Oskar Blues, the long-time Lyons/Longmont brewer of Colorado classics like Dale’s Pale Ale, hits Denver like a hurricane with a new restaurant filled with well-executed Gulf Coast treats. Market Street’s Oskar Blues Grill and Brew brings the best of the Southeast US, while staying Colorado enough (i.e., the beer) to please even the proudest native. Bring a big appetite and get ready for the flavor at this casual and fun addition to LoDo’s thriving dining scene.
Having lived both on the Gulf and in Denver, I know they are very, very different. While both locales share a fondness for drinking, where Coloradans geek out about hop profiles in the latest Double IPA release, on the Gulf you generally just want something crisp to wash down the spicy delights. They have jambalaya and etouffe, we have….breakfast burritos and green chile? They have freshly shucked Gulf oysters best enjoyed raw, we have the Rocky Mountains ones (please cook those!). While Denver recently turned itself into an exciting food city recognized by the national food media, the point is there’s no real local cuisine. Oskar Blues is happy to import one of the best.
Oskar Blues’ menu is full of Southern/Cajun classics, seafood, burgers, and a few healthy options. With the substantial portions and flavorful food, it would be hard not to leave satisfied. Appetizers, while perhaps not necessary considering the size of the mains, gave us a nice start to the evening. The Boudin Balls are fried spicy bites of deliciousness accompanied by a delightful crawfish etouffe and creole mustard sauce. Boudin is a meat and rice sausage, which for me was love at first bite the first time I had it in a Louisiana gas station. Oskar Blues’ house-made filling was a little light on the rice, but the meaty and spicy balls with the rich buttery sauce worked for me. We also had the Crab Cake and Fried Green Tomatoes. The Crab Cake got raves around the table, with an ample and nicely spiced (but not hot) crab filling. The Fried Green Tomato fared a little worse, although I note this is a dish many fall short on. While we could not exactly pinpoint what was missing, I’d say it needs a little more fried and a little less tomato.
With those appetizers down, Oskar Blues’ main courses became a delicious challenge of my stomach’s capacity, which I was destined to fail, happily. Tom Waits’ Seafood Jambalaya is a solid rendition of the classic, with shrimp, mussels, crawfish tails, chicken, sausage, and rice in a spicy and very flavorful sauce. This very well could be a meal for two, but my wife and I also opted for the Shrimp Po Boy, a large and somewhat messy sandwich, with a filling of large crispy Cajun spiced shrimp. While you may end up eating it with a fork, your taste buds won’t know the difference. Speaking of spice, Oskar Blues has a variety of four hot sauces using their beers, ranging from the tamest Mama’s Yella Pills to the scorching Deviant Dale’s. As hot sauce aficionado, I could not taste the beer but they all enhanced the food, particularly a few drops of the Deviant Dales on the Po Boy. Finally, we got Collard Greens as a side, which were classically done but not overly greasy. Considering all of our fried treats and the butter inherent to this style of cooking, we were happy to get a few greens in and tasty ones at that.
Our dining companions had some impressive main courses as well. The Whole Fish Fry Friday looked amazing, with a Colorado striped bass cooked in the traditional Southern manner and accompanied with a tasty olive salad. The Moo and Oink showcases Southern BBQ with 1/4 pound each servings of pork and brisket. BBQ is something akin to religion in the South, with various regions offering differing styles they will defend to the death. Here in Denver, Oskar Blues does not need to appeal to purists from any particular style, but offers a tasty version most likely influenced by the Alabama backgrounds of its owner and chef. While the brisket was somewhat dry, which is not unusual, the pork was very tasty and satisfying with the perfect blend of bits that were fatty, lean or crispy.
For Happy Hour, Oskar Blues is primed to become one of LoDo’s favorites. There are drink and food specials, but the prime draw is the $1.50 oysters. Although they currently have Virginia oysters, the chef is planning to bring in the pride of the Gulf, Florida’s Apalachicola Bay bivalves. While the name may be difficult to say, A-Bay oysters come from some of the cleanest waters in the region and are probably the biggest and plumpest you will encounter. I’ve never seen them outside of the Southeast, so that itself will be worth a trip back. Back on the regular menu, the Royal Reds are another local Gulf gem I’ve never encountered in these parts. These shrimp are large and sweet, coming from Gulf waters 800 to 1500 deep. When you see these types of local Gulf treasures sourced by a restaurant, you know they are serious about bringing an authentic experience.
Lastly, with all the food talk, you might almost forget it is a grill and “Brew.” The beer list is where Oskar Blues embraces its Colorado roots. The Oskar Blues classics are on tap, from the OG Dale’s Pale Ale to the weed aroma themed Pinner. It doesn’t get any more Colorado than that. But Oskar Blues doesn’t discriminate against the rest of the craft beer industry, with several other quality Colorado breweries present along with a few from out-of-state. I had a hoppy IPA from Denver’s always-outstanding Comrade Brewing, while my wife had Oskar Blues’s refreshing Mexican themed Beerito Vienna Lager. Arvada’s Odyssey Beerworks was also a featured tap, with a rich porter standing up well to the food’s strong flavors. The one nod to the Southeast in the beer category is Tampa’s excellent Cigar City brewing, whose brown ale Maduro is another full flavored ale perfectly suited to accompany some of the rich fare.
At once Denver and Southern Alabama, Oskar Blues keeps it real on both the Grill and Brew sides. It seems destined to be a Gulf Coast/Colorado classic. Be sure to check out their downstairs music venue, the Black Buzzard!
Review by Mike B., In Good Taste Denver