Yard House goes the extra yard with its Eat Late options

Yard House is known for its massive beer lineup and almost as massive menu, but its new Eat Late menu, offered from 10 p.m. to close in all 43 locations, focuses on a handful of serious dishes -- including a black truffle cheeseburger and Monte Cristo pops -- priced well under $10. Yard House serves most of the rest of its menu until the kitchen closes, too, but sometimes it's easier to focus on just a few choice items. Especially when you've already chosen several of the Yard House beers.

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Yard House is a thriving chain of American-fusion restaurants founded in 1996 by one-time Denverite Steele Platt and partners Harald Herrmann and Carlito Jocson in Long Beach, California. The concept? Classic rock music on the sound system, American dishes on the table, and a huge beer selection. It worked, and Yard House today has three locations in Colorado (downtown, Park Meadows and Colorado Mills) as well as forty more scattered across fifteen other states.

Late last weekend, I stopped by the Yard House at 1555 Court Place, in the beloved (except for parking) and bustling heart of the 16th Street Mall. This is a prime spot for people-watching, whether you're seated indoors in a dark, cozy booth or outside on the modest patio, in view of the signature flamey posts. (Every time I see those, I desperately wanna thrust a skewered marshmallow into one for a few minutes.)

At 11 p.m. the dimly lit dining room had that nice, sultry glow that makes late-night dates seem even more romantic; while the music was a bit louder than I like, the selection was all classic Neil Young and what-not, so the sound level got a pass. The beer, wine and cocktail menu was downright daunting, so I scanned the featured cocktails and ordered a "Smoked Pineapple" ($9.50)-- Del Maguey "Vida" mescal, Malibu pineapple rum, house citrus agave blend and chunks of fresh-cut pineapple. My server warned me that despite the Malibu, this was no wuss-ass drink. He was absolutely right. Mezcal in any form is not something for light drinkers to screw with (unless you wanna wake up in bed with a complete stranger, in another state), but I was seriously impressed by the ingenuity of this cocktail: The pineapple and rum were juicy and sweet, and the deep, smoky mezcal made it taste just like a flame-grilled pineapple.

But I'd come to try the Eat Late lineup, and I ordered all four options: chilaquiles ($5.85), the pastrami dog ($6.75), the black truffle cheeseburger ($7.95) and Monte Cristo pops ($6.35). Yard House's regular menu is still available from 10 p.m. to close, but the Eat Late items are specials only during late-night hours.

While I waited for the food, I settled in to enjoy the good music; the awesome, chill vibe; and, strangely enough, the bull-riding competition on the flat screen in front of me. But I didn't have long to wonder about why professional bull-riding was on TV -- because I could smell the truffle cheeseburger coming. It was a good sign that the truffle had been used just the way I love it -- liberally. The cooks had cooked the truffle cheeseburger exactly as I'd asked: the thick beef patty had a nice, light char on the outside and was a raw, bleeding red inside. The combination of soft potato bun, tomato-bacon-onion jam, dripping bloody beef and melted truffle cheese was truly memorable -- and enough to assure my return to Yard House.

Not so the pastrami dog, which was salted meat overkill -- but I did like the fried green cabbage garnish drizzled with malt vinegar. And Yard House did a good job with the chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican dish that combines fried tortillas, salsa and shredded chicken or pork, simmers the mix for a minute or so, then tops it with a fried egg, crema, cheese, avocado and onion -- like juicy nachos. Yard House replaced the crema with lots of really good guacamole and sour cream on the side rather, and added ribbons of tangy, tasty tomatillo sauce as well as smoky chipotle sauce.

Finally, I dug into the Monte Cristo pops.

Monte Cristo sandwiches have always been and will forever be a part of my heavy-drinking diet. If you plan to go on a pub crawl, there is no better fuel than a Monte Cristo, battered and deep-fried and coated with powdered sugar like a doughnut, then dipped, piece by piece, into raspberry jam. Yard House's snack-sized pops had only one major flaw: They were too delicious to be that small. The batter was light and crispy; the triangles of sandwich were densely-packed with warm turkey, ham and melted Swiss cheese; and instead of the traditional side of raspberry jam, you got a ramekin of jalapeno-peach sauce -- a definite improvement on the traditional.

Since Yard House already served its full menu until close to last call, I appreciate that it went the extra yard with Eat Late, narrowing down the options to choices that I can understand at any time of the day or night. Truffle? Monte Cristo pops? Yes, please.

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