What Vacation Is For: Notchtop Bakery and Café in Estes Park

A pair of sunglasses and a cup of coffee on a wooden countertop at a cafe

One great thing about vacation is you can really focus on making your cup of coffee look good for Instagram. Look what I did here. Just add sunglasses!

It wasn’t sunny. It wasn’t even partly sunny. That’s another great thing about vacation: you don’t have to explain why you’ve got sunglasses. Even if someone did ask (thinks about it) nobody would ask. My point is, vacation is for sunglasses.

Vacation is also for making your sexy sexy coffee part of the crowning breakfast you can’t enjoy most days because you’re scrambling out the front door in a frenzy. How can you eat with one hand securing your belt and the other hand trying to straighten your hair? That’s what vacation is for: sunglasses, coffee, and a breakfast that looks less like something on McDonald’s drive-thru signage and something closer to what you’re sure to enjoy at Notchtop Bakery and Café in Estes Park, Colo.

If you don’t lose yourself in the scenery, equanimity is sure to set in once you’ve eaten.

The Basics: If you stay at the Stanley, walk. Don’t drive. Sure, you’ll save three minutes by driving, but you’ll miss a solid 30 paces of this:

A view of the Rocky Mountains from Estes Park, Colorado

You can be efficient when you get home. Notchtop’s website.

Notchtop is not a well-hidden secret. On a Sunday morning, their front entry is packed. Gangly beards, gel manicures, bubble jackets, and blue jeans inched forward to get their names put on the list. I sheepishly admitted I was alone, and was gifted the lone empty seat at the bar counter. The seating was tight, not so tight that you’d have trouble eating but tight enough that your conscience would give push-back on excessive phone-photo taking.

I turned the sunglasses on their side and tried that. I put them lenses-up and tried that. I moved everything around to see what arrangement looked best against the knotty wood counter surface. I turned to my right and my left after each picture, checking for gawkers. I didn’t see any, but I did see a couple trying to queue-dodge at the front.

We can sit at the bar, too,” said the man, who apparently forgot to look at the bar.
It’s full,” said the hostess, gesturing toward the bar – which was, you know, full.

A sign above an entryway door at a cafe in Estes Park, Colorado

In an upset, I dialed up the zucchini squash. It’s what you order when your suit pants barely fit the night before. Not to sell it short, however; it sounded really delicious, and I’d be right about that, but I was genuinely sarcastically intrigued by how much my waistline would shrink after just one serving of a meal with more than one vegetable in it. I was probably going to walk back to the Stanley looking like the Statue of David, BUT BEFORE THAT I marveled at the collective motor of the Notchtop wait staff.

My primary server was Nailya, but everybody pitched in everywhere. Everyone played hostess, everyone helped customers when they were nearby, and nobody bumped into or tripped over each other. It was eerily precise.

The food came.

Coffee, a pair of sunglasses, eggs, toast, and hash at on a wooden countertop at a cafe

The hearty warmth and textures that make hash so damn good in the morning collided beautifully with the cool, “hey, this is healthy!” crunch of the veggies. It was all very invigorating, but also quite filling. The eggs were placed almost perfectly, and cooked just so. The zucchini hash was a lot of things.

When I took that picture, the man to my left gave me the exact same look I gave him when he loaded his coffee with cream. He asked if my hash was good. I said hell yeah, it’s good. He ordered the trout and eggs, which I was thinking about ordering. Him with it made me immediately jealous. He comes here a lot, and called it “heroic.” HEROIC.

I like this guy the way Ron Swanson liked that one co-worker he never spoke to. When he had the salt and pepper, and the woman to my right asked me to pass it, and vice versa, I did … but I also joked about constantly passing it back and forth, handling it so much without once using it for myself. Pretty sure one of their Facebook statuses changed to “guy next to me at breakfast is from Minnesota” because that’s pretty f*cking Minnesota to say.

The zucchini hash is $9 for a full order. Prices like that don’t compel half-orders, no how. That’s what vacation is for: full orders.

Breakfast is when I feel most on vacation. A well-plotted lunch or a new dinner spot can whisk you out of routine anywhere, but vacation is another case of breakfast being the day’s most important meal. It can liven you at sunrise, or it can be there when you wake up at noon with enough booze to put you right back home to sleep. Either way.