O’Brien’s Pub and Grill: Ouray, Colorado

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Shepherd’s Pie, anyone? O’Brien’s Pub serves it up with some healthy veggies and salad if you like.

I love casual bars and dining, and especially a good Irish pub. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be alone, so you can find them in even remote places, like Ouray, Colorado. In this case, O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, right on the main drag in Ouray, with lots of wood, mirrors and good Irish whiskey. And, of course, some good Irish eatin’.

I popped into the pub on a weekday afternoon when it wouldn’t be too busy to satisfy a craving I had for some Irish food for weeks. I had first tried to check it out during their holiday off season, when many businesses have their breaks. But today I was going to score me some traditional Irish cuisine, and after debating over the Fish and Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Bangers and Mashed, I finally decided I was going to get me some Shepherd’s Pie or die trying. (Well, maybe not DIE trying, but it sounds good, right?)

Now calories and watching ones’ waistline is generally not a high priority if you walk into an Irish pub and grill, but I was glad the side dish served with it was a salad to compensate for the ridiculous calories I was going to consume. It’s sort of like having Diet Coke with your Big Mac… it cancels out the Big Mac calories… everyone knows this. But even the Shepherd’s Pie was actually lighter than I expected. More like a stew with some potatoes on top. I’m not sure that’s traditional, but it was a refreshing surprise. Now, I’m not naive enough to think it wasn’t loaded with stuff that’s bad for me, but hey, that’s the whole point of going to a bar — doing things that are bad for you. But delightful. The lamb was tender and aromatic. In fact, it caught the attention of the bartender who confessed he has never tried it, but he thought it looked and smelled pretty tasty and liked the fact it seemed more like a soup and salad dish than a huge stuff-till-you-burst entree.

Since I was so good and had a salad with my Shepherd’s Pie, well, I had to have dessert. DUH! So I had the warm bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Oh, it was so good on a snowy day. Or any day, but especially with a chill in the air and snow on the ground.

Now, most people expect to read about the Guinness at an Irish pub. I must confess, I haven’t developed a taste for it yet, but I suspect I just had a cheap version when I tried it.  So I did not partake of the Guinness, but… I do love my Irish whiskey. Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey, to be precise. O’Brien’s takes it’s patrons on whiskey flights if they choose, where they get four different shots of whiskey to sample.  For instance, the Middleton Distillery Flight where you get one shot each of Powers Irish Whiskey, Paddy Old Irish Whiskey, Tullamore Dew and Redbreast Aged 12 Years for the bargain price of $13 at the time of this writing.

You can also opt for a Cooley Distillery Flight, or  John Jameson Flight, but my choice on this one was a no-brainer: bring on the Bushmill’s Flight, bitches! For a mere $24 I had a shot of Bushmill’s, Bushmill’s Black, Bushmill’s 16 Year Old, and Bushmill’s 21 Year Old. Now that’s good drinkin’ y’all. You can add a pint for $3.00, but I decided I wanted to remain upright and be able to sober up for the drive back to my hotel later.

This place would be deadly on an overnighter.

Check back in for more articles on Ouray, which is one of the coolest towns I’ve ever visited, and it’s nearby neighbor Ridgeway. These are real gems off the beaten path in Colorado, along with Silverton and Durango. The best of Colorado in this old girl’s opinion, and that’s saying a lot. (I still have some photos of Ouray and Ridgeway as well as one more restaurant review coming. I need to get back to cover more, as I LOVE Ouray!)

Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

moab000 Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah is known for magnificent scenery and an outdoor sports culture. I was hellbent on checking out the local Arches National park, and sampling some nostalgia at the Moab Diner, but hit a small distraction on the way.

The Blu Pig.

Even cruising by on the highway entering town, the Blues, Brews and BBQ sign was about to make me slam on the brakes, because anytime you want to combine good food, alcohol and music, I’m down. Unfortunately, I had many hours to fill till they opened at 4 pm, so I did my hiking/photography thing and pulled in as the full moon was rising over the blue neon.

The restaurant is laid out with a huge table running down the middle, and the servers seemed to be preparing for a big party. Bummer – I like a nice, quiet and preferably empty setting when I’m going to geek out taking food and restaurant photos.

My waitress was friendly and very professional, and told me they do have live music Wednesday through Sunday, but on this Tuesday night I had to settle for piped in blues. Eh, I’ll take that. It beats the hell out of Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, or whatever top-40 douchebag du jour is on heavy rotation on the radio.

Even though I wasn’t very hungry, I opted for the three meat platter, choosing sausage, smoked turkey and pulled pork. Call me crazy, but I have yet to meet a Texas brisket I’ve liked, so I left that for another day. You also get two sides with this order, and they have a huge selection, including southern favorites like fried okra as well as more traditional sides of baked beans.

