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At Rackhouse Pub, the whiskey is fine, but the food could use fine-tuning

See a photo slideshow from Rackhouse Pub

At Rackhouse Pub, the whiskey is fine, but the food could use fine-tuning
The Classic Burger at Rackhouse Pub, 208 South Kalamath Street, will run you $9. See a photo slideshow from Rackhouse Pub

I've yet to find a spirit that I really hate. I've had gins so smooth and floral, I'd willingly drink them neat. I'm a sucker for a good, smoky mezcal. Put tequila in just about anything and I'll pour it straight down my throat. But at the end of the night, after good-naturedly nursing cocktails made from just about anything a bartender can find behind the bar — the weirder the better — I'm still a whiskey woman at heart.

Whiskey is moody, sultry and expressive. Terroir and technique give different whiskeys vastly different characteristics, making one a mouthful of smoke and another a gulp of butterscotch. Neat, whiskey is rough around the edges. Matched with bitters and stirred, it's smooth and refined.

Colorado has a growing crop of whiskey distillers, and the largest is Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. Under owner Jess Graber, the company set out to create a new style of the spirit called Rocky Mountain Straight Whiskey, giving local sensibility to this inherently regional liquor. Like bourbon, the most renowned States-based whiskey (to be designated as a bourbon, the spirit must be made on U.S. soil), Stranahan's is aged in charred oak barrels. But instead of the 51 percent corn required for bourbon, Stranahan's is made with local barley and local water — and it's lighter and less sweet as a result. Two years ago, Stranahan's moved its operations into the old Heavenly Daze Brewery space to accommodate its rapid growth. While stills and bottling areas filled most of the building, the space in the front that once held Heavenly Daze's restaurant was leased to Eric Warner, who also owns the Barking Goat Tavern in Castle Rock, and partner Chris Rippe.

Penne for your thoughts: Rackhouse Pub's beer-baked mac and cheese. See a photo slideshow from Rackhouse Pub
Mark Manger
Penne for your thoughts: Rackhouse Pub's beer-baked mac and cheese. See a photo slideshow from Rackhouse Pub

Location Info

Map

Rackhouse Pub

208 S. Kalamath St.
Denver, CO 80223

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Southwest Denver

Details

Rackhouse Pub
Half-bird board $14
Lobster mac $14
Beef marrow bones $11
Lamb burger $13
Rustica pizza $10.50
Side beer-baked mac and cheese $4.50
208 South Kalamath Street
720-570-7824
Hours: 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday

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See a photo slideshow from Rackhouse Pub

While Warner stayed behind the scenes, in 2009 Rippe opened the Rackhouse Pub, a place that draws from both the rough and refined spirit of whiskey.

"Rackhouse" refers to the part of a distillery where spirits are racked in barrels and stored, so barrels feature prominently in the decor. But this is no dusty cellar: Rows of leather-topped booths and polished wood tables fill the dark, cavernous dining room; a massive and ornate bar, surfaced with granite, lines one wall. That bar's spirit focus is whiskey, of course, and in addition to Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey and special releases, it stocks bourbon, Scotch and Irish whiskey, as well as other craft creations, many of which are from local distillers. Those are available by the dram or mixed into one of many specialty cocktails, which also feature other spirits, such as vodka and gin, made by small-batch, craft producers.

Rackhouse isn't just a tasting room for spirits, though. The owners also wanted to create a taphouse that paid homage to Denver's reputation as the Napa Valley of beer, so they installed twenty tap lines that pour a well-rounded selection of Colorado craft beers in addition to one out-of-state brew.

The drinks list is so substantial that after I nabbed a seat at the bar on my first Rackhouse visit, the bartender had to stop back three times before I finally made the decision to start with a crisp cider and then ease my way into the heavier ales and, eventually, whiskeys. My menu choices were easier. In line with the Rackhouse concept, the board features hearty pub fare that the kitchen has attempted to refine with local ingredients; in addition to burgers, pizzas and wings, it also lists such trendy items as bone marrow and lobster mac and cheese. And everything's served on cutting boards or in metal measuring cups, a common gimmick in gastropubs that I was thinking had gone from clever to precious until I saw my own cutting board heading toward me, stacked with crispy, golden chicken and sided with a silver cup of glistening penne coated in cheese, sprinkled with basil and crowned with a single Ritz cracker.

