Owlbear Barbecue – Denver, CO

Name: Owlbear Barbecue
Date: 8/2/19
Address: 2826 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80205
Order: 1¼ lbs brisket, 1 lb ribs, ½ lb pork, ½ lb pork belly, medium coleslaw, small pinto beans, small cucumber salad, 3 bags Frito Lays
Pricing: $$

Monk: Last time our heroes found themselves in Denver looking for barbecue, they were a bit underwhelmed despite the above average rating we gave to Boney’s Smokehouse. Has barbecue in Denver drastically changed for the better in the past six years, or should we expect more of the same? Fortunately, a week before mine and Speedy’s sojourn to Red Rocks for a My Morning Jacket show (alongside friends of the blog Boomsauce and Leor), Daniel Vaughn the BBQ Snob himself was in Denver for a speaking event with James Beard award-winning author Adrian Miller and did the legwork for us in terms of scouting out the current Denver barbecue scene. From the looks of it, Denver had a lot more legit barbecue joints than they used to but the one that stood out to him was Owlbear Barbecue in the RiNo (River North) neighborhood of Denver, whose pitmaster Karl Fallenius previously worked at Franklin Barbecue. With that, our Friday afternoon late lunch before the first night at Red Rocks was planned.

Speedy: Admittedly, one does not think of barbecue when travelling to Denver, but the photos of Owlbear had my mouth watering. Owlbear is in the corner of a small shopping center next to Our Mutual Friend Brewing, and is a small joint with two large offset smokers outside and limited seating – just the kind of no frills joint that I like. Our order was easy – a bit of everything, including brisket, pork belly, ribs and pulled pork.

Monk: I’ll start with the weakest of the meats, which was the pulled pork. I was actually a little higher on this than Speedy as it somewhat reminded me of eastern NC barbecue with red pepper flakes in the pork even though it was pulled instead of a finely chopped. It was plenty smoky and moist, but still, was the weakest of the smoked meats on this day.

Speedy: While the pork was just above average, the brisket was phenomenal. Peppery goodness abound, with lots of bark and tender, juicy meat, it hit the spot. We ordered a mix of the lean and fatty, and both were incredible. This ranks with Lewis Barbecue as the best brisket I’ve ever tasted outside the state of Texas (and frankly, there’s not been a whole lot that’s been that close). I don’t quite put it in my top 4 (Franklin, La Barbecue, Pecan Lodge, Killen’s), but it’s right on the edge. 

Monk: The pork belly was something special. If I’m not mistaken, it had the same peppery rub as the brisket (which includes coffee grounds). Was it perhaps the best smoked pork belly I’ve ever tried? No perhaps about it – it absolutely was. 

Speedy: The ribs were also quite good. The rub was different than the brisket – I could taste paprika and maybe some cumin – which complimented the pork nicely. They were cooked nicely, allowing for a nice, clean bite, and no sauce was necessary. Overall, a fine showing and worth ordering.

Monk: I made a mistake in ordering as many sides as I did, and perhaps in ordering any sides at all; perhaps I should have gone full Texas and gone just with a tray of meat. I did not care for the asian slaw and felt like it didn’t go with the meats, though I do wonder how it would work topping a pulled pork sandwich. The cucumber salad was a basic side which I’m guessing was an easy way to get them something green on the menu with little fuss, but it didn’t particularly strike me as a successful barbecue side. The pinto beans were the best of the group we ordered, but were not essential. Mac and cheese and potato salad were both 86’d by the time we got there, and of those two, I’d be curious how the mac and cheese was. Regardless, just meats may be the way to go.

Speedy: The other thing worth mentioning is that though the meats did not need any sauces, it was provided. I ended up tasting it, but not using it as I didn’t particularly care for it. It tasted like mediocre steak sauce to me, so the meats are better off without it.

That said, I’m not sure I could have been more pleased overall. Owlbear Barbecue is proof that great ‘cue can be found anywhere – even in Denver. 