As I figured I’d be hard pressed to find anyone else offering red beans and rice in a radius of, well… several states, I went with that, and asked for a recommendation from the waitress for my second side. She recommended the coleslaw – a classic BBQ side, and a simple dish, but one so many restaurants can’t seem to get quite right.

I got my corn bread before the main meal was served, and after smothering it with butter, couldn’t resist starting in before the rest of my food arrived. It was moist and fresh, and a nice start to the big plate that came out quickly after.

Thank goodness for take home boxes.

The waitress explained each of the sauces at the table: Carolina mustard sauce, Kansas City-style and their “house” Texas BBQ sauce. The smoked turkey comes with a special BBQ sauce, as well. And the pulled pork uses the house Texas sauce, so I tried the Carolina and Kansas City-style both on a little turkey, as well as the turkey BBQ.

Much to my surprise, I liked the Carolina sauce best, perhaps because it stands out so much from more traditional sauces – I found the Texas and Kansas City somewhat similar.

The red beans and rice was a little bland, and it occurred to me afterwards it really needed the sausage mixed in with it to give it some kick, as it didn’t really seem to have any in the side dish by itself.

But the coleslaw… I swear they resurrected my mama and had her back in that kitchen making slaw. It was a creamy, fresh cabbage (not browned, old cabbage like so many restaurants serve) adding a nice contrast to the BBQ sauces.

Good tip for me, means good tip for you, Ms. Waitress.

The sausage was my favorite of the meat offerings, with good spicy flavor and nice and juicy. The turkey had just a hint of smoky flavor, but paired well with all the sauces offered.  The pulled pork was moist, tender, but a little less flavorful than some pulled pork I’ve had, but hey, we’re in Mitt Romney/Mormon country, not the deep south or Kansas City, so how high can you really set you BBQ barometer? Especially for a girl who used to live less than a quarter mile from Slo’s BBQ in Detroit.

Tasty food, good service and good music, in a beautiful town. You can’t beat that.

BBBMoab Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

 

Mmmm… Happy Belly, indeed

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If you’re one of those people who think small town cafes mean frozen beef patty hamburgers and onion rings, Happy Belly Deli in Norwood, Colorado will definitely redefine small town cuisine for you.

The restaurant is also a bakery and coffee house, but forget any vision of pretentious open mike nights and all-vegan bohemian staff. The menu boasts a variety of healthy – and not so healthy, in a good way – dishes that cover any diner or group.

Opening at 6:30 am (5:30 am during hunting season), you can start with breakfast in the colorful dining area, where local artists display their work. They have some fancy mixes of espresso and teas, but for a good ol’ cup of joe, it’s self-served family style by the ordering counter. There’s a daily special, but also a choice of breakfast bowls and sandwiches that make great to-go items.

And that egg, cheese and meat sandwich on a homemade croissant… ooh-la-la, that puts Burger King to shame (not that that’s hard, but you get what I’m saying.) I go pepper jack on the cheese for a little southwestern spicy kick and extra crispy bacon… yeah, it’s not good for you, but it hurts so good, right?

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The dining room is sunny and warm, with shades of green and orange.

The Benny breakfast bowl seems to be a popular favorite, which features the usual eggs and potatoes, but has a hollandaise sauce thrown in the mix. I was going to get that on my last trip, but confess I got sidetracked by the daily special – an omelet with cheese, bacon and carmelized onions.

Likewise, you can grab a single serving quiche fresh from the oven, or a selection of pastries and huge muffins overflowing their wrapper. And they always have a gluten-free option if you need one.

Now, when you move to lunch, things get a little healthier, thank goodness, or this whole town would be dead or on the heart transplant list.

The chicken pesto sandwich is tasty, stuffed with chicken, of course, and cream cheese, pesto, tomatoes and sprouts. There are vegetarian options, if needed, such as the Mediterranean roll: hummus, feta cheese, carrots, pepper rings, olives, cucumbers, lettuce and Greek dressing in a whole wheat wrap.

The food is very good, but even better is the friendly ambience, and the local hang out here. I’ve witnessed conversations from ballroom dancing to the counter gal asking a customer if his house was unlocked so she could go by and take a look at it, as she was thinking of renting it after he moved. And of course, it was.

That is a conversation you’ll only hear in a town of 400 or so.

If you’re passing through Norwood, Colorado, stop by the Happy Belly Deli – before 3pm when they close – and give yourself a happy belly, indeed.

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The egg, bacon and cheese croissant. Take that Burger King.