The presentation was the best thing about the chicken. Although the cornmeal crust was delicate, just lightly blotted with grease, the leg and breast underneath were overcooked and dry, dissolving into gummy paste on the tongue. And the gloppy peppers on top and the slimy kale below the bird did more harm then help.

Fortunately, the macaroni and cheese was as awesome as the chicken was awful. Rackhouse pours Rail Yard Ale into the creamy five-cheese roux, which gives the sauce both a subtle maltiness and a hoppy bite, enhancing the sharper cheeses in the blend. Each piece of pasta was thickly coated in the stuff, each forkful augmented by the salty bite of the cracker. After I'd scraped the cup clean, I ordered a second round, this one with lobster and bacon.

Since Thomas Keller first paired lobster with cheesy noodles, the combination has become ubiquitous — and often horrible, since the dish is hard to time. Frequently, the seafood is rubbery when it hits the table, having overcooked in the few minutes it's been mixed in with the pasta. But not at Rackhouse. The kitchen nailed this, creating a gooey, satisfying, fancied-up mess of noodles, cheese, supple chunks of lobster and lardoons of smoky bacon. A dram of whiskey was just the thing to wash it down.

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30 comments
epl
epl

I think I've finally figured out what bothers me so much about WW's food writing: the overuse of flowery adjectives that a) make the writing clunky and b) do nothing to explain the food to me. Reading a WW food review is like reading a paper by a high school sophomore who just discovered a thesaurus--let's throw in some fancy words to cover-up otherwise mediocre writing!. Although a few creative adjectives can help keep the writing fresh, overuse weighs it down and makes it seem like you're trying too hard.

For example, in this review, you used:

"glistening," and "crowned" to describe the Mac and cheese. I can let glistening slide because that word triggers a couple of senses that I might use when eating, but crowned is too much--it tells me nothing about the dish that I couldn't get without that word. Over the course of a review, non-economical use of words adds up and becomes obvious to the reader.

"blotted with grease" and "smeared with feta cheese"--fairly certain this could have been written in a less pretentious, less over-the-top way. These two are prime examples of WW's big flaw--failing to tell me what the ingredient does and thinking that telling me how it was applied (using creative adjectives no less!) somehow compensates. It doesn't. It's lazy and/or poor writing.

"Lardoons"--this is a term of art that, I'd speculate, a high number of your readers won't recognize. Was the bacon really lardoon (or lardon) or just bacon that you decided to call lardoon? Given that lardoon is generally not smoked, your description indicates that it was just bacon. Either way, you shouldn't use words that require your readers to go to a dictionary unless the word is being used correctly (at which point you're educating your readers; but when used incorrectly, you are miseducating them.)

Finally, the worst offender in this review is the sentence that uses "swiped," "dusted" and "dotted" to describe the pizza. Three adjectives were used in that sentence to describe the pizza and yet I have no better understanding of this dish than I would have had you simply said "with olive oil, pungent roasted garlic, and earthy mushrooms and spicy sausage." (Note: pungent and earthy actually tell me something useful; note 2: How do you "dust" something with roasted garlic? dust is dry dirt, roasted garlic is generally not dry; did you mean "mudded with pungent roasted garlic"?)

In the end, this review reads too clunky and fails to tell me anything about the dishes in question that would assist me in deciding whether to eat at Rackhouse. And that's a problem across WW's food writing (as a reference, I went over to the Denver Post's website and read some reviews; they generally didn't make the same mistakes as WW.)

Jo
Jo

meh. maybe i got a bad batch, but I was underwhelmed by the mac and cheese.

electronic cigarette cartridge
electronic cigarette cartridge

some of the drunk and tipsy people tend not to appreciate the food being served until they are drunk and keep talking about nonsense issues.

trickJames
trickJames

I still stand by my original statements. I've never seen kale on the menu and I've never had a bad meal here. Slow at times yes, but the food has always been good.

