By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
I love fried cheese. Of all the things that man has invented over the course of history — the wheel, zombie movies, Gary Busey, the interweb — fried cheese has to be in the top ten. I mean, penicillin is great: You go to Thailand, drink a few too many Tiger beers, take a wrong turn and end up at the lady-boy bar at the end of Songwat Road, you're going to be thanking Jesus that someone invented penicillin. But there's gratitude for avoiding gonorrhea, and then there's fried cheese.
In ancient Egypt, the fortunate were buried with loaves of bread and jars of honey — the assumption being that if Pharaoh Jimmy liked bread-and-honey sandwiches while doing time on the corporeal plane, he'd probably be hungry for the same in the afterlife. In the Christian mythos, heaven is full of angels eating fluffernutter sandwiches and cotton candy. But if there is a heaven for restaurant critics (a notion that most folks would find highly doubtful), I'm sure it's groaning under the weight of buffets filled with fried cheese — fried cheese like you'd find at Big Hoss Bar-B-Q.
But there's a problem: The fried cheese appetizer here is called "Cheese Nips," and for some reason, I'm embarrassed to say "Cheese Nips" in public. I've got no problem talking about the time I got drunk and, mad at my cats, peed in their litter box. And I can stand up anywhere (work, church, the DMV) and call someone a dirty motherfucking cunthead if he's rubbed me the wrong way. But "Cheese Nips"? That's too much. It's like the only meal I can stomach at Denny's: There's just no way I'm going to look up from my menu and say, "I'll have the Moons Over My Hammy" to a complete stranger.
3961 Tennyson St.
Denver, CO 80212
Region: Northwest Denver
Aside from its name, the fried cheese at Big Hoss is excellent — batter-dipped cheddar, perfectly fried, dusted with parmesan cheese and salt and that dried green parsley dandruff and served in a portion large enough to clog every artery I have. But still, I make whoever I'm eating with place the order for the fried cheese. And if my dining companion has the same disinclination to say "Cheese Nips" in public? Then I guess that dirty motherfucking cunthead ain't going to be invited back out for dinner, is he?
I went to Big Hoss on a Sunday night, when Green Bay was playing the Giants. The cool, low-slung horseshoe bar was almost full, but I managed to find a stool. One of the bartendresses soon came my way, asked my name, gave me hers and stuck out her hand for a shake. Why? Because that's just the way it's done. At Big Hoss, everyone is a regular, immediately, and everyone is treated like a friend of the house who's been too long away. I've been there on slow nights when out of boredom, maybe, or some urge toward the creation of a more civil society, the servers and bartenders have acted the part of matchmakers, introducing one group of barbecue-eaters to another or bringing a handful of solo drinkers together to try and do a crossword puzzle.
The convivial attitude is contagious. Next to me was a man old enough to know better drinking Jäger shots with a Guinness back, and when Green Bay made an ultimately pointless fourth-quarter fumble recovery deep in Giants territory, he found it reason enough to grab me around the neck and shake me like a kitten he didn't like. That's a fairly intimate exchange between two men who don't know each other, and had I not been stunned by the shaking and already full of Hoss's thick and smoky center-cut St. Louis ribs, chunky mashed potatoes and sticky-sweet barbecued baked beans, I might've said something. Something like: "Hey, buddy, I gotta take a leak. Can you do me a favor and order me some of those Cheese Nips?"
At a proper barbecue joint, almost as embarrassing as ordering Cheese Nips is drinking wine that doesn't come out of a jug or a paper bag. No one ought to be eating salad, either. In fact, no one at a proper barbecue joint ought to have anything green on his plate that isn't the deep, weedy green of collards or, depending on your latitude, the slick, electric green of okra.
But Big Hoss isn't really a proper barbecue restaurant. On some nights, it's a great neighborhood bar that just happens to serve some king-hell barbecue. On others, it's a classic, American-regional boîte with an artisan-whiskey selection, hushpuppies, Cajun oysters, a boisterous crowd of happy locals — and some king-hell barbecue. And on still others, the place is plainly a steakhouse, the buffed bar, wood-paneled walls, comfortable booths, bone-in New York strips and campfire baked potatoes a dead giveaway — until that kitchen door opens, a waitress walks out carrying a tray loaded down with mesquite-smoked Texas brisket, and the smell is enough to lift me right off my bar stool and send me fluttering after her like a cartoon hobo smelling a pie cooling on a windowsill. Or some king-hell barbecue.