Dining review: Tap Traders known for beer, but food easily bests usual pub fare

By Robin Intemann Updated: November 15, 2017 at 4:19 pm • Published: November 15, 2017 0

As if the building that once housed a film studio and airplane hangar wasn't storied enough, the current occupant has a new tale to tell.

Tap Traders, a restaurant with 30 brews on tap, shares space with Tile Traders in the historic building owned by brothers Tim and Tom Black on North Nevada Avenue near Fillmore Street. The décor pays homage to the Alexander Film Co. and Alexander Aircraft, and it features some tilework from the Blacks' tile business next door. Work by local artists and bicycles hanging from the ceiling complete the design scheme.

The beer attracts people to Tap Traders, but don't overlook the food, because this isn't pub grub. The menu is diverse, fun and includes beer-pairing suggestions.

Tap Traders Restaurant "Chili Poppers" Wednesday November 8, 2017. Photo by Jeff Kearney.  

Five tempting starters are an immediate indication of the chef's range. The most pedestrian is a Wimberger Bakery pretzel ($4). The meat and cheese board ($15) earns kudos for plating, but the green chili poppers ($7) win best in show, taste and creativity. These are not your frozen-food-section stuffed hors d'oeuvres. Instead, multiple layers of paper-thin filo dough are filled with cream cheese and piquant green chili, then quick-fried and served over habanero-apricot sauce. They're a perfect accompaniment to a cold beer or any beverage.

We were told everything is made in-house. This includes the distinctly pink pickled onions accompanying everything we ordered as well as other pickled veggies in the house side salad ($5), lightly dressed with pumpkin vinaigrette.

Colorado green chili ($5) is a regular item, along with a soup du jour. On my visit, it was butternut squash bisque. When the cup arrived, it was almost too pretty, with creamy swirls most often associated with lattes and artful baristas. The soup was OK; it needed a flavor boost, perhaps just salt or something stronger such as nutmeg.

Menu changes had been put in place a few days before our visit. Our server admitted to not having had the opportunity to try everything, but he said the lasagna ($12), the fish and chips ($13) and the Shockwurst ($11) were very good. I should have ordered the latter if only for its name and the fact that it's a sausage infused with Shock Top beer. Instead, I went for the spaetzle and cheese because it seemed like such a clever spin on basic comfort food. Besides, it also featured beer in the recipe.

Tap Traders Restaurant "Spatzle with Oxtail" Wednesday November 8, 2017. Photo by Jeff Kearney.  

Spaetzle, short handmade German noodles, are lightly sautéed, some a little longer than others to provide variety in texture. The noodles are then coated with a stout beer sauce. It is not at all heavy but is completely satisfying. The pickled onions and a smear of the habanero sauce on the plate added color and a suggestion of spice.

To my palate, the dinner winner was lasagna. The pasta sheets were neither too thick nor too thin, with fresh ricotta and hand-pulled mozzarella cheese topped with meat sauce made with red wine and herbs. Some renditions of this Italian classic can be heavy like a pair of boots when slippers will do. The lighter touch doesn't make the entrée any less filling or enjoyable.

Tap Traders features lives music Thursday and Saturday nights. The space is comfortable, with an open kitchen. The lineup of taps is also impressive.

Only three desserts are offered, but none was enticing enough. Perhaps I'll ask about the flavor of the house-made ice cream ($3) on my next visit. I want more of Tap Traders' story.

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