Sports bars and coffee shops: key components of America's food-and-drink bedrock. These are the places you go for a game and some beers, or conversation punctuated by the whir of an espresso machine or string-driven solipsism from a cozy corner.
It's easy to get all Tolstoy about it and dismissively say that all sports bars are alike, and coffee shops, too. But there are, of course, subtle differences that define each place as a destination to which you'd care to return — or not.
This week, after having visited a new sports bar and newly transitioned coffee shop in the Tri-Lakes area, I offer a brief review of each, with a few words on their distinguishing nuances.
Need for speed
Stopping randomly into Speedtrap for lunch, I learn that it's the debut day of a new, expanded menu under Caroline Bilodeau, who purchased the seven-year-old shop two months ago. Normally, we'd refrain from looking critically at a place in that situation, but everything we sampled was tight.
A crème fraîche-garnished sweet potato bisque ($3.95) found added dynamic with infused ginger and dark rum. A turkey and salami sandwich with Havarti cheese ($6.95 with chips and a slivered cucumber salad) surpassed the norm with help from an olive tapenade and chopped pepperoncinis on a light, spongy, house-made English bread.
Lastly, a WTF?-inspiring Continental Sausage buffalo bratwurst, caramelized onion and sharp cheddar crêpe — yes, crêpe — totally worked with a walnut, cranberry, bacon, tomato and bleu cheese side salad (feta optional) with maple vinaigrette for $8.95. With slices of the brat intermixed with the gooey, sweet carmies, this "masculine crêpe," as Bilodeau terms it, is meant to appeal to that demographic of Speedtrap's longtime clientele. (Gluten-free versions of all crêpes are available.)
Formerly, the outfit only offered coffee-friendly baked goods. The Montreal-born Bilodeau, who holds no formal culinary training but "a passion for food," designed the small breakfast and lunch menus herself, citing extensive world travel for some inspiration. Her tiny, one-oven kitchen allowing, she envisions adding a dinner menu or at least special monthly dinners down the road; currently she offers light snacks to complement alcohol and coffee offerings in the evenings.
That coffee, by the way, comes from nearby Serranos, and is handled well inside the Entrapmint, a one-, two-, or three-shot white mocha with peppermint syrup. I got two shots for $4, finding the finished product well-balanced.
While dubbed a "trap," Bilodeau's caffeine spot is no pit.
I ask our waitress for ketchup with my onion rings, and she jokingly says "Gross!" This, after having shrugged with complete apathy at my order of "Spicy Balls" — Rocky Mountain Oysters, for $8.95 — just moments before.
Suffice to say the atmosphere at seven-month-old 1st & 10 Sports Bar & Grill is relaxed and fun, backlit by some 25 TVs that co-owner Jamie Holland says she and her husband/partner Todd Freidlund are happy to turn to whatever station you want. (Her customers tell her that some other bars selfishly rule the remote.)
In this former space of Eric's Monument Grille, the two, with the help of chefs Shane Holland (her brother) and John Read, have developed a pretty typical sports bar menu broken up by a handful of unique plates. The aforementioned balls, house-battered and fried and served with a nice, biting horseradish dip, don't tend to grace too many menus these days. Nor do the gator nuggets (market price) that we didn't get to, which pay homage to Monument-born Freidlund's former bar businesses in Florida.
We instead went for a half-dozen Maple Leaf Farms duck wings ($9.95), three with a fantastic jerk seasoning and three with an "insane hot" sauce, chosen from nine options. The jerk carries nearly as much heat as the insanity, but neither kills flavor, thankfully.
Denver-based Continental Sausage makes an appearance at 1st & 10, too, in the satisfying New Belgium 1554 Black Ale beer brat ($6.95). It's great with a stone-ground mustard next to those nicely fried onion rings, and perfectly accompanies a pitcher of Firestone Walker Brewing Co.'s Union Jack ($15), a 7.5 percent IPA with a diverse hop profile.
It of course complements the Fully Loaded ($12.95) wood-oven pizza too, a better-than-average-bar-pizza consisting of a house five-cheese blend, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, Portobellos, olives, red onions and green peppers.
That qualifier, "better-than-average," sticks in my mind as a good summation of 1st & 10: a community-minded place that sponsors its local school teams, acts as the late-night closer, and executes good versions of the usual suspects.