When I first began Olive’s Backyard Herbs I envisioned it being as much about travel as about food. Well, as with most of my visions, this just is not the case. I eat a lot more than I travel. And in this economy traveling has appeared more out of reach. Dining on good food can sometimes cost as much as a plane ticket, but you usually only find that out after the fact.
But recently airlines have been catching on to the fact that times are tough and a lot of fares have gotten dirt cheap. Capitalizing on this trend Chris and I recently bought $130 tickets on Frontier Airlines to visit some dear friend we have in Denver – Jen and Loren McDaniel.
I have to be honest I was not expecting much. Denver always seemed like a nice city. But it’s just not a sexy city in terms of perception. There is no Statue of Liberty or even a thriving restaurant scene like New York. And while I still do not think there is much of a local foodie scene, I will tell you I came away loving the city. Hey, if you are a good cook, you can just do it at home. Despite a dearth of yummy local food finds we did manage to eat a lot.
Our first night in Denver we headed to a chain steak restaurant – Capital Grille. Chris and I had been given a gift certificate to Darden restaurants a few months ago. And the only ones in Austin are Red Lobster and Olive Garden. We do not love either so we decided to try a nice steak place in Denver. Turns out it’s pretty tasty… and REALLY EXPENSIVE. Our gift certificate did not get us very far. But all in all it was not a complete bust. We had a yummy wedge salad topped with super, thick and very tasty smoked bacon. Jen and Loren both got the clam chowder. It was average. Not bad, not great and it cost $8 just for a small cup. For dinner I ordered the Filet Oscar. While it was definitely perfectly cooked and full of flavor, it was a bit much. I definitely could not finish it. Jen ordered the swordfish with a lemon shallot relish. While the fish itself was a bit overcooked, the relish was superb. And both Chris and Loren ordered the sliced filet with Cippolini Onions and Wild Mushrooms. I had wanted to order this because it sounded awesome, but I thought that might be overkill. I am actually glad I did not. The mushrooms and onions, I think, overpowered the great flavor of the meat. The sides we ordered were asparagus and mac and cheese. Both were pretty awesome.
I know I do not sound super excited about Capital Grille. But I just know places that can produce this quality at much cheaper prices. But I do want to add that they were very good at cooking my steak at the right temperature and the food was good.
I almost forgot one of my favorite things about Denver – the weather. We arrived in Denver at the end of August. When we left Austin the temperature had been hovering at 100 degrees for the past three months. That first night in Denver, we slept with the windows open. It was the best sleep I’d had in months. And a miraculous thing happened Saturday morning, my husband got up with me at 8 a.m. and we jogged together. For those of you who know us this is amazing. For those who do not, let me explain. 1. I am not a morning person, I love the mornings, I just have a hard time getting up early enough to enjoy them. 2. My husband had not run in 15 years and he has asthma.
So together we got up and enjoyed a two and a half mile loop around Washington Park or Wash Park as they call it in Denver (or Wa Pa as I call it). Afterward we dropped by a local coffee shop called La Belle Rosette and had a superb cup of joe and we got a couple of bagels. I highly recommend this coffee shop, the staff is so nice and the food was great. They also serve herb-infused lemonade that is so refreshing. You can check them out at their website: http://www.labellerosette.com.
In the afternoon we headed up to meet some of Jen’s friends from college in Boulder – Kim, Drew and their baby Rowan. We decided on heading to Sugar Loaf since it had great views and was not too long. I had been looking forward to the hike a lot. We never get to do anything outdoors in Austin because of the heat. So I was very excited. Unfortunately, the weather in Boulder was not cooperating either. Right as we got up there a storm rolled in. We made it almost to the top, but turned around before we made it.
But that’s ok, because we went straight to the breweries. Boulder has a long and proud brewing tradition. And we drank a lot, so we can back that up. We started off at Upslope a brand new brewery in a strip mall (right next to a wine tasting room, Denver wine, who knew?). It was a tiny room. But the beers were very yummy. When we were there Upslope only had two beers on tap Upslope Pale Ale and Upslope India Pale Ale. These guys are new, but I expect they are going to grow immensely in popularity. Check them out at their blog: http://www.upslopebrewing.wordpress.com/about/.
After Upslope we headed to Twisted Pine Brewery, in yet another strip mall. Despite being in a shopping complex there was a real authentic feel to Twisted Pine. I especially liked them for a couple of reasons: they had tons of flavors and they allowed dogs into the tasting room. It did make me wish we had taken Olive with us though. But enough about sad things. On to the flavors. For approximately $10 you could get pretty large samples of some of the most flavorful beer ever – from the Billy’s Chilies beer brimming with fresh anaheim, fresno, serrano, jalapeno and habanero peppers to the Big Shot Espresso Stout flavored with a shot of local Amante Coffee.
After drinking A LOT of beer we all needed something to soak it up and sober us up. So we headed to Walnut Brewey. Apparently this place is a favorite with our friends. We all ordered another round of beer, except Jen who decided a different beer was in order – the Root variety. I almost thought that would be a better idea, but I decided to stick with the regular variety. And it was great. I got their Hefeweizen, which is my usual favorite. I also ordered for dinner a bison burger topped with mushrooms, onions, peppers and cheese. It was heavenly. I love burgers and bison meat is much leaner than regular ground beef. So I tricked myself into believing I was being healthy… I hardly touched the fries. Everybody else seemed to enjoy their meal as well. Another stand out at the table was Loren’s bison fajitas. They came to the table sizzling and smelling fantastic. After all that drinking and eating we were all beat. Jen, Loren, Chris and I headed back to Denver and called it an early night.
The next morning Chris and I got up early again and ran at Wa Pa. By the time we were done Loren and Jen were up and showered and wanting to take us to Lucile’s (www.luciles.com). Apparently Lucile’s is a big breakfast deal in Colorado. There are four locations – Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Longmont. All apparently involve long waits. After spending 45 minutes on the front lawn our name was called and we sat down to a Cajun breakfast. The little flourishes are what make Lucile’s special – huge, square biscuits, homemade ketchup and strawberry jelly, fresh squeezed jugs of orange juice, the list goes on. Despite waiting a long time to sit and a VERY long time to get our food. I still feel that Lucile’s is a must-eat if you are in any of the aforementioned Lucile’s locations. The food was down home good with huge portions. I ordered Eggs New Orleans which is essentially Eggs Benedict, but with fried eggplant instead of an English muffin. It was super satisfying and the sides of potatoes and sausage were excellent. Everybody else at the table was happy as well.
After stuffing our faces at Lucile’s Jen and Loren drove us to Red Rocks. We were not going to see a show, we just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, maybe catch a glimpse of the Dave Mathews Band since they seem to live there. But alas, it was Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal playing that night. We just watched their crew set up and visited the museum at Red Rocks. It was actually a pretty interesting museum. So even if you are not going there for a show and you love music it’s worth the scenic drive from Denver. And it’s not very far – maybe a half hour.
Content from the sights we had seen, the beer we drank and the food we devoured Chris and I headed back to Austin with the promise of returning in the winter for a snow boarding trip.