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Thursday, May 9,2013

A promising FATE for tavern food

By Clay Fong
Photo by Susan France

"Smoke gets in your food,” declared John, considered by many to be the dean of local food scribes. Indeed, our lunch courses at the recently opened FATE Brewing Company were adhering to a certain fire-seasoned theme. A rich aroma of smoke wafted off our chicken wing starter, and John’s soon-to-arrive pastrami Rueben promised to continue the smoky motif.

Backing up a bit, FATE’s fate appears to be that of a new brews-and-bar-food hot spot. It’s located in a space many Boulderites remember as the erstwhile Arapahoe Avenue home of Jose Muldoon’s. Given this space’s sleek industrial design, accented by numerous microbrew taps, the kitschy boat that once stood outside this former quasi-Mexican joint would now be woefully out of place.

At first glance, the menu appears firmly rooted in the bar food tradition. But closer assessment reveals envelope-pushing twists on tavern fare exemplified by a BLT featuring cold-smoked salmon and a plate of ribs glazed with hoisin sauce. There’s a quartet of salads, including the comprehensive Farmer’s Market, a cornucopia of kale, arugula and other produce like asparagus, snap peas and roasted beets. Sandwiches range from a smoked portabella to a French Dip variant spotlighting smoked prime rib. Our personal smoked odyssey began with the $10 chicken wings. An accompanying side of coleslaw lacked any distinctive characteristics, and John deemed it “mediocre.” Regarding the wings, our server-in-training later explained that the heat of the smoking process drew out fat, making for less greasy poultry. His explanation, like the accompanying sauce, was superfluous, as the chicken spoke for itself. These wings were moist with thin, crisp skin and expertly applied smoke, making for a complex, earthy flavor that didn’t mask the taste of the bird. Simply put, these might be the best chicken wings I’ve ever had.

Another starter, $6 fried pickles with Ranch dressing, was fine, spotlighting crisp cucumber, balanced brining and understated crunch. These arrived piping hot, and the only downside was they they were disadvantaged by having to follow the superlative wings.

Many restaurant versions of mac and cheese are so heavy, one feels like they could seek employment as a boat anchor after eating them. Not so with FATE’s $13 preparation, loaded up with fried chicken morsels spiked with Buffalo wing sauce. This isn’t to say the portion wasn’t generous, as I had the leftovers for dinner. Where the dish succeeded was in recognizing a point of diminishing returns when adding cheddar and bacon — there was just the right measure of each. The pasta also struck a proper balance between tangy hot sauce and cheesy creaminess.

John’s $14 Rueben carried a hefty smoked pastrami payload. My dining companion attended college at Montreal’s McGill University, and he said this sandwich is similar to that city’s famed smoked meat. The beef was tender and nuanced in flavor, complementing the astringency of sauerkraut and pungent beer-laced Russian dressing. Gruyere classed things up, and substantial rye provided an ideally traditional foundation.

FATE adroitly succeeds at crafting sophisticated twists on tavern standards. Yes, the prices are a touch higher than others, but our meal illustrated that this is money well spent. The overflowing lunch crowd seemingly supports this contention, and one suspects FATE’s expansive patio will soon become a popular summer destination.

FATE Brewing Company is located at 1600 38th St., Boulder. Call 303-449-3283.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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