October 26, 2007

‘Tis the season to start planning get-togethers

On Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m., Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson will preside over the holiday lighting of downtown. At the flip of a switch, thousands of strands of lights will bust into a twinkling message that asks: Are you ready?

Caterers and hosts for Thanksgiving feasts all agree that now is the time to book your dates.

“Last year was hard on caterers,´ said Paul Pellegrino, owner of All Occasions Catering in Fort Collins. “Thanksgiving was early enough, but Christmas landed on a Monday, which took away a catering weekend. And the weather was terrible.”

While record blizzards will put a crimp in anyone’s party plans, the calendar this year looks event-friendly.

“The last week in November ramps up the holiday season,” he said. “After Thanksgiving, we will have four Friday and Saturday party days, four Sundays for church events, and lots of Wednesdays and Thursdays for company parties. “

A robust calendar notwithstanding, it is the wise planner who starts early.

“Everyone is calling in and claiming their dates,” Pellegrino said.

Pelligrino’s 2007 Holiday Divine Cuisine menu, posted on the company’s Web site, includes dishes like braised pork with sundried tomato polenta or shrimp scampi Calabrese. Dessert? How about eggnog bread pudding?

William Hundley, owner of Gourmet Catering in Fort Collins, agreed that it is never too early to book.

“I’ve been booking parties since the end of August, early September,” he said. “But through the holidays I try to keep extra holiday food in stock because there is always some emergency. I can get seafood on short notice from Northeast Seafood in Denver. People love a thick piece of pistachio-encrusted yellowfin tuna.”

Other holiday favorites on Hundley’s menu include apple/cherry wood smoked bone-in prime rib served in a garlic, port wine demi-glace. More adventurous sorts might want to try out a holiday Tur-duc-hen (or Turducken): a turkey stuffed with a duck that has been stuffed with a chicken. It’s Cajun. Of course.

“I tunnel-bone my 28-pound turkey, and lay on Cajun andouille sausage stuffing,” Hundley said. “I stuff the turkey with juicy Moulard duck breasts with oyster dressing and the duck with boned chicken with cornbread stuffing and candied pecans. It can feed a lot of people.”

As wide open as the holiday season looks from the vantage point of Halloween, all caterers understand that the crunch will come.

“It’s that last weekend before Christmas that’s going to be a push for all of us,” Hundley said. “No one has called yet. Right now is the time to set those dates.”

Thanksgiving feasts

The early arrival of Thanksgiving this year means that Nov. 22 may come sneaking up and catch those who want to leave the pumpkin-pie making to others out of luck.

“Our three-day Thanksgiving weekend celebration is already sold out,´ said Mary Bahus-Meyer, marketing manager for Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. “But we are still taking reservations for our stress-free Thanksgiving buffet.”

Not only does the buffet satisfy a yearning for turkey and all the trimmings, the day also offers the possibilities of watching football on a widescreen TV, strolling along the river or just sitting by a roaring fire thinking about how the Pilgrims would have loved it. All that and no dishes to wash.

On beyond Sylvan Dale in Estes Park rises the stately Stanley Hotel.  This year Chef Carlos Ruiz will offer up a Thanksgiving buffet that includes not only traditional turkey and dressing, but also prime rib, ham, pork and whole smoked salmon.

“We are now taking reservations for our traditional brunch,´ said Leo Reyes, restaurant manager. “The holiday season, compared to summer, is more relaxed for us. Now we can focus on special occasions.”

‘Tis the season to go shopping

Sumptuous Thanksgiving brunches and expertly catered holiday meals do their part to make the season bright, but what about the shopping? All those parking spots to find. All those presents to buy. The historic Armstrong Hotel in downtown Fort Collins has a plan that offers a little relief.

“This will be our third year for ‘Shop and Save,’´ said Erica France, marketing manager for the Armstrong. “Between Nov. 15 and Dec. 30 this year we will offer our rooms at discounted rates and provide every guest with a list of 40 to 50 participating businesses in Old Town. These restaurants, spas and retailers all offer discounts or special gifts to our guests.”

France said that the program is popular both locally (it’s fun to be where the action is and not have to worry about driving home) and in the broader region that includes Nebraska and Wyoming.

“We just got a call from a family in Boulder to book rooms for November,” she said.

Boulder shops Fort Collins for the holidays. Interesting.

Inns and outs of B&Bs

So you think you would like to be an innkeeper, hosting guests for the holidays in your gracious bed-and-breakfast inn? Providing a friendly, warm place, however, is only part of a hospitality equation that also includes doing a lot of laundry and cleaning bathrooms.

For those who want to explore the possibilities of venturing into the land of professional hosts, the Bed & Breakfast Innkeepers of Colorado is sponsoring a full-day seminar for aspiring innkeepers at the 21st annual conference in Denver on Sunday, Nov. 4.  

For Aspiring Innkeeper information, contact Sallie Clark at 888-565-3980.

Jane Albritton is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

On Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m., Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson will preside over the holiday lighting of downtown. At the flip of a switch, thousands of strands of lights will bust into a twinkling message that asks: Are you ready?

Caterers and hosts for Thanksgiving feasts all agree that now is the time to book your dates.

“Last year was hard on caterers,´ said Paul Pellegrino, owner of All Occasions Catering in Fort Collins. “Thanksgiving was early enough, but Christmas landed on a Monday, which took away a catering weekend. And the weather was terrible.”

While record blizzards will…

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