What: Spruce Farm & Fish at the Hotel Boulderado
Where: 2115 13th Street, Boulder
Pros: You know exactly where your food comes from, whether it’s the Harris Ranch natural beef, the proprietary Single Barrel Buffalo Trace Whiskey, or the Colorado Striped Bass. The new emphasis on seafood, complete with an oyster bar, brings something distinct to Boulder. Oh, and the outstanding cocktails are not to be missed.
Cons: With The Corner Bar, License No. 1 and Spruce all in the same building, it may be hard to decide where you want to eat and drink at the renovated Hotel Boulderado.
Since last Spring, the historic Hotel Boulderado has undergone quite the transformation. The renovations began with the revamping of The Corner Bar. Next, the sprawling underground bar, Catacombs, previously filled with cheap long island iced teas and college students was reborn as License No. 1., a classy speakeasy. The final piece of the puzzle? The bittersweet shuttering of Q’s Restaurant, which has been reincarnated as Spruce. Or, Spruce Farm & Fish, to be exact.
The Hotel Boulderado opened its doors over a century ago, and while Spruce’s dining room has been re-imagined, the historic charm and covered porch have not been done away with. One of the most obvious updates is the raised central seating area in the dining room complete with booths for a more private dining experience. The splashiest new addition? The gleaming oyster bar, a nod to an old photograph taken of the Boulderado in the 1920’s, when it housed one of Boulder’s first oyster bars.
Chef Shawn Murrell is running the kitchen as executive chef at Spruce. Murrell, formerly of Tahona and Magnolia, has been cooking at the Boulderado for five years, three of them as John Platt’s executive chef at Q’s. He designed the brand new menu with a focus on freshness and local flavors (he did keep a few favorite dishes, like the salmon sandwich and New England clam chowder around).
“We wanted to expose people to new things, while keeping the regulars,” Murrell says. So while the menu has grown to include a varied selection of super-fresh coastal seafood, the focus really lies on spotlighting local products and ingredients. “Using all of these products from local farms is really the best way to make sure we’re a part of the community, and we really want to champion all the best local products for our out of state visitors” says Murrell. These local ingredients are found peppering the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and social hour menus with aplomb. Colorado is well represented in everything from Noosa Yogurt, Oxford Gardens produce, Hazel Dell Mushrooms, and Haystack Mountain Goat cheese, to snapper, striped bass and Colorado Fresh Farms Chicken.
A sizeable portion of the menu is devoted to small plates, a decision that reflects the bar-centric, happy-hour-friendly vibe of Spruce Farm & Fish. The cocktails are not to be missed. The drinks, designed with Allison Widdecombe from Williams & Graham, are simply amazing. 303 writer, Lindsey Bartlett, loved the No. 1 Old Fashioned, a perfect take on the classic made with Buffalo Trace Whiskey produced just for the Boulderado. My favorite was either the blueberry smash or the strawberry tequila, both of which featured fruit and house made herbal simple syrups in perfect balance.
Murrell’s cooking takes a restrained approach to let the farm-to-table ingredients shine. With ingredients this fresh, he can focus on flavor and simplicity. Take the roasted sweet corn soup, featuring Olathe Colorado sweet corn. While I’ve had plenty of corn chowders awash with peppers and potatoes or drowned in heavy cream, this corn soup was accented with artful swirls of chimichurri crème fraiche and a sprinkling of chili toasted pepitas. The real flavor here came from the sweet, buttery summer corn itself.
Small plates include selections like caramelized brussel sprouts, smoked trout dip, and a pretty classic lump blue crab cake. The crab cake was plated with fresh cut hearts of palm and a smear of zippy lemon tarragon dressing that fell somewhere between an aioli and vinaigrette. I could have made a meal around this crab cake alone.
While the team here is flying in a variety of sparklingly fresh coastal seafood, including PEI mussels and oysters, Chef Murrell also wanted to feature some Colorado fish. There’s the gorgeous crispy whole snapper, and a Colorado striped bass fillet served with black quinoa, Tuscan kale, and sundried tomato caper vinaigrette. My favorite dish I sampled, however, was probably the filet mignon, with Harris Ranch natural beef, melt in your mouth gold potato gnocchi , Hazel Dell mushrooms, snap peas, and gorgonzola. The fillet was perfectly cooked, and this dish would please those looking for a standard meat-and-potatoes plate as well as more adventurous palates.
Make sure to save room for Pastry chef Alex Hindman’s desserts. Also a Q’s veteran, she produces amazingly well done versions of nostalgic classics like Bing cherry pie. “I love making desserts you won’t want to share,” Hindman says. Try her take on flourless chocolate cake. A clear departure from the fudgy, heavy versions that dominate menus, this cake had a light, tender crumb and was served with a dollop of crème fraiche and warm caramel sauce. Hindman certainly has a way with chocolate, as the peanut butter french silk tart was also a winner, especially with the addictively crunchy salted peanut brittle on top.
Like all of the recent renovations at the Boulderado, Spruce Farm & Fish manages to connect the past with the present, to be both historically tasteful and modern at the same time. The only problem now is that with so many great options all in one spot, it may be hard to choose where to eat and drink. My suggestion? Grab a cocktail at Spruce’s bar and enjoy some of the oysters (only two dollars apiece during happy hour) and relish the fact that they are probably a good deal fresher than the ones the Boulderado’s original oyster bar was serving in 1920.
All photos courtesy of Marc Piscotty.