivery service on nights off at home.
Another recent highlight: she’s among 101 honorees in Toques in Black, the first book to celebrate African American chefs (or, in McQueen’s case, African French American). Additionally, she was chosen to create dishes for the chefs of Guanacaste Nights in Costa Rica this February.
In other words, even more people are now becoming familiar with one of Aspen’s most prolific chefs. 305F AABC, 970-710-7096