High Mountain Pies - Interview
Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Welcome to the Leadville, CO restaurant blog series! Here is my interview with Vicki, the owner of High Mountain Pies pizza restaurant, with her husband, Tim.
Many guests that stay at The Silver Rose of Leadville ask where they should eat when they are in town. Rather than just give a simple recommendation, I thought it would be fun to go a step further and interview local restaurant owners. The restauranteurs would get a chance to convey who they are and what makes their restaurants unique. By providing guests with more background and personal information on Leadville's restaurants perhaps choosing where to eat can be easier.
How did you end up in Leadville?
When my husband Tim and I started dating we were both working in Summit County. I was living in Copper Mountain at the resort, and Tim was living in Leadville. I had spent a lot of time with Tim in Leadville and I really liked the feeling of community there, which I didn't have when living at the resort. To give you an example, when I found myself needing a place to live I moved to Leadville and rented a small house. My next-door neighbor was a man named Adolph. Here I was, a 20-something-year-old ski bum, and he was an 80-something-year-old man who would shovel my sidewalk before I made it out of bed every morning. One day I made it a point to get up and shovel his sidewalk. The next thing I know, he knocked on my door and told me I didn't need to do that any longer since that was his job. I thought that was the neatest thing. I was able to have that experience by living in a smaller town with different generations of people.
Tim had grown up in a small farming community in Illinois on a dairy farm, and that sense of a small-town community is what Tim liked about Leadville as well.
How did you end up in the restaurant business?
After we got married and started our family, we were both working in Copper Mountain. Tim was managing a restaurant, and I was working odd jobs at opposite hours since we didn't want to put our three sons in childcare, and that schedule was how we could do that. One day Tim's old friend Shaun who owned a pizza shop in Leadville, called him up and said he was moving back to Michigan and wanted to know if we wanted to buy his pizza restaurant. Here was our opportunity to be in charge of our own path. We jumped on it, and December 17th, 2020, was our 17th anniversary!
You have been in Leadville for a long time. How would you say it has changed?
When we first moved here in the mid-'90s, there were a lot of hippies in town, and I see that less and less. Now I see people moving to Leadville for the extreme outdoors. The economics have changed as well. At that time, we paid $350 a month for a two-bedroom house. Today, twenty-five years later, one of my line cooks is paying $1,000 a month for a studio apartment.
What is your favorite part of the job?
We serve a real quality product. We have a tiny open kitchen where we can stand there right in front of our customers cooking their food and joke back and forth with them. It feels like you are on a stage, and that's really fun. I also enjoy the relationships that I have with our employees. We have people who have worked here for ten years, so they are like family to us.
How did you come up with your menu?
Tim went to culinary school in Keystone, so he has that background. We did a lot of research and trial and error for the basic recipes like the dough and the pizza sauce. When we took over the restaurant, it was very minimalistic. They had used only oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Tim and I love food and all of the different flavor combinations that can be created, so we used that love to go into more depth with, for example, the pizza sauce. We tried balsamic vinegar, lots of herbs, and different tomato products to create that. With the dough, it is a real classic recipe that is all-purpose flour and a high-gluten flour to give us the right amount of protein, along with salt, oil, yeast, and water. We make the dough 24-48 hours before we use it and let it slow rise in the walk-in cooler, which gives it a delicious flavor. For the specialty pizzas, it is really about using high-quality ingredients. We have a prep crew that gets here at 5:30 each morning to make the sauce, grind the cheese, cook the ribs, braise the pork and chicken thighs, fresh-cut the vegetables, and pineapple. We put our money into labor to have fresh, pre-prepared ingredients, and that really comes out in the flavor.
We have gone to food shows with different vendors and samplings where we get to taste new fancy ingredients. The peppadew peppers we tried at a show and they were so tasty; hot and sweet at the same time. We wondered what type of pizza we could build around that topping. That's when we came up with our Big Island pizza where we were able to incorporate the Peppadew peppers with a pesto base that uses fresh basil grown in Hawaii. The ham is standard on a pizza like this, but adding the bacon added an extra kick of flavor. And the sharpness of the red onion goes well with the sweetness of the pineapple. It is all about the balancing of flavors.
Another one is the bacchanalia. I saw a cheese board that had roasted red grapes on it, and it piqued my interest, so I bought some red grapes and roasted them in the oven with a little olive oil to try them out. They are delicious; they taste like a rich balsamic vinegar with a red wine flavor. They go perfectly with the salami and chevre cheese. It's like a cheese board on a pizza.
What is special about your restaurant?
It is a mom-and-pop type of restaurant. Tim and I are here every day pouring our love into the restaurant. It would be different if we had a manager and we were more hands-off. I think by us paying constant attention to the details helps make it special.
What do you like to cook when you're not at the restaurant?
I've discovered a North African Ethiopian curry spice called Berbere. I make a dish that uses six red onions that I chop up into the blender until it makes a paste, and then I cook that down until it's caramelized and sweet. I add the Berbere curry powder, and cook it for another hour while adding two clarified butter sticks. It's so good! I can start that and put it in the crockpot and let it cook while we go ski or hike and come back and eat in the late afternoon. I like to cook. We are a traditional family. Once the restaurant was established enough that one of us didn't have to always be there for an evening shift, it was important for us to be able to sit down with the kids for a dinner meal. When we were getting the restaurant up and running and were busy in the evenings, we still were with each other for breakfast, where we would eat together.
High Mountain Pies is only 2 1/2 blocks from The Silver Rose of Leadville. When we were building the house it was the closest and easiest restaurant to us and therefore, needless to say, we ordered a lot of pizza. It is clear that Vicki and Tim have a fondness for food and cooking because the pizza is so delicious! It never got old eating so much pizza.
My husband John's favorite is the San Luis Pizza with braised pork, green chilis, avocado, and cilantro. I think he has eaten 476 slices to date. I never really had a favorite but after my interview with Vicki I ordered the Bacchanalia and I now have a new favorite. And our kids, of course, like every flavor.