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Pork Belly – 5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Monk’s 5 Favorite Barbecue Meals of the first half of 2019

Monk: It’s been a pretty darn good year in terms of new-to-me barbecue joints. Here’s my five favorite in no particular order…

Brisket, pork belly, ribs, and pulled pork from Owlbear Barbecue (review)

More to come soon on this recent visit by Speedy and me, but Owlbear Barbecue in Denver had perhaps the best brisket I’ve had outside of Texas (yes, that includes Lewis Barbecue). The pork belly was not far behind.

Lexington-style barbecue and brisket from Noble Smoke (preview)

Finally, Charlotte has some legitimate Lexington-style barbecue in the form of Noble Smoke from Chef Jim Noble. Noble is a lifelong fan of Lexington Barbecue (the restaurant) and has even styled his brick pits after the famed Lexington Barbecue smokestacks (with the Monk family’s permission, of course). This barbecue restaurant is decades in the making, and Jim Noble is certainly doing it right.

Pork, ribs, and brisket from Apple City BBQ (review)

While Apple City BBQ had been on my list, my stop there was completely unplanned. But afterwards, I felt fortunate that my route to the foothills took me right by the joint as all three meats I tried that day were ridiculously good. As I stated in my review, Apple City BBQ is a must-stop for any serious North Carolina barbecue fan.

Whole hog barbecue sandwich and hash and rice from Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que (review)

Sweatman’s Bar-b-que made me a believer in South Carolina whole hog that happens to be drenched with that mustard stuff. It’s legitimately that good. The hash and rice is otherworldly, too.

Chopped sandwich with hush puppies and Cheerwine from Mr. Barbecue (review)

Let’s hope that Mr. Barbecue can rebuild quickly from its smokehouse fire back in the spring, because its an unheralded barbecue joint in Winston-Salem that deserves more attention. Legit Lexington-style barbecue from a classic NC joint in one of the larger cities in the state.

Linkdown: 7/17/19

Required reading from John T. in this month’s Garden & Gun

Former Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis also weighs in on the best new barbecue joints

From this Charlotte Observer article on Noble Smoke’s opening, I found out the interesting tidbit that Joe Kindred (of Kindred and Hello, Sailor) used to work for Jim Noble

He started getting serious about opening a barbecue restaurant around 2008, but he kept getting delayed. Joe Kindred, a former intern for Noble who has since opened his own restaurants, remembers going all across the state with Noble and stopping at barbecue places along the way.

Daniel Vaughn says the best thing on the menu at Franklin Barbecue is the beef rib

A recap of last weekend’s Tex-Mex BBQ Block Party at Houston’s St. Arnold Brewing

L&L B&M incoming:

Howard Conyers on his recent visit to Jones Bar-B-Que in Marianna, Arkansas, which has been open since 1910

North Carolina barbecue is spreading to Orlando via New York-based restaurant, Brother Jimmy’s

An excerpt from Jim Auchmutey’s book Smoke Lore is up on BarbecueBible.com

Heads up, Denver:

The 11th Annual Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival will take place in Bedford, TX during Labor Day weekend 2019. For more information, please visit their site.

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Linkdown: 5/16/18

– Here’s whats going on at this weekend’s Memphis in May Barbecue Competition; I’ll see you out there

– Been a big couple of weeks for Rodney Scott:

– The Charlotte Observer’s Kathleen Purvis puts his James Beard win in perspective in this essay

– Justin Brunson of Old Major in Denver has a BQ Grill that he uses for catering as well as for fun

When I arrived at Old Major, Brunson was already stoking the fire in his BQ Grill, a steel behemoth sporting two huge drawers for coals, four air vents, enough horizontal space to cook a 250-pound pig, and a wood storage rack in the back. “It’s pretty much just a big, metal oven,” says Brunson. “This is the same grill that Sam Jones [of Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, North Carolina] and Elliott Moss [of Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, North Carolina] use for barbecue. They make a gas model, but that’s not real barbecue. It’s got to be all wood, all the time.”

