Bison. It isn't just for breakfast anymore.
Bison is leaner than beef. The meat also contains more iron, making it darker than beef. The flavor is slightly more intense and richer than beef. Is that enough of a difference to make a restaurant successful? The folks running the new branch of Ted's Montana Grill in the Shops at Briargate are about to find out.
Ted's is a nice enough place, with an amiable wait staff clad in brown jackets that seem a size too large on everyone. The management has gone to a bit of effort to make sure that several of Colorado's own brews are offered on tap or by the bottle. And if you look up above the bar, toward the back, you'll see the gigantic head of a bison mounted on the wall, wearing a sort of perplexed expression.
Compared to any other restaurant, there are several things that Ted's does quite well. There are no appetizers on the menu, but your waiter will almost immediately bring you a bowl of what they call half-sours but I call farmer pickles. These are sliced fresh cucumbers, still crunchy, soaked briefly in seasoned pickling brine. Or you can always ask for an order of Salt and Pepper Onion Rings ($2.75). In a word, they're fabulous. A superbly crunchy, salty batter surrounds each wide ring, shattering into your mouth as you take a bite. Whoever runs the fryer is an expert at his or her craft, because these rings are almost ethereal in their lack of greasiness. These are worth the drive. (The fries, on the other hand, I'd have to say are merely acceptable. Not bad, but nothing to write home about, either.)
Ted's is the kind of place you can take anyone. There's a nice little kids menu with entrees for $3.95, ranging from sliders to hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders. And there's a wide and interesting selection of burgers, and the toppings can be served on beef, bison, chicken breast or a veggie burger (for a slight additional charge). The menu notes that all buns are "floated" unless otherwise requested. Personally, I've never understood the point of putting something on the menu that nobody is going to understand, but what do I know? "Floating" means they grill the bun, our waitress told us, so it will be better able to stand up to the gigantic burger and all the toppings without disintegrating. A friend of mine had George's Cadillac, made with beef, covered with barbecue sauce, cheddar and bacon, and it held up just fine. I tried a bison Philly, with snapping fresh onions and sweet green bell peppers sauted with mushrooms and held together by gooey, melted American cheese. The bottom bun was about as useful as a piece of wet paper, so I abandoned standard burger protocol and used a fork and knife. It was still a delicious burger, well cooked and juicy despite the fact that I ordered it medium well.
The blue-plate specials include items like cedar-planked salmon and "Beer Can" chicken, but since the claim to fame is bison, that's what we stuck with. I had an order of short ribs that came with delicious garlic mashed potatoes and some really well-cooked green beans, soft and forgiving rather than crisp and aggressive.
The short ribs ($13.95), a cut I usually expect to be lip-smacking in a greasy sort of home-cooked way, were remarkably lean and falling-off-the-bone tender in a way that only comes from slow cooking. They were slathered in a barbecue sauce that was not remarkable in any way, although the hot sauce at the table helped give it a little boost. The bison prime rib ($21.95) is like something from another, better dimension. People who like prime rib usually order it for the intense, rich flavor and just figure their cholesterol can be damned for the night. Bison prime rib delivers the same intensity of flavor but comes without all the attendant fat, making it a joy to eat. And the mashed potatoes that come with this entree get a topping of some delicious, old-fashioned brown gravy. And if you happen to visit Ted's on a cold day, when the wind is raw and you need a little comfort food, the pot roast ($11.50) is waiting for you. You'd swear someone's little old grandmother must be back in the kitchen cooking, to turn out a pot roast so meltingly tender.
After a meal like this, you really don't need much in the way of dessert. You can get tapioca pudding, a root beer float or the cookie of the day. We tried cookies and ice cream ($3.50), thinking that would be a simple ending to the meal. I was astonished to see two big scoops of ice cream (the incredibly rich Edy's Dreamery ice cream) accompanied by a chocolate chip cookie the size of a salad plate. My advice would be to share a dessert, although the "chocolate chip" cookie tasted and appeared to be nothing more than a giant sugar cookie with three little chunks of chocolate sprinkled on top.
Whether you order dessert or not, you won't leave Ted's feeling hungry. And you can spend the rest of the day pondering the implications of the fact that you just ate a piece of the largest mammal to occupy North America since the Ice Age.
Ted's Montana Grill
1685 Briargate Parkway
Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily