When a chef reaches for a stick of butter, the staff at Mountain Town Olive Oil mourns. It's a missed opportunity to cook with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a much healthier and more flavorful option. That's why the EVOO connoisseurs give cooks a wide range of butter alternatives in the form of specialty olive oils. Many are tinged with unusual flavors: cayenne, basil, and, for the staunch traditionalist, even butter. The same is true of gourmet and balsamic vinegars—try the black cherry, cinnamon pear, or dark chocolate vinegars for proof.
If it weren't for Frank Crail, Durango, Colorado would have been a much different smelling place. Decades ago, when he and his family first settled in the mountain town, he was considering two different business ventures: a chocolate shop or a car wash. Luckily, he chose chocolate, and since then, the air in Durango has carried its distinctly sweet scent. Inside the flagship shop, as well as in the hundreds of international franchises that have popped up over the years, cooks simmer caramel and fudge in hand-forged copper kettles, dipping skewered apples in the bubbling caramel and pouring the fudge onto 500-pound slabs of marble that cool it as it's shaped into 22-pound loaves.
Though they've now got a handle on efficient candy-making techniques, Frank and his early team members were hardly expert confectioners. In the beginning, all they had was a ping-pong table. Upon it, they would clumsily make too-big candy centers, which only got larger after needing several dips in chocolate to make them presentable. But now, oversize candy is one of Rocky Mountain's trademarks: two of their most popular items are the Bear, a "paw-sized concoction" of caramel, chocolate, and roasted nuts that will attack if it smells food, and the Bucket, an impossibly large peanut-butter cup with whipped filling. Shoppers can watch many of these creations being made right in-store, and satisfy their growing cravings with take-home candy packaged in decorative boxes and tins.
Fresh spring rolls neatly line a plate. Curry clings to cubes of tofu. Swirls of heat escape from a heap of pad thai, and the aroma of mango fish wafts through the air. The diversity of the 100 items on Café Trang's eclectic menu secured the Zagat-rated eatery the title of Best Vietnamese on Salt Lake City Weekly's Best of Utah list in 2011. But large quantities don't mean low quality—delicate notes such as lemon and curry flavor the more than one dozen chicken dishes, and walnut shrimp gain subtle texture with a sweet honey glaze. A menu key that denotes the spiciness of each meal helps heat-averse patrons avoid burnt tongues and suddenly ashen chopsticks.