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What: Red meat in general—beef, lamb—but game meat in particular is big out here: Denver was once a frontier town, after all. Elk and buffalo are the local stars, but several restaurants will also carry reindeer, Cornish game hen, quail, pheasant, even ostrich and rattlesnake. Preparations for these meats might range from prime rib to sliders to—our personal favorite—hot dogs.
Where: At Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs (multiple locations including 16th & Arapahoe, map), you get hot dogs and brats from a hot dog stand, with one small twist: The wieners are made of meats like elk, buffalo, reindeer, wild boar, pheasant, yak, duck (plus usually a few beef). Not only that, but most of them get a schmear of cream cheese from a caulking gun, adding an unusual creaminess we found totally addicting. Owned by a former repo man (and biker) turned tubed-meat genius, Biker Jim’s is the only street stand of its kind in Denver, an unfortunate truth that’s usually reflected in the lunchtime lines.
Update: Happily, in 2011 Biker Jim added a brick-and-mortar restaurant downtown (2148 Larimer St., map) to his two-stand empire. It peddles the same (and more) great gourmet game dogs on a menu that also includes burgers, deep-fried mac-and-cheese, and local craft beer. A second restaurant has since been opened in Highlands Ranch.
When: The stands are open Mon-Fri, 10:30am-4pm (approx.). Check BJ’s Facebook page for announcements of weekend events or updates on closings due to weather, etc. The restaurant is open Mon-Thurs, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-3am; Sun, 11am-10pm.
Good to know: Wednesdays are a fun time to visit, as in honor of “What the !?#@ Wednesday,” the menu is supplemented by rotating exotic specials, like a rattlesnake-pheasant brat.
Order: Of the usual suspects on hand here, the elk and buffalo are always from Colorado and raised or prepared locally. So we encourage you to start there, with the excellent elk jalapeño-cheddar brat and/or the meaty “Southwest buffalo” brat, made with green chile, chipotle, cumin, and other spices ($6.50 each; both are pictured)—both were juicy and a bit spicy, making them especially good matches for the cooling cream cheese. However, most of the meats are additive-free and sustainably sourced, so feel free to also try the smoky-earthy Alaskan reindeer brat or porky-sweet wild boar sausage. All meat tubes are generous in size, split down the middle, grilled to perfection, and served in locally baked rolls. Besides cream cheese—yes, you must—there’s sweet caramelized onions on the grill (cooked in Coca-Cola, for the record) and a varied condiment tray offering plenty of pickles, hot peppers, raw onions, mustard, BBQ sauce, Sriracha hot sauce, and more.
Alternatively: We love Biker Jim’s for making game meats so readily accessible, in both cost and taste (plus we’re suckers for street food). But should you want a more full-on game experience—down to the taxidermy-plastered walls—consider Lincoln Park’s Old West-themed Buckhorn Exchange (1000 Osage St., map), established in 1893 and claiming Colorado’s first liquor license. On the menu is slow-roasted buffalo prime rib, farm-raised elk medallions, roasted Cornish game hen, fried alligator tail, marinated rattlesnake, a buffalo Reuben sandwich…and lots more. There’s also the Blake Street Vault (1526 Blake St., map), a restaurant and bar housed in a historic, allegedly haunted saloon from the 1860s, where you can order apricot-glazed buffalo sliders or a wild game platter of buffalo and venison sausages. Incidentally, both of these restaurants also offer another local specialty, Rocky Mountain oysters—which are, ahem, deep-fried bull testicles. Biker Jim has yet to touch those puppies.
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