The restaurant Colt & Gray has won more than a few accolades since it opened on Platte Street in Denver several years ago, and is also conveniently located right next to ES's workplace. But how do you eat at a high-end gastropub without dropping a load of cash on a full meal?
Enter happy hour. Colt & Gray has a particularly nice one, boasting a variety of specialty cocktails along with a small, low-priced menu of interesting nibbles.
All of this takes place in the restaurant's elegant and clubby-feeling barroom, full of tall, cushy leather chairs and extremely pleasant, white-aproned servers. So one afternoon ES and I settled ourselves at a corner table—and then proceeded to order nearly everything on the happy hour menu.
Our first drink order consisted of a Sazerac (rye, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters) for ES, and a Platte St. Sling (gin, rhubarb, lemon, basil, and club soda) for me. Though ES found my drink too sour, and though I wrinkled my nose at the taste of whiskey in his, we were both perfectly pleased with our choices. I loved the floral sweet-tartness of the cocktail, as well as the surprising saltiness of the olive garnish, and I wasn't a bit sorry that ES wasn't trying to steal sips.
The cocktails made a nice accompaniment to the food—or was it the other way around? The one-bite wings tasted like very tender pieces of barbecued short ribs, or some other kind of fatty, succulent meat; the sheep's milk cheese (whose name I can't remember) came with a delightful apple compote that made a strangely excellent pairing with its funk. And while the gougères were not what I expected—instead of small puffs of a savory pâte à choux, these were Utz cheeseball–sized nuggets dusted with what tasted like a slightly more complex version of neon "cheez" powder, and with an oddly grainy and pasty texture within—they were crisp and warm and made for good snacking.
The only one I wasn't impressed with was the crispy pig trotter, which ES had fondly remembered from past visits. I was imagining a whole, deep-fried pig foot, like something I'd get in a Filipino restaurant, but out came two breaded pucks of chopped and mushy meat in a pool of mild-tasting mustard sauce, the whole of which tasted a lot more like tuna than pork. Nothing against tuna; the disconnect was strange, is all.
And then along came the caramel popcorn. Not just any caramel popcorn, but a bacon and cashew caramel popcorn, each bite smoky and salty and chewy and sweet all at once. It was so good that we ordered it twice, our fingers having reached the bottom of the bowl too soon. Apparently we're not the only ones enamored with this popcorn's charms; the recipe can be found as part of Bon Appétit's 2010 "Best Bar Snacks" feature.
All the while we were having more cocktails, such as the Marguerite (gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and orange bitters), the Picador (tequila, lime, and Curaçao), and the Bees Knees (gin, lemon, and honey). I also ordered Colt & Gray's housemade Brandy Milk Punch, which according to the menu consists of "Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, applejack, Batavia Arrack, milk, Teatulia green tea, lemon, and spices." I expected the punch to be, I don't know, milky, but actually it wasn't at all—just clean and sharp with the taste of mingled rums and liqueurs and freshly grated nutmeg.
By the time we left, both of us were full and I was just a little bit tipsy. More than that, however: I was satisfied that I'd taken in not just food and cocktails, but also the pleasures of dining in an eminently civilized, stylish, and somehow still friendly atmosphere—all without breaking the bank. It is obvious that I'll be returning, right?