You could call Fort Collins a self-propelled city. The ubiquitous bike lanes on streets are heavily used, as are the nearly 300 miles of trails that follow creeks and wetlands and pass through dozens of parks and natural areas (visitors can borrow bikes for free from the Bicycle Library www.fcbikelibrary.org 970-419-1050). Even one of the city’s seven microbreweries is largely wind powered (beer “hoppers” can take a Foam on the Range self-guided tour, at least as long as they can safely navigate). It’s not surprising a place this healthy is a college town, with Colorado State University boasting 26,000 students. Many graduates stay, drawn to what Outside magazine bills an American dream town. Indeed, it’s my favourite city on this month-long road food odyssey through four states.
For road trippers, Fort Collins is also a good base for rafting or fishing on the Cache la Poudre, a designated national wild and scenic river that flows through town. Rocky Mountain National Park is just west of town, and Pawnee National Grasslands are to the near east. Not far to the south are Boulder and Denver.
You know you’re in a Colorado college town when a downtown cafe offers four ways of brewing coffee, including pour over, French press and Chemex, the latter two yielding a 30-ounce-plus pot if you’re pulling an all-nighter. The Bean Cycle takes its coffee preparation seriously, using precise measurements for fresh-ground coffee quantity, water temperature and brewing or shot-pulling time. With my double-shot macchiato, the barrista even proffers a shot glass of San Pellegrino as a palate cleanser. The Bean Cycle also makes organic juices and smoothies. Some drinks are to go, but many are headed to laptop-covered tables, including the back and upstairs, where there’s a small bookstore.
The Bean Cycle
144 North College Avenue, Fort Collins
Monday to Thursday 6:30 am-9 pm, Friday 6:30 am-10 pm, Saturday 7 am-10 pm, Sunday 8 am-9 pm
Big Al’s Burgers & Dogs is a no-frills joint famous for two things. First is its 60-40 burger, a juicy patty of beef (60%) mixed with bacon (40%). I’m surprised other burger barons haven’t figured out that everything is better with bacon. Second is its shoestring truffle fries, though the white truffle oil is somewhat overpowered by the generous topping of Parmesan cheese; you won’t need extra salt. I guess there’s a third and a fourth—half a dozen dogs (including one that’s deep fried) and Haagen Daz-based milkshakes such as the Worm Dirt, a chocolate shake with crumbled Oreos and “gummy worm” topping. Big Al also has a big heart, donating the tip jar proceeds to local charities and using recycled wood to help furnish the restaurant.
Big Al’s Burgers & Dogs
140 West Mountain Ave, Fort Collins
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-9 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-2 am.
I’m not sure what’s more fun: sampling the Belgian-style beers at Funkwerks or being asked for ID (hint: I’m much closer to having my car keys forcibly removed than passing my adolescent driver’s test). Once I’ve passed the age test, I sip two wee glasses of Saison-style beers, originally brewed for Belgian farmworkers. These well-crafted, hoppy beers have nice floral notes, a lingering bitterness and a higher alcohol content than most microbrews.
1900 East Lincoln Avenue, Fort Collins
Tasting room/patio open Sunday to Thursday noon to 8 pm Friday and Saturday noon to 9 pm
Equinox Brewing is a bit like transplanting a pub from the misty moors of England to the high foothills of Fort Collins, minus the tweedy geezers with trembling hands. Mercifully, the tap house/brewery offers only one hoppy India pale ale. The rest of its roster is dedicated to dense, complex ales, porters and my choice of an oatmeal stout that wraps my tongue in a chocolaty blanket. If you know what you want, a 20-ounce pint is the way to go. If not, order the tray of six samplers, most featuring Equinox’s house yeast. Besides Equinox’s Tap House, their fine brews are featured in nine other local bars, but I didn’t find it for sale in any retail outlet.
