If you've spent much time at all in Estes Park, you're probably familiar with Smokin' Dave's BBQ. Since 2007, chef/owner Dave Oehlman has been perfuming the mountain air with wood smoke and the meaty aroma of good barbecue. After slowly expanding southward over the past ten years — first to Lyons in 2011 and then to Longmont — Oehlman has finally made it to Denver. The newest Smokin' Dave's BBQ opened earlier this month at 1551 Cortez Street, in the original Great Scotts (which moved down the street a few years ago).
Oehlman and his wife, Cat, have been working on renovating the space for the better part of a year, spending more time on the rebuild than originally anticipated, primarily because the kitchen practically had to be gutted. Along the way, they uncovered a wall mural that had been hidden behind stainless-steel panels for years. The mural, painted by a former Great Scotts busboy named Troy Hancock, depicted a 1970 Dodge Challenger RT in "plum crazy" purple — just like one that Cat Oehlman had recently sold. The couple took it as a sign that they had made the right decision to come to Denver; although the mural could not be salvaged, they contacted Hancock (who now lives in Minnesota), who agreed to create another car-themed painting above Smokin' Dave's host station at the front of the restaurant.
The car theme carries through the rest of the bar and restaurant, with vintage auto parts and license plates serving as decor atop barnwood paneling. The Oehlmans are both car enthusiasts and plan to host automobile rallies in the parking lot later this year.
Dave Oehlman, a California native who opened his first restaurant in Hawaii before moving to Estes Park, has been tinkering with his barbecue recipes ever since the first rack of ribs came out of the smoker in 2007. "I'm still learning," he says. "I'll be learning until the day I die."
The couple toured the South before opening the first Smokin' Dave's, saying they found plenty of bad food as well as great barbecue along the way. But it was the folklore of barbecue that hooked Dave. "I fell in love with the lifestyle and with the stories," he explains, adding that he honors the people he met in his travels by cooking several different barbecue styles.
On the menu, you'll find Carolina-style pulled pork (along with a tangy mustard sauce at each table), Texas-style brisket and Midwestern pork ribs. You can also order smoked beef short ribs, housemade jalapeño-cheddar sausage, wings and other Southern-style dishes. A few throwbacks to Oehlman's steakhouse days — ribeye, pecan-crusted trout and chicken marsala, for example — are also available. In fact, the menu is big by barbecue standards, but the smoked meats are still the main attraction. The chef, who says he had to dust off his chef pants and get back in the kitchen after years in a more executive roll, uses primarily hickory wood for smoking, supplemented with cherry wood for ribs and wings.
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The newest member of the Smokin' Dave's family is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Oehlman is also opening his second Estes Park barbecue this weekend, which will be located on the Estes Park Golf Course.