The barbecue scene is smokin'. First I heard that Mike Frislie, ex of the late, lamented Bugling Bull Trading Post, has his hands in a new barbecue operation, The 'Que, which just opened on Yosemite Street off Park Meadows Drive. Then I got word from my prime barbecue-and-doughnut pusher, Andrew Schutt, that his Tin Star Cafe, up at 28025 Main Street in Evergreen, is adding a couple of completely ridiculous (and delicious) plates to its exceedingly short board.
I reviewed Tin Star soon after I first stumbled on it two years ago. "Tin Star is a small storefront cafe mixed in among all the other small storefront cafes, bars, art galleries and purveyors of knickknackery that shoulder up along Evergreen's high street," I wrote in June 2007. "It's a nondescript space — except that, in concept, it is the perfect restaurant. Tin Star does only two things: barbecue and doughnuts. And therefore this combination barbecue shack/doughnut shop comes very close to my idea of how heaven might smell."
Though I didn't mention it at the time, I'm also pretty sure that when I die — and if there is any such thing as heaven, if restaurant critics are allowed in, and if heaven has a restaurant — it will serve what Schutt does, too. Barbecue and doughnuts, including gigantic apple fritters that ought to be put in some kind of museum as the Apollonian ideal of apple fritters, and mesquite-smoked pork barbecue that could make a man weep if he had to go too long without. And as of May 1, he'll be rolling out those new plates.
Mama's Nachos is one that Schutt's mother (who comes in now and again to help him out behind the counter) has been serving for some time: Schutt's house chips covered with barbecue (chicken, pork or brisket), slathered in barbecue sauce and topped with coleslaw. "Messy as hell," Schutt admitted, "but good." Then there's the Holy Trough, "a glutton's extravaganza" that tops an apple fritter with Schutt's killer pulled pork, some spicy Polish hot link, his own secret barbecue sauce, coleslaw and pickled onions. "Trying to balance the sweet and the grease," he explained. "And since apples and pork and cinnamon go well together..."
Apparently, crazy people (my favorite kind) have been coming in for some time and demanding doughnuts topped with barbecue, fritters and pulled pork — gut bombs that would probably kill a mere mortal but are perfect for the hard-core, savory-over-sweet gastronaut. "I've had people ask," Schutt told me. "A lot of people. And I'm finally giving in. It was just a matter of time."
In the still of the night: Everyone knows that Colorado boasts an impressive array of OCD microbrewers getting all freaky with their hops and barley. Everyone knows that if you're a serious beer snob, there's no better place than Denver to indulge your pretentiousness. But frankly, what really gets me going is the new mini-boom in Colorado micro-distilleries — artisan producers who've gone beyond the ubiquitousness of the neighborhood brewery and moved straight into the hard stuff.
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Stranahan's is one of the best known, and I do love me some Stranahan's whiskey. Irish or no, I put it up there among Jameson, Kilbeggan and Bushmills as one of my favorites. Small batch, locally made — it's some serious artisan spirit, and therefore makes me feel like I'm doing good just by getting hammered. And what with the facility being located right at 2405 Blake Street, I'm not just staying true to the locavore's hundred-mile rule, but occasionally to something like a hundred-yard rule.
Out in Palisade, Peach Street Distillers does lots of different things, including fruit-infused brandies, grappas and vodka (called Goat and now available, appropriately enough, at the Fainting Goat, at 846 Broadway), but the two that interest me most are the Jackelope gin and the Colorado straight bourbon. The bourbon is remarkable simply because it's the first Colorado straight bourbon being made legally, but also because it's made with Olathe sweet corn. And the gin is worthy of note because, first, gin is awesome and doesn't get drunk nearly enough these days, and second, because it's made entirely with Colorado juniper (in several varieties) and a bunch of local herbs. The result is a liquor that tastes distinctly of Colorado. Nice trick.
Leopold Bros., which moved from Ann Arbor to Denver last year, puts super-small-batch spirits (made in a single, forty-gallon copper pot) in hand-numbered bottles. Leopold does everything from American gin, single-barrel rum and vodka to several different cordials, liqueurs and (weirdly) flavored whiskey. There's also Pure Distilleries in Colorado Springs (vodka), Peak Spirits in Hotchkiss (more gin, more vodka, more grappa and eau de vie); Mystic Mountain Distillery in Larkspur (most notably, Colorado moonshine made from Fort Morgan sugar beets); Roundhouse Spirits in Longmont, and Colorado Gold Distillery, which sounds like it ought to be producing (or growing...) something else, but actually makes vodka, gin and bourbon in Cedaredge.
My goal? To try a little of everything from our local producers and blog about it over the coming months. So if I've missed any of you bathtub distillers out there, drop me a line.