A special place

Prime rib night at the Niwot Tavern

Matt Cortina

It’s prime rib night at the tavern. There’s a happy murmur in the dining room, likely because it’s the kind of place where you can get a fat prime rib and baked potato for ten bucks on a Monday night.

The prime rib special is about community. I have driven into the night on some interstate countless times, headed for some easy weekend retreat, and popped into an Al’s or a Roadside or a Moonlight, finding a cheerful community, switching booths, chatting up neighbors and laughing at playful waitress sass. In the corner are some young jocks in varsity jackets, while a dad takes his kids around the salad bar, filling up their plates with Jell-O and whipped cream, and old, starchy men in regional hats sip digestive coffee.

The case at Niwot Tavern is no different. A table of eight Asian businessmen laugh during a round of beers. Three 30-something waitresses in aprons hustle around the dining room with sweaty pitchers and wet bill tickets. Stag men at the bar watch the Giants smack a few homers off the Rockies. Young couples sit in fading light on the patio. It’s prime rib night at the tavern.

Whether it’s Monday night, Friday night or Sunday breakfast, the linchpin to these gatherings always seems to be the discount prime rib — a versatile hunk of meat that shows up on diner menus, and expensive steakhouse menus alike. The quality of the diner variety has a much wider range than what you’ll find for upwards of $90 at Delmonico’s. Some slabs are stringy with fat, while others are overcooked or too thin. But some diner prime ribs break out — achieving a quality that, in proportion, rivals anything you can get at some fancy steakhouse.

I’m happy to report that the prime rib at Niwot Tavern fell into the latter category.

The prime rib starts at 8 ounces, with $2 per extra ounce. I opted for a 10-ounce piece of meat, medium rare with a baked potato and a side of green beans. The prime rib was about an inch and a half thick and roughly the shape and length of a small Dutch boy’s wooden dancing clog. The outer rim was perfectly crusty, browned and melted apart with some light picking. The good stuff on the inside was cooked exactly medium rare (you don’t get that at most prime rib nights.) It was an excellent cut of beef and came beside a cup of au jus, which was consequently robust.

Also, the green beans were actually green beans, which is worth noting. They had been blackened either on the grill or stovetop and served slightly al dente, which allowed them to retain full flavor and structure. The baked potato was a bit small, but came loaded up with cheese, bacon and butter. You can’t put cheese, bacon and butter on something and not like it.

It’s also worth mentioning the two other dishes on the table: a pork green chile dip and a plate of meatloaf. The pork green chile was remarkably fresh, and unlike any other dishes of its ilk. The chiles, black beans, pork and cheese all retained their flavor and freshness. It was light, if you can believe it.

The meatloaf was excellent — wrapped in bacon and served under some tangy brown sauce (I was too deep in prime rib to parse it out, forgive me.) It was a homey and comfortable take on the diner staple.

There’s not much not to like about Niwot Tavern. Go for the prime rib or for the community, but however you stumble in, it’ll be worth it.