Thursday, May 9, could turn out to be one of the landmark days in Colorado barbecue history: It's the day that Owlbear Barbecue is slated to open at 2826 Larimer Street, across the street from the little smoke shack founder Karl Fallenius operated at Finn's Manor until March 2017.
In the intervening two years, Fallenius has served his luscious brisket and other smoked meats at a number of pop-ups and private events, keeping his skills honed as he dealt with a series of headaches that delayed the opening of his first restaurant. But come 11 a.m. Thursday, the pit master and his crew will be ready with smoked brisket, pulled pork, pork tenderloin and spare ribs for hungry customers who have been clamoring for some of the best ’cue in the state.
"With demand comes pressure," Fallenius states, "and we're just trying to live up to what people expect. Expectations are high, but I'd be pretty bummed if they weren't — it helps us be at our best."
Along with the standards served at the original Owlbear, Fallenius has added smoked duck, which he describes as "smoked duck confit mixed with duck cracklings," as well as smoked mushrooms and jackfruit, all of which will be on the regular menu. Occasional specials will include tongue, bacon, pastrami and beef ribs — "really just whatever and whenever the mood strikes us," he adds.
Those who have eaten Owlbear's barbecue know that sauce isn't a big part of the presentation, and that Fallenius didn't even offer sauce at first. "I don't want to be as much of a curmudgeon as I used to be," he concedes, noting that he'll have one sauce on offer at the new eatery. "But if our food isn't good enough without sauce, it's just not good enough."
Owlbear won't have a liquor license, but will serve fountain drinks, lemonade, black tea and sweet tea, and Fallenius says some dessert options will be added once the restaurant is in full swing. The owner says that next-door neighbor Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company has been very generous about sharing its patio space with people bringing in food, but he asks that his customers reciprocate by buying a beer if they're taking his barbecue to the brewery.
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Fallenius began smoking meats while living in Austin, Texas, and worked at the world-famous Franklin Barbecue there before moving to Denver and opening Owlbear (named for a monster in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game) in 2015. A year ago, while he was working on opening the new Owlbear, thieves used an electric saw to remove and abscond with the doors on his custom-made smoker. (While there was video of the crime, the perpetrators were never caught.) "Someone really found our Achilles heel and just cut that tendon," Fallenius explains.
Since the smoker was made from a large propane tank and the doors were actually cut from the curved side of the tank, replacing them proved difficult and costly, and it took months for the replacements to work properly, nearly ruining two pop-up events last year (at one, the welding gave out and a door fell off during a smoke). But eventually, the smoker was fully repaired and now Owlbear will have twice the cooking capacity as at the original location.
That will help meet the demand this week. Owlbear will be open from 11 a.m. to whenever the meats sell out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (closing Sunday so that Fallenius can celebrate his daughter's second birthday). After that, the restaurant will be open beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, and the owner says he will add Wednesdays, and possibly even Tuesdays, once he has a good feel for the flow of customers.
It's been a long journey to simply cross the street, but Owlbear has finally found a permanent home. Fallenius will soon be returning to his Finn's Manor roots, though — to help a friend. On Monday, May 20, Finn's Manor (2927 Larimer Street) is hosting Peanut Butter + Cancer, a fundraiser to help pay medical bills for Heidi McGuire, who is battling glioblastoma. Come between 5 and 11 p.m. and eat some barbecue knowing your money will go to a good cause.