FORT COLLINS – When one thinks of Colorado foodie tours, Denver immediately springs to mind.
But digging a little deeper and driving just a bit farther up Interstate-25 will bring the intrepid hunger hound to Fort Collins, where a lively and energetic round of restaurants and even farms dish up cuisine to tempt any palate.
One of the finest ways to whet the appetite and get a little exercise as well. Beer & Bike Tours (beerandbiketours.com) offers not only easy excursions of the local and flourishing craft brewery scene, but also takes riders of all skill levels around the world.
“We do 600 to 800 visitors in Fort Collins alone every year,” said owner, chief cyclist and admitted beer connoisseur Bob Williams. “We take people around and try to get them to understand a little bit about craft brewing. We connect them with the brew masters, the owners of the breweries, let them tell their story. It’s not just biking around and swilling beer, although we do occasionally have bachelor or bachelorette parties.”
Horse & Dragon Brewing Co. (horseanddragonbrewing.com) is one of the first stops. The business housed in an old airplane hangar at the former Fort Collins airport. A model of sustainability and eco-preservation, the brewery recycles spent grain with a local farm as animal feed, it reuses its water that used to cool the wort (the liquid extracted from the mashing process) used in brewing the beer and encourages both customers and employees to cycle in, publishing a monthly accounting of the carbon dioxide pounds saved.
“Within the first three years they were open, they made sure all of their employees have health insurance, and they have very little to no turnover,” Williams said. “They just do a good job of caring for the people around them, and I think it comes through in their product and the feel of their taproom.”
One of the newer sites on the scene, the Farmhouse at Jessup Farms, is nearing its second anniversary, but it’s already a fixture in a 130-year-old former farmhouse.
“This used to be a working cattle ranch,” owner and entrepreneur Jesse Doerfful said. “We still have the original chicken coop and farmhouse. All the greenery we have around here is edible. So we basically have an edible garden. We have plums in the back, so we can do our own little desserts.”
The idea is to present top-notch food in a laid-back manner, she said.
“This is one of the least dramatic restaurant environments I’ve ever had,” said Doerfful, who used to work with the Ritz Carlton chain. “One of the first questions we ask is if people can go in the back and get their hands dirty in the garden, and that separates out a lot of people.”
A more traditional meeting place, Silver Grill Café (silvergrill.com) is northern Colorado’s longest-operating restaurant, serving up a variety of stick-to-the-ribs fare for 84 years in Fort Collins’ Old Town district.
A staple for breakfast mornings, the café is known for its cinnamon rolls, which evolved from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe into a gooey concoction that is not only a meal unto itself, but has become the basis for many other dishes, including a decadent Welsh rarebit Benedict that tops the bun with just about everything in the kitchen.
To top off the caloric overload, Nuance Chocolate (nuancechocolate.com) is not your everyday chocolate maker.
In its third year, Nuance is a rare, small-batch chocolate maker that literally makes its chocolate from scratch, importing the cacao beans from around the world, roasting it to develop depth and range, co-owner Toby Gadd said.
“Then we grind them for as many as three consecutive days, creating the ideal balance of flavors, aromas, and textures,” he said. “Finally, we form the chocolate into a range of delicious treats, ranging from single-origin bars to rich truffles.”