The fact that you got the menu wrong and the details about the owners totally makes me question your review and the Westword for giving you this job.

Mike Knight
Mike Knight

It is my feeling that the writing of past critiques such as Sheehan or Kyle Wagner carried with it a certain degree of maturity that is lacking in current examples. Additionally a certain unfocused fervor persists in this writing that halts my interest in proceeding on.

Quality writing in this arena depends on the ability to form words and sentences that wash over you in a way that bring the experience of the place to life. The antithesis of this is giving a reader the laborious chore of recounting a step by step experience with no more subtly than wit in its composition.

lauren
lauren

I have tried to warm up to Laura, but I just don't look forward to the review's like I did when Sheehan was writing. Could someone please (seriously) tell me what background she has that makes her Westword's choice for food reviewer? Does she have any background in restaurant kitchens?

Carly
Carly

Agree a bit on the inconsistency. I've had the macaroni when it's been AMAZING and also have had it and would not eat it. However, the amazing weighs out the inedible and I still order it every time I go, hoping that it will be the tasty version.

Kenny Star
Kenny Star

Much of the food writing as of late seems to revolve around a place to get Shunk drunk in. Rather than focusing on the descriptive of what food feels like in your mouth, which is unpleasant to the reader. Perhaps an approach that would explain the experience to someone who is not a SWF at the bar would be more pertinent to the cause, instead of coupling girl’s night out with a given venues “state of the restaurant” release.

Jdubs303
Jdubs303

I think this lady needs to "fine tune" her writing skills -

And maybe stop drinking.

Thehumanfacedevine
Thehumanfacedevine

You are an idiot with out dated or incorrect facts. Warner has not been involved since far before the restaurant opened. Liz is the MANAGER! There is NO kale. Seriously, you are so off base! The Rackhouse Pub has some of the best food I have had at a bar. It is so easy to find out the facts that you have wrong! How wasted was this lady when she wrote this review? WESTWORD GET RID OF HER! The drunk reviewer strikes again!

Jerryfoth
Jerryfoth

This review is SO far off I'm wondering how many cocktails Shunk had before she wrote this.

Her facts of ownership for both the Rackhouse and Stranahans are out dated.

Lizzie Fitzgibbon is NOT a server.

Here is my review of the review -

IT SUCKED AND IS VERY POORLY WRITTEN.

Jessehall
Jessehall

You hit the nail on the head Laura. The food is really inconsistent there

Jeff
Jeff

I'm glad that Ms. Shunk is now spelling roux correctly, but she is still misusing the term.

There is no such thing as "creamy five-cheese roux." Roux is not a sauce. It is nothing but a mixture of butter and flour. There's nothing else in it. No milk, no cream, no cheese, no seasoning. It is a thickening agent. She could describe the sauce as Mornay, a "roux-based sauce," or even "Béchamel with five cheeses."

Kenny Star
Kenny Star

How did she get this job with such an outside view of how food is constructed?The internet is so dangerous.

Sober1
Sober1

Yea Drunken Reviewer stikes again!

trickJames
trickJames

Seriously? That place is great!There is no kale on the menu there ever. Those are collards shug..Maybe you should learn to read a menu or take a trip down south and learn about greens.... In fact your description of the food is pretty off base from what I've had there. I eat there all the time. There is abolutely no cornmeal in their chicken.. None.

I will admit there have been times where food service is slow, but the food is excellent for the price and they make everything from scratch. The menu description is so off, that I just can't take this review seriously though. It's not lo-hi, but it's not supposed to be.

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Thanks for the comment. My bird was definitely served with kale. In fact, I asked my bartender about it because it was a strange presentation, and she told me the greens on that board change frequently. As for cornmeal, that's what I have in my original notes, though I had the chicken a few months ago. It's possible that it's since changed.

Tatooedchef
Tatooedchef

how about Rainbow Swiss Char?? on the Chicken Dish.

 
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