From cosplayers to opthamologists, when the Colorado Convention Center fills up with one convention or another, so does Stout Street Social. Right across from the Big Blue Bear on the ground floor of the Embassy Suites, it's the closest place to get a beer and a decent meal for the many visitors crossing 14th Street and wondering what Denver has to offer. Many of these visitors end up patronizing the restaurant's happy hour, available from 3 to 6 p.m. every weekday; I needed to find out if Stout Street Social would be a worthy introduction to our fair city.
Rising from the ashes of the little-noticed Elements Restaurant and Bar, Stout Street Social is under the umbrella of Concepts Restaurants, which is behind a bunch of places like the critically acclaimed Humboldt and the mid-range Rialto Cafe. Stout Street Social falls somewhere in-between those, with a menu that nabs a bunch of food trends from the global pantry while still managing to be relatively affordable. It's a sushi bar! No, it's an old-school supper club with prime rib and steak! Or maybe it's really a raw bar with fresh oysters on the half shell. Even if Stout Street Social has a case of culinary schizophrenia, it also possesses a dash of creativity.
Chef Will Tuggle wasn't the first guy to think of putting fermented cabbage on fries, but his happy hour version of kimchi fries ($3.95) is the sort of thing you just have to try for yourself. Between the strong waft of vinegar, the salt-encrusted fries and the drizzle of spicy mayo on top, this dish is a mess, but a hot one. It's part of a happy hour board that covers all edges of the menu. You can also get Stout Street's signature oysters for $2 each, or even prime rib in slider ($2) or plate ($6) form, if that's your kind of thing.
I wanted to test Stout Street Social's seafood cred with a bowl of ale-steamed mussels ($6.95) and got some mixed messages. While the shell-clad morsels and the andouille sausage inside sung an ordinary song, they did have the pleasant tang of good beer, infused within a rich sofrito broth. Then I tried a happy hour staple, Brussels sprouts ($6). These veggies were laden down with a thick truffle-chile glaze and topped with a pinch of Rice Krispies — 'cause, why the hell not? Even though my happy hour companion and I couldn't get through an entire plate of this sticky stuff, there was a certain something here that really tickled my taste buds. Like watching a drunken fistfight or a prime time television musical, all these dishes were befuddling and yet oddly seductive.
Of course, happy hour means cheap drinks, and the many badge-bedecked folks crowding the space were clearly taking advantage the bar's specials — turns out opthamologists are real party animals. Four-buck martinis are tempting, but Stout Street Social has a really killer tap list too, with $3 house beers and select drafts. With space for interesting local brewers like Dry Dock and Former Future, a tour of Stout Street's taps would indeed be a good primer on Colorado beer for a newbie.
Stout Street Social is reminiscent of another jack-of-all trades restaurant, Tom's Urban. Both have crazy global fusion menus, generous happy hours and late-night specials. Stout Street takes the lead because of its perfect location, its cheap prices and that little bit of madness in the kitchen. The restaurant is still a bit too bland to really stand out from the pack, but if it's good enough for the country's eye doctors, computer programmers and Stormtroopers, it's good enough for all.
Perfect for: Once Denver Comic Con opens up, Stout Street will be the place to be for people and super-people watching. If you manage to snag a table, you'll be a part of the action.
Don't Miss: Although I didn't sample the sushi,Stout St. Social has a dedicated sushi chef who offers a rotating special with some clever combinations.