It's become caught up in a life of brunch, curing meat, cannabis and yoga. This is Denver, after all. With the opening of his Boulder restaurant Blackbelly Market, Chef Hosea Rosenberg's interests encompass those hobbies and far beyond. A ways away from the extravagance of West Boulder, Blackbelly still does brisk business in restrained dinners with lustful cuts of pork, beef and game. The restaurant miniaturizes its mission at happy hour, running from 4 to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
Seemingly empty tables greeted us as we arrived near the start of weekend happy hour — deceiving, as they were all prepped for upcoming reservations. This is one happy hour where it pays to call ahead. Scuttled to a tight high-top, we had a nice view of Blacklbelly's deli counter, which offers New York strips, pork roasts, duck ham and more, plus brunch and sandwiches in the morning and afternoon. The first thing you'll notice about the happy-hour menu is how flexible it is. This being my first visit, I can't say how often the dishes change, but info on entries like Fried Thing of the Day, daily cocktail and slider of the day is delightfully filled in by your server.
All small plates are $3, with $4 beers, $6 glasses of wine and cocktails, and a $5 beer n' shot special. The small bites are less adventurous than the rilletes and headcheese offered up for appetizers at dinner, but after just a year in business, the three columns of Blackbelly's menu maintain selections of house charcuterie, local vegetables and interesting cuts and preparations of sweet, sweet meats.
That's why you need to start with the charcuterie plate, which pairs a single meat and cheese, chef's choice. On this visit, thick chunks of Dutch goat cheese and a few slices of salame rossa were presented with smears of mustard and quince jelly. I didn't love the pairing, but I won't hang the blame on the macellaio (the guy who made the sausage) — salame rossa is usually a very soft, mild sausage that didn't really jibe with the strong cheese. The dairy portion was quite solid, though, if a bit aggressive and far from fluffy chevre.
Our table ended up with almost everything on the menu, and while the day's slider (barbecue chicken) and fresh oysters with mignonette received high marks, I was busy with other matters. Namely, a single lamb meatball with a ladleful of red sauce and a slice of melting cheese on top. The well-done meat was fresh but lacking a bit of spice, augmented by the tasty ragù and Italian cheese. Most likely this lamb was sourced from the fantastic Triple M Bar Ranch, one of dozens of partners that Rosenberg's team works with. When true commitment to buying and cooking locally is getting more difficult to find, the contents of Blackbelly's meat locker are heartening.
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My favorite bite to emerge was the day's fried thing, some panko-breaded eggplant. If you know of any eggplant abstainers unwilling to part with their nightshade aversions, this little dish could convert them with one bite. Not only is each piece exquisitely coated with thick breading and fried to a golden-brown, but there's a togarashi-spiced aioli alongside that elevates the vegetable to heavenly heights. Pro tip: the aioli tastes fantastic on everything, especially lamb meatballs.
The flaw of Blackbelly's happy hour is that it left us stuffed and groaning by the end, unable to try a dessert or dip into the more adventurous offerings on the dinner menu — especially that mouthwatering foie gras torchon with house-made brioche ($15). Also, you might not have the chance to sample anything we tried as the menu molts and evolves. That's the best part of Blackbelly, not only that you'll discover something new but that it's all worth discovering.
Perfect For: Breakfast and lunch are offered over the counter: burritos, house-baked pastries and Cubano and banh mi sandwiches.
Don't Miss: Taking home something from the counter. Long after the plates were cleared, rich, no-frills Berkshire bacon ($8 to $11, sold by the pound) provided a satisfying reminder of the evening.