The onset of winter sent me scurrying for a dark beer -- and I wasn't alone. Boulder's FATE Brewing Company was packed to the rafters with everyone from high-fiving bros to families with little kids. Lots and lots of little kids. What secret sauce is FATE squirting to get a full house during single-digit temperatures outside? Happy hour -- going on from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday -- held the answers. See also: Getting (Red) Sauced at Bar Red's Happy Hour
From its opening in February last year, FATE has been known almost as much for its food as its beer, especially its smorgasbord of barbecue. I find it tough to forgive FATE for doing away with the kickass sunken ship that was once moored in front of the restaurant when it was Jose Muldoon's, but having already stopped in for a beer or two, I already knew that the folks at FATE had skills and imagination. (A number of liquor stores also carry bottles of FATE brews if you're not in Boulder.)
The culinary team at FATE has done a fantastic job translating the flavors and philosophy of the brews to the food. The beer specials caught my eye before the happy hour menu did -- pumpkin saisons, coffee stouts, all sorts of things dark and spicy. Only the brewery's five "core" beers are on special at happy hour for $3.50 a pint. I was tempted by a Coffee IPA ($4.50, not discounted) instead, but FATE's regulars are excellent beers, only upstaged by the flashiness of the brewery's many specials and collaborations.
Speaking of flashy, I took one look at FATE's list of 11 wacky salad dressings in varieties like cranberry morita and bourbon-apricot and thought I was in for an evening of culinary confusion. Indeed, happy hour was a mess, but a hot one.
A snack-size portion of chicken and waffles ($6) was filled out with dozens of tiny fried chicken "bites" that tasted like breading and grease. But together with a tasty mini waffle and some spiced honey, it just barely managed to come together. Our party passed around some shishito peppers ($5) topped with smoked cheese, a chili sauce and bacon -- another culinary mishmash, which proved addictive as the peppers kept disappearing. I speared cubes of caramelized sweet potatoes ($4), sucked on hoisin-sauced ribs ($7 for the rib plate) and loved it all.
The capper was the backyard BBQ dip, an unholy pool of sin and stickiness, with bacon, sausage, burnt ends, baked beans, cheese and a bit of Alabama-style white barbecue sauce. If it sounds messy, the reality is messier, but I was shoveling it with a fork soon enough, trying to get down every last bite. It's a great example of what FATE's kitchen can do, adding a little bit of playfulness to serious barbecue.
Perfect for: Keep FATE in mind as another happy hour place with a great, non-condescending kids menu. And with all the little ones packed in there, you might get a playdate out of it, too. Don't miss: Even if the barbecue dip is too intense for you, FATE has pretty good 'cue all around -- not enough to hang with the greats, but enough to satisfy the urge for meat. Try the burnt ends or the ribs & brisket plate ($22).
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