According to Dungeons and Dragons, the Owlbear is a large beast with a ravenous appetite. This info can be found on the wall of the restroom, which is plastered with pages taken directly from the game’s monster manual. The namesake creatures provide much of the decoration in the sparsely decorated interior of the newly reopened barbecue joint. But coming to Karl Fallenius’ spot isn’t about the setting — though the place is perfectly comfortable — people come here for the cue. What began its life as something of a food truck inside Finn’s Manor finally reopened after a two-year hiatus in its own space nestled in the parking lot next to Our Mutual Friend brewery. The wait was in part due to some major life changes like the birth of his first daughter, struggles with the city and even stolen doors from his smoker.
When the doors open each day there will often be a line of people waiting to take home some of Fallenius’ coveted meats, and the food will always sell out well before the theoretical closing time of 6 p.m., a testament to the serious quality of the remarkably affordable fare. Fallenius got his start in Austin working at the 24-hour coffee shop and barbecue truck Blue Ox. But where he cut his teeth was working under Aaron Franklin at the famed Franklin’s. Franklin is the author of the authoritative Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, and is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest pitmasters. The connection is evident, and while Owlbear never tries to emulate the Texas joint, Fallenius works with the same scrupulous devotion to creating the best possible product.
At Owlbear there is only one sauce, and you have to ask for it — the focus is focused firmly on the meats which are smoked in two converted propane tanks out front dubbed Smaug and Shenron. The place is a 24-hour operation with much of what is served smoking for 12 or more hours. The menu is simple, straightforward and classic. The brisket sandwich ($6) is remarkably cheap considering the quality not just of the preparation but of the meat itself, sourced from Rivier in Southern Minnesota. All the pig comes from Tenderbelly and the sides are made in-house. The mac and cheese ($2 for a side, $4 for small, $7 for medium and $12 for large) is made with gorgonzola, fontina, mozzarella and parmesan and is just as decadent as it sounds. The devotion to quality and consistency is evident in every aspect of the food, where Fallenius places all his attention. There is no marketing budget, the product speaks loudly all for itself. “We do what we do as well as we can,” said Fallenius said, striving for perfection.
It’s easy to see why Owlbear was so popular and so sorely missed. In a city with a respectable barbecue scene, the place really does stand out. While you probably don’t need to arrive in line before opening to get a piece yet, now that the cat is out of the bag it couldn’t hurt to arrive early.
Owlbear is located at 2826 Larimer St., Denver. It is open Thursday – Sunday from 11 a.m. until it sells out.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.