133 Remington Street, Fort Collins
Monday to Wednesday noon to 8 pm, Thursday-Friday noon to 9 pm, Saturday 11 am-9 pm, Sunday noon-7 pm
I haven’t had trout for breakfast in a good three decades, and that was fresh from a stream, dredged in flour and cooked in butter in a cast-iron skillet. So it is strictly for research that I order trout at Silver Grill Café. But I must say, the two fillets are expertly grilled and accompanied by two eggs, a mess of hash browns and swirly rye toast. Despite its modern, scrubbed look, the century-old Silver Grill is northern Colorado’s oldest restaurant and a Fort Collins institution. Its extensive breakfast menu includes eggs with steak, pork chops, tamales and hominy. A whole menu page is devoted to its signature huge cinnamon roll, 10,000 of which are cranked out a month; it can be devoured as French toast or with eggs or even ice cream. Lunches include hot meals like a pot roast open-faced sandwich.
Silver Grill Cafe
218 Walnut Street, Fort Collins
Daily 6:30 am-2 pm
*The Little Bird Bakeshop is one of those places where you just know the pastries are going to be good, even before taking that first sinful bite. The look says it all, from the plump cranberry raisin oatmeal cookies and plum streusel bites to the chocolate croissant bread pudding and fantastic little stout gingerbread loaf. These mouth-watering treats come out first thing in the morning, to be savoured with a lovely French-press coffee, served in a stainless steel pot, or a perfectly crafted latte from the Elektra espresso machine. That clears the ovens for breads that hit the shelves at 1 p.m., with daily specials such as a Tuscan olive oil batard on Tuesdays. Owner/pastry chef Amy Wyatt pays close attention to the details (even the bathroom is spotless), and it shows in this downtown Fort Collins cafe.
The Little Bird Bakeshop
#121, 11 Old Town Square, Fort Collins
Tuesday to Friday 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 8 am-4pm. Closed Monday
It’s funny how keeping your eyes, and mind, open can lead to great culinary discoveries. For example, I ‘m having trouble parking near my destination restaurant in downtown Fort Collins and end up on a side street. As I get out of the car, I glance in the window of Choice City Butcher & Deli and see a great-looking toasted sandwich packed with meat on some guy’s plate. That draws me into this busy downtown lunch spot and, a few minutes after ordering, I’m happily digging into a BLT thick with bacon and an accompanying side of zesty potato salad. The sandwiches here are delicious and large; in many cases, a half will suffice. Order the sausage sandwich and you get to choose the meat (including wild boar and duck cilantro) from the deli case. The space is comfortable, with hardwood floors and wood tables, but the noon-hour din can make it hard to hear your completed order being called out. Choice City also features some three dozen beers on tap and is rated in the world’s top 10 restaurants that serve beer.
Choice City Butcher & Deli
104 West Olive Street, Fort Collins
Sunday-Tuesday 7 am-6 pm, Wednesday to Saturday 7 am-9 pm
Can you transplant the rich culture of New Orleans to the high plains of northern Colorado? Probably not. But Lucile’s is doing a good job of making inroads on the culinary front, with five locations between Fort Collins and Denver dishing out large portions of flavourful Louisiana fare. Here, you can indulge in beignets (doughnuts), grits, collards and chicory coffee. The egg dishes include one with fried eggplant and creole sauce and, my choice, poached eggs with hollandaise sauce, Gulf shrimp, creamed spinach and a large, crispy biscuit that I smear with house-made rhubarb preserve. For something different, try the rice pudding porridge topped with raspberry sauce, currants and cream. The Fort Collins location I visit is in a charming old house, the cozy, kitchen feel enhanced by patterned vinyl tablecloths.
400 South Meldrun Street, Fort Collins
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm, weekends 8 am-2 pm
Last, but certainly not least, are two Fort Colllins’ places, Restaurant 415 and Harbinger Coffee that provided my favourite meal and coffee, respectively, on my recent month-long trip through four Rocky Mountain states. You can read about them in this previous blog about my best road trip eats of 2012: http://marathonmouth.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/my-best-road-trip-meals-of-2012/