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Thursday, March 18,2010

More than a brewpub

By Clay Fong

The Boulder Draft House, which occupies the former Redfish location, lives up to its name, as it features numerous craft beers from the Colorado Brewing Company. This cavernous but inviting space also serves up several enticing food specials, such as Monday’s $7 burger-and-a-beer deal, and Happy Hour runs all day Tuesday. Despite the spotlight on adult beverages, friend Florence and I also realized over lunch that this is also a surprisingly family-friendly venue, complete with a Thursday kids-eatfree special.

Further evidence of family friendliness manifested itself in the form of a $7 Portabella fries starter that came encased in a wispy-yet-crunchy cornmeal batter. The fryer’s heat had reduced these mushrooms to a state of pleasing moistness while maximizing their earthy savor. I deluded myself that this fried snack was healthy, since if something’s made of portabellas instead of potatoes, it has to be good for you, right? More realistically, Florence noted, “My kids would love these.”

Being an unrepentant Chilihead, I had to sample a $4 cup of Texas chili. Unfortunately, this was the meal’s nadir. While the cup held a generous serving of ground beef, a layer of grease on top made for an unappetizing appearance, and the predominant flavor was of salt. Chili of decent quality is tough to find in restaurants, and this example reinforced the notion that the best versions of this Tex-Mex staple are still homemade.

The Boulder Draft House
2027 13th St. Boulder

Happily, Florence’s $8 Shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich provided ample absolution for this troublesome cup of red. The appealing cornmeal batter from the mushroom fries made an encore appearance, this time coating a hearty ration of meaty shrimp. With respect to texture, the shrimp’s crunch satisfyingly complemented the discreet chew of the baguette-shaped roll, and the vegetarian artichoke-heart version would likely elicit a similar pleasure. A bracing side of crisp cole slaw possessed a fresh taste, enhanced by a subtle splash of malt vinegar that added the correct measure of tartness.

Surprisingly sophisticated was my entrée of lobster macaroni and cheese, one of the best ways to spend $12 in a local eatery. At this price, it’s unrealistic to expect huge chunks of tail and claw meat, although there was enough crustacean to contribute an understated seafood essence. The addition of creamy goat cheese, sweet beets, and gently sautéed spinach transformed this dish from the comforting to the borderline decadent. It would have been a worthwhile dish even without the lobster, and the heaping Nimitz-class-sized portion was enough for two filling meals.

We pressed on to sample our server’s enthusiastically recommended $6 chocolate bread pudding. He warned that it was equal in size to the formidable mac and cheese, and a heap of vanilla ice cream on top only enhanced this sweet’s stature. I’m happy to report that flavor equaled volume, as this preparation was shot through with profound cocoa flavor that was less Hershey’s and more European chocolate bar.

Although the initial impression of the Draft House as an archetypical brewpub is correct, that’s only part of the story. The food here goes beyond the routine wings and nachos, into something more gourmet. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the appeal of this restaurant for all ages, leading Florence to express her desire to quickly return with her family.

Creating the perfect chili

Die-hard chili purists prefer their bowls of red without beans and tomatoes, relying almost exclusively on meat, onions, garlic, cumin and ground peppers. For me, the key to proper flavor lies in the spicing, and I’ll start with a base of mediumhot Chimayo pure chili powder. I also add a judicious measure of ground cumin (don’t want it to taste like a locker room), Mexican oregano and cayenne pepper for additional heat. I’ll also add a diced green chile from my frozen stash, unless I get lazy and add canned Rotel tomatoes with habañero — I’m OK with adding tomatoes.

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