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Atomic Cowboy/Denver Biscuit Co./Fat Sully’s food dynasty invades Springs, invites friends 

click to enlarge Biscuits even become French toast here, soaked in syrup. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Biscuits even become French toast here, soaked in syrup.
The Denverization of the Springs culinary scene has begun, and it’s Drew Shader’s fault. But don’t blame him. Thank him. He’s the founder of the Atomic Cowboy, Denver Biscuit Company and Fat Sully’s trifecta, a three-brands-under-one-roof powerhouse that’s etched out four bustling Denver locations. Atomic Cowboy refers to the bar, while DBC’s the early-day biscuit-driven concept, and Fat Sully’s the midday-to-late-night New York Style pizza arm.

Not to knock the Springs’ scene (we boast many praiseworthy spots), but our town’s best chefs, bartenders, baristas and other food/drink aficionados (vegans to Asian cuisine loyalists) have favorite Denver jaunts — to places that were doing third wave coffee, craft cocktails, avant-garde gourmet, authentic noodles and everything else long before, and often better than us.

But rather than wait for the years-long trickle-down effect, what’s new now is the expansion of Denver outfits into our market. Neighboring Dos Santos taqueria shortly followed this Atomic trio, and both Shader and that taqueria’s owner Jason Wallenta told us they’re courting some of their favorite spots southward — Denver Highlands-caliber hip spots we’d welcome.

Shader tells us 18 Denver managers and staff happily moved here, and he hired nearly 200 people, building his biggest location yet (10,000 square feet, including a 2,500-square-foot rooftop deck/patio), transforming the longtime home of Southside Johnny’s. It’s now a bright, industrial space with warm-light accents reflecting off stainless steel surfaces and polished wood table and bar tops. Giant pizzas arrive on comically large service trays that could double as snow-day sleds. The flagship biscuits are huge, gifting a supersize-me feel to it all. Nobody’s pretending there’s an ounce of health food here; it’s badass comfort food, built on butter — hell, “fat” is in the name.

And yes, the biscuits rate sensational. They peel apart in layers almost like a cronut, delightfully crumbly on the exterior and dense and doughy inward. Shader says the key is frozen butter, folded in by hand to create that layering. They make them constantly during service, and any not sold within an hour become the next day’s biscuit French toast. And as the dough’s worked, the excess not punched into biscuits gets reworked into stupid-rich, giant cinnamon rolls with apple butter and sugary, thick cream cheese icing that doesn’t harden into a cap but instead engulfs the cakey roll like some horror film ooze run amok — scary good.

Biscuits and gravy get a choice of either sausage or vegetarian mushroom gravy; we try both. Though the peppery sausage plenty satisfies, the button-cremini fungi mix wins with rich earthiness. Still better, DBC’s shrimp and grits plate wows; a biscuit’s hollowed to make a bowl that receives stoneground grits and fatty bits of cured pork belly with rock shrimp. Thin tomato water broth sogs the biscuit in time and there’s a bit of starch redundancy, but the flavors are so on point we don’t care.
From the nearly dozen “sandwich” biscuit options, we tried the best-selling Franklin at a media preview, quickly succumbing to the heavy assault of gravy-covered buttermilk fried chicken, Tender Belly bacon and cheddar cheese. The Elmer catches our eye as a lunchier barbecue option. Its lightly dressed cabbage slaw is cut to order, for a fresh crispness backed up by onion straws’ crunchiness, over tangy pulled pork. Back at breakfast to try the biscuit French toast, the maple-syrup-smothered, apple-buttered Dahlia places a fried egg over a spicy sausage patty for a decadent bite; only the biscuit’s exterior picks up the flat top toasting and egg-dredged cinnamon essence, leaving a fluffy biscuit element still at the dish’s core. Loyal coffee flows bottomless for $3 (kick-ass), or nab a near-cold-brew-tweaky iced toddy ($3.50/one refill). The best part’s self-serve at a wall of completely mismatched coffee mugs; assistant GM Mendy Coffey laughs about her team having to plunder thrift shops for weeks before opening. Side note: Food arrives hella fast considering a line out the door.

Shifting gears to Fat Sully’s: It’s a build-your-own model by the slice ($3.50/yuge) or pie ($19.95/26-inches). The thin house dough’s New York true, baked in a stone conveyor oven. A mix of part-skim and whole-milk mozzarella from Wisconsin’s Foremost Farms gets a restrained application so toppings stand out, like our garlic, caramelized onions and anchovies. Dips into addictive chipotle ranch (65 cents) add serious spice. Love garlic? The Garlic Not is a glorious round of dough served uncut, topped in zesty crumbled Parmesan, biting, nearly raw garlic, and enough butter that it pools in spots; a deep, chunky, lightly herbed, richly acidic tomato sauce awaits dips.

We’d tried a giant $20 portion (for sharing or many meals) of basil-bright chicken Parmesan also at the media preview, plus Cool Ranch Doritos-covered wings as excessive and awesome as they sound. So we try to lighten things up with Sully’s Caesar Salad, quickly realizing this isn’t a place to attempt modesty. Long romaine hearts invoke a handheld Caesar, but that’s not possible when it’s weighed down by a thick dressing and highly salty baked Parmesan layer, with brown butter and egg yolk also lacquering the leaves.

We don’t hit Atomic Cowboy too hard as it proffers a fine, but common mix of Colorado-centric craft beers. Cocktails don’t tread any new ground, but they’re well-made and refreshing, as the El Diablo and strawberry rhubarb mule attest. The first tastes faintly tart from crème de cassis’ currant essence, finishing with Hornitos Plata tequila, lime sourness and ginger beer bite. The Breckenridge vodka mule too finishes with the citrus-ginger crispness, this time balanced by house strawberry rhubarb jam.

So, choose your own adventure depending on when you go. Bully biscuits and slices await; a Mile High institution just joined the Olympic City.

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