A socially distanced brunch at Hermosa Grill Cafe

by Angelica Leicht

There’s almost nothing better than sitting down for a good Sunday brunch with friends. Catching up over a meal full of carbs, fats, and booze is exactly what I need to help close out the weekend.

That love of brunch first ignited during my messy twenties at a place called La Strada in Houston, which was famous for its frozen peach daquiris and packed Sunday brunches. La Strada’s Sunday brunch came complete with DJs and a cacophony of screaming patrons, who would struggle to hear each other over the loud stream of hip-hop music blaring from the speakers on the patio. It grew from there into a more adult affair, as things are wont to do, when brunch became less about being day-drunk on bellinis and techno, and more about socialization.

Rather than dance on the tabletops, we’d sit around drinking bottomless mimosas with a small group of friends, laughing and talking for hours on end.

That love of brunch, and the weekly devotional that came with it, continued after I moved to Durango. The only real change was the venue.

After moving, it only took a few weeks to nail down my favorite local brunch spots. El Moro topped the list, and a few other spots, like Irish Embassy, with its delicious Irish coffee, were on the regular rotation, too. We’d head out to one of the brunch spots every Sunday like clockwork in order to fill up on blueberry bread pudding, Bloody Marys, hash browns, and good conversation. Once satiated, we’d roll home to sleep off the carb and booze coma that came with it.

That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic rolled in, though. As restaurants closed their doors, the weekend tradition of Bloody Marys with friends came to an end, as did the feeling of connectivity and joy that came with it. Silly as it sounds, I’ve spent the last nine months mourning the loss of Sunday morning brunches stolen by the pandemic.

I suppose it’s not so much the indulgence, but the socialization that was tough to lose. It’s not always easy to find time to get together as adults, and losing that was hard to deal with.

Life is slowly starting to get back to normal, though. The pandemic isn’t under control, of course, but we’re learning how to better deal with it, and how to safely get back to existing amongst each other.

With that comes the reopening of restaurants. Most restaurants in our area are now offering in-person dining, albeit in a limited capacity. It’s important to support them and the staff when we can — because otherwise we risk losing them for good. And if that supporting local restaurants means I get to go to brunch? Well, it’s a win-win.

With that in mind, I ventured out a few times the past month for a tame version of brunch. But rather than head out to one of my old favorites, I decided to change things up a bit by heading up the hill to Hermosa Creek Grill instead.

I’d heard how amazing Hermosa Grill was over the past few years, but I just never got around to checking it out. This breakfast and lunch spot is tucked away on a side road in Hermosa, and since I don’t drive past it often, it’s to overlook.

I can tell you right now, though, that after trying it out a few times, it’s impossible to forget. It blew my mind.

The first time I stopped in I had just dropped my kid off at Snowburners up at Purg. This was her first real time on skis without a family member to guide the way, and I was worried we’d be getting a call shortly after drop-off to explain a broken ankle or an accidental cliff-dive. I wanted to be close enough to the resort that I could get there quickly if necessary, but didn’t want to deal with the influx of tourists clambouring to get on the mountain.

Since Hermosa Creek Grill was a happy medium between my home and Purg — while far enough away from the madness at the ski resort — it won by default.

My first impression of the cafe was that it was cozy and rustic, and also precisely what I’d expect of a little cafe on the outskirts of town. There were a few tchotchskes on the wall, along with a heated and covered patio, and a few tables on the front patio facing the parking lot.

The menu fell in line with the decor — a little eclectic, with trendy avocado toast sitting next to the country favorites like pancakes and chicken fried steak. There were a number of coffee drinks on the menu, and a few cocktails, too.

I opted for a Bloody Mary, my drink of choice at breakfast — and was not disappointed when it arrived. The bright red viscous tomato base was spicy but not uncomfortably so, and the mandatory accouterments, which included bacon and a pepperoncini pepper, fit the bill. It wasn’t long before that drink, and its hefty vodka pour, were emptied from the glass. My dining partner, on the other hand, ordered a mocha, which comes complete with two shots of espresso and a thick cloud of whipped cream on top.

For my meal, I chose the chicken fried steak and over-medium eggs, with fruit and sourdough toast on the side. Our food arrived quickly from the kitchen — one of the many perks of limited dining capacities — and all it took was one bite to convince me that this was it. This was my new favorite spot.

The chicken fried steak was tender enough to cut with a fork, and the gravy! The gravy was exactly what this native-Texan would have hoped for — peppery and thick, with enough flavor that I was tempted to eat it with a spoon, sans steak. Even the eggs were perfect — with the whites a firm but not rubbery texture, with the yellow yolk begging to be freed onto the plate.

Unlike brunches of old, I barely spoke a word as I shoveled the food into my mouth. I could not get enough.

I’ve been back several times since, running through the drinks on the menu and the other breakfast items. The chicken fried steak is still my go-to, but nothing on the menu has been a disappointment. The hot cakes are always perfectly cooked, golden and warm, taking up all of the real estate on the plate.

Is dining out at Hermosa Creek Grill the brunch I was looking for? Not quite, but that’s OK as we try to make our way out of this mess of a pandemic. And, once we’re safely able to get together again with friends and family, I’ll be dragging everyone I know out to Hermosa to eat at this little spot. Until that happens, Hermosa’s delicious comfort food and drinks are more than enough to get me through.

Angelica LeichtEditor, DGO Mag

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