“This is my hobby right now, cooking on this grill,” says Brunson. “With Red Bear about to open, it’s my stress relief.” It’s also about supporting local farmers and producers, and experimenting with the “flavor of Colorado.” Brunson’s goal: To use the grill for catering, special events, and to cook local pigs, lambs, and more for anyone who asks. (Seriously, if you call Old Major and ask for a whole-animal feast, Brunson will cook it for you.)

Here’s the full menu for next month’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party including ribs from the newly awarded James Beard winner Rodney Scott and whole hog from Ed and Ryan Mitchell as well as Sam Jones

– For such a good docuseries, David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious” gets barbecue wrong

– Midwood Smokehouse’s Park Rd location is having a barbecue bootcamp on June 23

– Big news for Knightdale, NC

Linkdown: 12/24/14

– Robert Moss goes deep on chicken mull, “the rarest stew in barbecue

To sauce or not to sauce: well that just depends on whatcha like

– Mission BBQ in Virginia Beach is the most patriotic bbq joint in America (h/t reader Robert Evans)

– Crown Town Living checks out The Improper Pig

“Denver’s barbecue is atrocious” (via)

– Grant from Marie, Let’s Eat! finished up his NC/SC circumnavigation reviews last week, but checked out Praise the Lard BBQ in Buford, GA recently

– Johnny Fugitt of Barbecue Rankings is interviewed by the salad restaurant Chop’t after his 365 joints in 365 days sojourn ended

– ICYMI, here’s our holiday 2015 gift guide we posted last week for your (extremely) last minute gift ideas

Linkdown: 4/2/14

The NC ‘Cuegrass Festival will take place April 26 in Raleigh outside of The Pit

The latest update on The Great NC BBQ Map includes the fact that the map will eventually be able for purchase outside of the Kickstarter campaign; sign up on the mailing list to know exactly when

– Restaurateurs from Denver, NC will start selling eastern-style barbecue next month at a stand in downtown Belmont

– An update on the latest barbecue restaurants in the Triangle, including Ed Mitchell’s ‘Que which is set to open April 9

– Rocky Top BBQ Co. out of Monroe, NC will be representing NC in the upcoming season of BBQ Pitmasters, which starts April 12 (via bbqboard)

– Could Charlotte’s best barbecue come from a food truck? Restaurant Traffic seems to think so, specifically from Boone’s Bar-B-Que:

– BBQ is taking on Fried Chicken while Cheerwine is against Sweet Tea in this Southern Food Bracket (aka Mason-Dixon Madness)

– The latest brewdog at JJ’s Red Hots in Charlotte is a “BeerBQ” dog by Triple C Brewing

You reallllly don’t want to miss this one. Triple C brought in the big guns with ‘BeerBQ’. It starts with a big ass pork butt smoked and shredded to perfection. Then topped with a Smoked Amber BBQ sauce and finished with battered and deep fried onion pieces.  That is all. This one really doesn’t need any further explanation.

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Boney’s Smokehouse – Denver, CO

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Name: Boney’s Smokehouse
Date: 8/9/13
Address: 1543 Champa St., Denver, CO 80202
Order: Monk: 2 Meat Platter (pulled pork, brisket) with collards and hush puppies; Speedy: 3 Meat Platter (pulled pork, hot links, brisket) with fried okra and hush puppies, 2 rib bones, 10 smoked wings (link to menu)
Price: $44 (yea, it was a lot of food)

Monk: Once in Denver on our aforementioned annual guys trip (Rudy, you were missed), Speedy and I insisted that the group try one barbecue restaurant despite Denver’s reputation for not having good barbecue.(*) After a quick Yelp search, we decided on Boney’s Smokehouse in the Central Business District in downtown Denver.

(*) Quick side story: the night before we ate at Billy’s Gourmet Hot Dogs – which was awesome – and asked a manager there where to find good barbecue and he noted with a straight face “Go to Texas.” That recommendation doesn’t necessarily apply to us, but point taken.

