When people ask me what I think about Colorado, I’m always full of praise.
The mountains are beautiful. The cities are charming, historic, Western. And climate-wise, it’s the perfect middle ground between the blast furnace of Phoenix and the deep freezes of Montana and North Dakota.
There is one thing, however, I’m not entirely thrilled with.
That’s not to say Colorado has bad food, or that there aren’t a few brilliant exceptions to the overall trend of mediocrity. But I can’t remember the last time a meal here really took me by the throat and wowed me.
They follow the latest trends, sure, but in the most conservative way possible. It’s simply not what you’d expect from the state the legalized marijuana.
Now, I can already hear the haters a-callin’. And they’ll hate it even more when I use Fat Shack, of all imaginable examples, to trash Colorado’s food.
Fat Shack, you see, is a small chain that started in New Jersey, but (of course) took off Colorado, with locations in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Denver, and Thornton. The only other Fat Shack, actually, is the original one in New Jersey. And it ain’t much to look at.
I ate at the Fat Shack in Fort Collins. It’s right across the street from Colorado State University, a smart move for a fast food restaurant with subs named Fat Doobie and Fat Hangover. The place’s big gimmick is throwing fried sides like French fries, mozzarella sticks, and jalapeño poppers on subs, drenching the resulting mess with sauce.
Not my first thought upon seeing their menu was “heartburn.” But my second thought was, “wow, talk about all-American cuisine.” The indigestion alone should make for a riveting blog post, at least.
I ordered the Fat Veggie, aiming for a pure grease experience. Meat sounded too healthy and full of protein. I wanted their absolute worst, with no redeeming nutritional value.
The sub came with “mozzarella sticks, onion rings, french fries, lettuce, tomato & ranch”, a formidable combo to be sure. I was fully prepared for the Fat Veggie to be my last meal for the century. I figured the calories alone would sustain me for eons, the preservatives embalming my features in an eternal image of youth.
But what I got wasn’t even that outrageous. They’d jammed a handful of fries into a sub, with a few shreds of a mozzarella stick and an onion ring thrown in out of pity.
I didn’t even feel full after, man.
C’mon, Colorado. How do you support this crap?
To extend an olive branch, I have to give Colorado credit for its true appreciation of wild game. Where else can I order rattlesnake? And I’ve had some amazing – amazing – bison burgers here.
Mr. Gyro looks like a hot mess.
That’s why I was deeply looking forward to my first elk burger at Baba’s Burgers & Gyros in Estes Park, an old tourist town directly outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. The reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor were positively glowing, effusive. People said it was the place to go, that the elk was delicious.
And after a day of watching that huge, majestic animal saunter across the meadows and valleys, the bugles of the bulls cutting through the crisp mountain air in haunting refrains… how could I not want to eat one? Baba’s looked promising, too, a shack of a diner with an enclosed porch. It’s the sort of gritty place I’ve found many a hidden gem at.
The sun was intense that day.
I ordered my burger medium rare, and I swear the cook handed it to me but a few minutes later. I can’t complain about the speed of service. And, you know, the burger wasn’t bad. You could’ve told me it was beef and I would’ve believed you.
Iceberg lettuce. Oh, the humanity.
Which, of course, was the entire problem. It was an extremely mundane, ordinary experience. I left Baba’s, again, pretty disappointed.
After asking around about elk meat the following week, it turns out that Baba’s (mostly) wasn’t entirely to blame. Elk more or less tastes like beef, with perhaps a slight gamey or sweet edge if you’re lucky.
I’m blaming Colorado for that. Why? Because it’s my job to tie everything together and act like I know what I’m talking about, putting my opinions on a pedestal of bravado and uncalled bluffs.