The Rapture it wasn’t, but I was certainly in for a surprise yesterday at 6pm when I found myself with a beer can dangling from a string of beads around my neck, pedaling the 10-seat Denver Patio Ride alongside a bunch of young’uns rocking out to Jay-Z, Prince, Sublime, & the like from the iPod of our DJ-driver
as he steered us in his purple jumpsuit down Welton right through the middle of the Five Points Jazz Festival, to the general approval of a grinning, hooting, picture-taking crowd. The takeaway from this little adventure: I’m old. Too old for public shenanigans that include stops at raucous watering holes like The Ginn Mill, where the bartender laughs when you ask if there’s any chance in hell they serve wine, pours you a full mini-bottle of Barefoot Cab into a New Belgium globe glass, & leaves it at that. Fair enough. At least, being personal-sized, it was fresh. Which is more than I can say for the glass of Bonacquisti Vinny No Neck they poured me at Highland Tap & Burger, a Sangiovese-Merlot blend that, I’m sorry to say because I aim to promote the local wine industry, would not have been much better had it been in peak condition, evoking nothing so much as liquified menthol cigarettes. I wasn’t a much bigger fan of either the Garnacha or the Malbec on the HTB wine list, both simplistically jammy.
That said, this Highland newcomer deserves to be cut some slack for its lack of good grape juice; after all, as the name indicates, it specializes in beer & the grub that goes with it—most of which was decent, some of which was swell. Especially the titular skins.
Covered in crumbled bacon, white cheddar & scallions with a side of housemade ranch, they practically glowed, all bubbly & crackly & gooey, bite after hot salty bite. If you swore off skins after your last miserable experience with the soggy, broccoli-&-cheez-whizzed, dirt-pocked spuds of some heartland sports bar circa 1988, here’s your chance to try again.
The horseradish celery-root slaw was milkier & less sharp-edged than the description suggested, but then, coleslaw is almost always given short shrift in restaurant kitchens—an eternal head-scratcher, given how easy it is to make well at home. Memory serves up only one version that recently made me swoon as an accompaniment to the kick-ass roast chicken at Street Kitchen Asian Bistro.
Mama’s Little Yella Pilsner–battered onion rings had everything going for them but extra-crunchiness.
Thick-cut & served with an addictive dipping sauce tinged with vinegar & smoke, they weren’t too doughy, exactly, it’s just that they weren’t traditionally flaky & crisp—more like savory onion doughnuts than true rings.
I tried, god only knows how I tried, to convince the Director that a burger topped with foie gras would, in fact, be awesome & not “silly,” but even my allusion to classic beef Wellington didn’t convince him. Having no better luck with dreamy-sounding topping options like root-beer-braised pulled pork & 3-pepper candied bacon, I let him be, which is why he got stuck with a lamb burger that was perfectly well-made but devoid of all zip with Swiss cheese, lettuce, onion & tomato rather than the chef’s pick of better-suited condiments: goat cheese, tomato-mint relish & baby arugula.
It came with fries we didn’t expect, since we’d also asked for an à la carte order of parmesan-&-parsley-flecked duck-fat fries with truffled aioli. I thought I took a picture, but I guess I didn’t, so this is the only eye-nibble you get.
All the more reason for you to go check them out for yourself, say, nowish. How stark is the difference between hand-cut potato sticks fried in vegetable oil & those browned in duck fat? Let’s just say once you go quack you never go back. (Unless, that is, you go cluck or moo, winning twists all.)
The whole menu’s rife with chefly touches that nudge HTB toward gastropub rather than sports-bar territory despite the flatscreens lining the walls, from lentil vinaigrette for the salads to sauce gribiche spiking the fish & chips to the best thing about the aforementioned burger: excellent, garden-sweet, fresh pickle chips. The kitchen’s no match for, say, Argyll‘s yet, but it beats Freshcraft‘s.