N3 Taphouse is a restaurant/bar in an old fire station where the flames in the kitchen are well under control.
Long past its days as a city firehouse, the unassuming two-story brick building on West Colorado Avenue has, through the years, either accommodated or been considered for many eateries. Those are faded memories with no ghosts to haunt the new tenants. It helps that the interior has undergone a complete overhaul. Also, based on the menu, the industrial décor and friendly ambiance, N3 Taphouse is likely to become a mainstay. Owner Johnny Nolan (of Navajo Hogan and the late Southside Johnny's) has a recipe for success that's not formulaic.
That's not to say everything on my recent visit was perfect, because it wasn't. But missteps were quickly addressed, and most of our order exceeded expectations.
A large selection of Colorado craft beers is available, along with wine and cocktails. Most of the patrons, even those at the bar, seemed to be at the Taphouse to enjoy the food.
I've never met a veggie burger ($12) that didn't fall apart at first bite, so there was no disappointment in the N3 version. This was an eat-with-a-knife-and-fork rendition, not of the two-fisted variety. Despite the mess, this thick, house-made black-bean burger featured avocado aioli and all the trimmings associated with its non-vegetable counterparts.
The aioli, sauces, salad dressings, desserts and more are all made in house.
We opted for some of our server's favorites, which included the Colorado striped bass ($20) and the barbecue chicken pizza ($14).
The mild fish was pan-seared with a honey-miso marinade that highlighted the white, flaky texture. The portion seemed small, but that may have been due to the success of the preparation. We wanted more. Quartered potatoes roasted and coated with olive oil, sage, salt and pepper were served with the fish. These were also the side for the veggie burger.
The menu includes several pizza options; a few feature the standard, pizzeria toppings. A peach pizza was the special the night of our visit, and enticing as it sounded - the fruit was from Palisade - we skipped it. In retrospect, it might have been a better choice. Our pizza was one of the disappointments, despite our server's rave review. Tangy barbecue chicken with black beans and pepper Jack cheese would have been just fine. But a profusion of sliced jalapeños proved to offset the balance of flavors. The description of the pizza didn't mention the peppers; instead the list of ingredients included pickled slaw, of which there was no evidence.
On the upside were the short rib tacos ($9). Three corn tortillas piled high with tender, shredded beef, a salsa with the perfect amount of heat (no fire hoses required) and slaw (sans jalapeños) were a hit. They appear on the appetizer part of the menu but were satisfying enough to count as an entrée.
Another disappointment was the nuts and berries salad ($13). This was a beautiful combination of fresh berries, candied pecans, sliced apples and lettuce that had gone bad, really bad. It wasn't only wilted, but also slimy and discolored. Most of the greens went uneaten. This was an oversight that should have been caught before it reached the table.
Ultimately, the good overshadowed the negative, especially since we ended with bananas Foster ($6). This decadent combination of bananas caramelized in butter, brown sugar, rum and spices served over vanilla ice cream was a strong indicator of talent in the kitchen.