As a University of Colorado graduate, huge Buffs fan (which has been a little masochistic in recent years) and active participant in alumni organizations, I always feel like a bit of a traitor heading up to Fort Collins — a holdover from the rivalry with Colorado State from my college days. But despite all attempts to convince myself otherwise, I have to admit begrudgingly that the downtown core of Fort Collins impresses me on each visit. One of the best part of a weekend trip to the city is a stop at the iconic Silver Grill Café, which lays claim to the title oldest restaurant in Northern Colorado and has been serving up tasty breakfast plates since 1933. So I will give credit where credit is due and admit my affection for this historic gem: Sometimes FoCo deserves a little love too — the restaurants, not the Rams.
According to the lore handed down by a series of owners over the decades, the Silver Grill got its name from a hungry painter who gussied up the front window in exchange for a pork chop. Current owner John Arnolfo has expanded the eatery five times during his tenure, converting neighboring buildings into more seating for the popular haunt. A huge history buff, he did everything he could to retain the vintage charm and commemorate all of the former businesses by maintaining their signage as wall art, naming rooms after them, and even going as far as detailing the former operations in a pamphlet that sits on each table, walking you through the history of the barbershops, shoe shines and cigar shops that once hawked their wares on the block. More than a restaurant, the Silver Grill a living time capsule in downtown Fort Collins, weaving the tales of its long history under the moniker, “If these walls could talk.”
Despite the many expansions of the dining room, the wait at the Silver Grill (open daily from 6:30 a.m to 2 p.m.) can be long. There are still more customers than seats on most mornings and waits can extend upward of an hour on weekends, when the Bloody Mary bar is offered. If you stick around to hover near the hostess stand, though, you just may be able to sneak into the first-come, first-served covered patio, available to any complete party. On my most recent visit, rain made the patio chilly, but the food came out fast to warm us up. Once we had a few drinks in our system, we forgot all about our goose bumps.
The Silver Grill makes the lofty claim of offering the world’s best DIY Bloody Mary bar, something I would qualify by adding "outside of major cities," especially considering there's not a bottomless option. The staff keeps the bar meticulously restocked during service; they refilled the mixers at least five times during our meal. Choices include spicy habanero, citrus or bacon vodka and a few different tomato bases, some chunkier and hotter than others. Add-ins include pickle juice, lime juice, A1 steak sauce, horseradish, sun-dried tomatoes in vinegar, pickled veggies, blue cheese-stuffed olives, hot sauces galore, and what appeared to be the entire spice rack from the shop next door.
The mimosas, while also not bottomless, were made from fresh squeezed OJ and a number of fruit puree combinations; I went with the mango and strawberry, a tough call over the equally sweet and summery peach and raspberry.
The menu is overwhelming, with a full 4 or 5 pages of options in small print; there's an entire section dedicated to the eatery's cinnamon roll creations, from mini buns to cinnamon-roll French toast. All the choices made my head swim, so it was nice to note that most plates are available in half portions to make mixing and matching a little easier (or if you want to keep portions small to fill up on Bloody Mary garnishes).
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I finally chose an order of fiesta hash browns, a skillet full of eggs, diced bacon, tomato, bell pepper, onion, cheddar, and Monterey Jack. Every surface of the skillet was caked in an obscene amount of broiled-on cheese, maybe the only time in my life I’ve been overwhelmed by dairy. I'm not a fan of peppers, so it was unfortunate that the kitchen pre-mixes the veggies for the weekend rush, leaving me to pick around the bits of green. My eggs came looking oddly square-shaped and a touch beyond over-medium, yet I managed to coax a little runny yolk out to mix with the cheese bomb, and it was still a plate of the homey goodness you’d expect from a plate of fried potatoes — diner food, plain and simple.
Any missteps with the eggs were forgotten as soon as the gigantic, mouthwatering cinnamon rolls — the holy grail of all brunch desserts — were placed on our table. Arnolfo knew he had a gold mine with the recipe he developed in 1986; he started out baking just 18 rolls daily but now turns out more than 10,000 a month. It’s a good thing the Silver Grill is far enough away that visits are rare; those cinnamon rolls are too dangerous. There may be no love lost between the Rams and the Buffs, but I'll give Fort Collins my love for this brunch victory.