As she unpacked boxes of naturally flavored fruit syrups to drizzle on the snow cones she plans to sell by the hundreds (and hopefully, thousands) to hot, thirsty kids this summer, she held up a bottle of peach syrup, exclaiming, “It’s just like Christmas!”
Burgess, the beloved former food services director for Ridgway School District, has come to this new venture with abundant enthusiasm and a natural affinity for the pool’s youngest customers. In addition to the shaved ice, “Kids can buy candy or a cookie for a dollar, or a brownie for $2,” she said.
Burgess is equally well known for her stint as deli manager at Mountain Market in Ridgway, where she earned an almost cult-like following among foodies near and far.
The Wild Fork is Burgess’s newest venture into delighting the collective tastebuds of Ouray County. When the opportunity came up to take over the lease of the erstwhile Swim and Snack Shack at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, she saw a little poolside cafe in her future.
That was last fall. Since then, she has transformed the place (which used to serve up standard fare of burgers and fries) into a delightfully fresh-feeling takeout joint – perfectly named – for its adventurous, fresh and creative cuisine.
When you walk in (dripping wet is fine), one of the first things you’ll notice if you haven’t been in here for a while is that the deep fryer is gone, as are the grill, hood and vent system that previously dominated the space. They have been replaced with a sparkling new commercial kitchen where Burgess can create the kind of food she loves.
If you are after a burger and fries, you’ll have to look elsewhere now. “There are plenty of places in town where you can get great burgers,” she explained.
Also – Burgess announced gleefully, “I am not doing soda!” Instead, she’s got a healthy selection of fruit juices, lemonade, iced tea and bottled water. If you are really hankering for a fizzy sugar drink, it can still be had from the pool vending machine nearby.
The menu at the Wild Fork Cafe changes daily, but you can always count on certain staples, including soft pretzels, pizza by the slice, Texas toast grilled cheese sandwiches, all-beef hot-dogs topped with red beef chili or sauerkraut, and, for the more advanced palate, smoked meat and pulled pork sandwiches on bread from Ouray’s Artisan Bakery.
Daily specials depend on what Burgess has on hand. On one recent lucky day, the menu board featured a bean, beef and cheddar burrito smothered in pulled pork chili, and pulled pork sliders.
Soups are “endless,” with something different on the menu each day – from broccoli cheddar to sherried wild rice and smoked sausage gumbo. They’re all made from scratch, and (trust me) uncommonly good. One of Burgess’s favorites is her Italian basil artichoke soup, simmered in a tomato base with Italian sausage, artichokes, basil and fresh parmesan, served with Artisan Bakery bread on the side.
Fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies will figure prominently throughout the summer months. “I’ll have huge slices of watermelon for the kids. And when the corn comes in, I’ll do corn on the cob for a dollar,” she said. “If the parents want to add some beef brisket to it, cool. but a kid usually just wants a piece of corn.”
For breakfast, try a smoothie paired with a cinnamon roll, a breakfast burrito or waffles and fruit in a paper boat, chased with a freshly brewed cup of Exotic Earth coffee.
Summer at the Wild Fork also means salad season. Burgess will have plenty of grab-and-go options ready for hungry customers, from standards like a grilled chicken Caesar salad to tasty and unusual sides, including “a really good, wild rice salad with dried cranberries and roasted pecans,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to sell a kid on wild rice salad. But a mom might buy a little glop of that with some pita chips and a piece of watermelon.”
It’s all still a work in progress – Burgess is a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of girl. But she’s not too worried. “I have a contained audience,” she grinned, waving at the million-gallon outdoor hot-tub just outside. “They will buy what I am selling.”
The digs: This is what’s known as a step-up cafe. Order at the counter if you are poolside, or from the take-out window on the parking lot side. There is no indoor seating, but there are two picnic tables reserved for customers near the take-out window, and Fellin Park is just steps away.
Don’t Miss: Yummy, old-fashioned grab-and-go baked goodies, like fudge brownies, seven-layer magic bars and key-lime bars that are sweet, creamy, tart perfection. Portions are sliced generously, but these treats are so delish that you won’t want to share!
Extras: Once you’ve eaten your fill, come back to rent a floaty-toy, buy a pool noodle or stock up on sunscreen and bottled water.
Price point: The whole family could easily eat lunch here for $25 bucks. Many kid-friendly menu items are well under $5. Fresh fruit by the piece is 50 cents. Specialty sandwiches cost $8, and are the most expensive thing on the menu. “You can’t have $10 items in a place like this,” Burgess explained. To make things easier for the pool-going crowd, tax is included in the price of everything, so if you are buying a bottle of water for a buck, it’s a buck. And she’ll take your money whether it’s wet or dry.
Hours: Open year-round. Summer hours in effect May 24: Seven days a week, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Open late on Thursday nights through June, to serve the Mountain Air Music Series crowd.