Speedy: Boney’s is located in a basement of a larger building smack in the middle of downtown Denver. However, it’s a big space, so it didn’t feel too claustrophobic, save for the low ceilings. It was a little dark, but all in all, a pleasant atmosphere. We waited in a short line to order at a cashier (where one can preview other plates being prepared) and placed our orders. We had to go to the bar separately to order beers, but there was a decent selection of local beers on draft, so this was no problem. We were given a number and picked our table where we waited for the food.

Monk: Having the small stomach that I do and knowing that we would be drinking beer the rest of the day, I went with the 2 meat platter. Curiously, both mine and Speedy’s platters came pre-sauced where everyone else’s in our party did not. The pork was moist and smoky and tender and was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, the brisket was quite dry and really just not good, more resembling roast beef.

Speedy: The ribs were served with a dry rub and no sauce. While I often like this style, I thought they really lacked flavor and needed to be sauced. And while I don’t like my ribs to literally fall off the bone, these could have been a little more tender. I wasn’t upset I got them at $2.50 a bone (and with Monk paying!), but I’m glad I didn’t get a whole order. The wings were sub-par and were the worst part of the meal (along with the brisket). They were definitely smoked, but the skin outside was too crispy – to the point that it was tough. My guess is that it was smoked at a higher heat than I’d like. Not really worth ordering. I did, however, really enjoy the sausage. While everyone who tried it in our group also enjoyed, some were saying, “well it’s tough to mess up sausage.” I couldn’t disagree more. To me, sausage can be made in so many different ways that it can be very good or very bad. This sausage had a good flavor and was smoked well, though it didn’t have the trademark juiciness that I look for in a great sausage – possibly due to being pre-cut. It probably was my favorite part of the meal.

Monk: The hush puppies and cornbread, presumably of the same cornmeal mixture, were both surprisingly good, as were the collards which did not taste as if they were taken out of a can.

Speedy: When I ordered the fried okra, the cashier told me I made a “great choice.” My guess is that people around those parts don’t eat a lot of fried okra. However, I am a seasoned expert in all things okra. As such, while I definitely enjoyed it, the okra didn’t stand out from any I’d had before. It was good, and I’d recommend that others order it, it did not exceed expectations.

Monk: After finishing our meal and talking through our thoughts on the barbecue with our buddies, we took an informal poll and none of us were that upset that we went to this barbecue establishment. The food was fine and not particularly offensive, but it just wasn’t great – not that our expectations were too high to begin with. As it turns out, Boney’s Smokehouse exactly lived up to the reputation of Denver barbecue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 Hogs
Pork – 3.5 Hogs
Brisket – 2 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sausage – 3.5 hogs
Wings – 2 hogs
Sides – 2.5 Hogs
Overall – 3 Hogs

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Boney's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Linkdown: 8/21/13

– The 2013 Q-City Charlotte BBQ Championship (formerly the Blues, Brew & BBQ Festival) was recently announced for October 18-19 and will be the southeast’s largest sanctioned BBQ competition

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Scott’s, and Skylight Inn make Southern Living’s 100 Places to Eat Now (via)

– Meanwhile in Asheville, James Beard nominated chef Elliot Moss has left Ben’s Tune-Up and is now focusing on his barbecue restaurant, presumably still being called Buxton Hill (though the article mentions he is taking more of a “modernist approach” and the details of which are “still in flux”)

– Boney’s Smokehouse, (review from Speedy and Monk coming tomorrow), gets a 3/4 star review in the Denver Post. Spoiler alert: we didn’t like it as much.

– Myron Mixon has parted ways with his restaurant partners in both Pride and Joy locations – Miami and the soon-to-be-opened New York (via)

– In case you were wondering, you can take Wilber’s barbecue (and presumably any other barbecue) through airport security (although why the typo of “Wilbur’s” made it through the editing process at the N&O is a mystery to me)

– Scott’s Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, SC is Andrew Zimmern’s favorite barbecue joint in America as confirmed in a tweet a few weeks back