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Thursday, November 18,2010

Good ol' pub fare

By Clay Fong

Neither an homage to the silent (but perhaps most cerebral) of the Marx Brothers, nor a clandestine Oprah operation, Boulder’s Harpo’s Sports Grill is precisely what its name implies. It’s a casual joint spotlighting affordable drink specials, tavern staples ranging from wings to burgers, and bigscreen TVs perfect for watching games.

 

Appropriately, the interior is textbook sports bar with a soupcon of fraternity basement thrown in.

While posters and memorabilia clearly appeal to a testosterone-fueled football and Ultimate Fighting crowd, the lunch hour is placid, highlighted by an efficient and understated-yet-still-attentive server. Despite this space’s many owners over the last couple of decades, friend and longtime Boulderite Keith noted that the interior hadn’t changed much at all over the last 20 years. For my money, the setting looked identical to the Pickle Barrel iteration of the mid-’90s.

The menu might be the same as well, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nachos and potato skins share the appetizer lineup with jalapeño poppers and mozzarella sticks. Burgers are available, as are other sandwiches, ranging from chicken to grilled veggie. Entrée salads include a Cobb and a Cajun Chicken Taco Salad, which seems to suffer from an identity crisis. Lastly, there are house specialties including enchiladas, pastas and sirloin steak with mashed potatoes.

One thing that’s improved over past versions was our chicken-wing starter, $6.59 for a half dozen. While there are several sauces available, we opted for the customary buffalo with a side of blue cheese fancy wings, look elsewhere; if you want comforting predictability with a fair amount of meat on the bone, this is the choice for you. dressing. While these were still a wee heavy on the vinegar, it was much better than the over-salted, overly acidic version that was the hallmark of the mid-’90s Pickle Barrel all-you-can-eat special.

 

If you want Keith’s initial assessment of his $9.89 Boulder Burger was that it had the appearance of “first-class bar food.” Certainly bacon, roasted red pepper and pepper jack impressively fulfilled the tavern quota of fat and spice. This was a formidable sandwich sided with a generous helping of large, admirably crunchy onion rings. The half-pound patty was formidable, and Keith noted that the only shortcoming was the bun, which he likened to “a whitebread supermarket version.”

I had been on a fish-and-chips tear after sampling the exemplary black cod and malt vinegar gastrique version at Denver’s Euclid Hall. Perhaps it wasn’t fair of me to assess Harpo’s $10.89 offering after sampling that high-end interpretation, but I was pleasantly surprised. The batter was properly crisped with the surprising but logical addition of dill that complemented splashes of malt vinegar. Textural perfection was a hallmark of the fries, although the cole slaw wasn’t particularly memorable. In any event, you’d be hard-pressed to find a helping of fried fish this large for the price.

No, Harpo’s doesn’t break any new culinary ground, and it certainly isn’t the place to take your snobbish foodie friends from out of town. But if you want a cold one on special with some guilty pleasure pub grub while enjoying a game (perhaps while trying to relive a few glory days of youth), there are worse places to while away an afternoon or evening.

Clay’s Obscurity Corner The real Harpo Marx

While he’s known for not speaking in the Marx Brothers movies, Harpo (born Adolph, then changed to Arthur) Marx was a gifted musician. As a wit, he held his own with the notorious Algonquin Roundtable. What’s less known is his role as a covert operative, as recounted in Marx’s autobiography, Harpo Speaks. At the conclusion of a 1930s goodwill tour, the American ambassador asked Marx to smuggle a mysterious packet of letters out of the Soviet Union. Marx’s mission was successful, although he had to endure a nerve-wracking moment when he was pulled off his train by Soviet border guards.


Harpo’s Sports
Gill 2860 Arapahoe Ave. Boulder 303-444-9464

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