From left, the Breakfast Bramble cocktail with Leopold Bros. Gin and apricot-rosemary Jam, lemon juice, egg white and rosemary; and the Morning Tea cocktail infused with Seagrams Earl Gray gin, peach-vanilla simple syrup, iced tea, mint and lemon at Officers Club on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 in Denver. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)
We are living in an age of nostalgia. Technology regularly confronts us with moments from one, five or 10 years ago. You can attend Lego-themed pop-up bars and Mario Kart-style go-kart races in cities across the country. The ’90s are fashionable again, for reasons unknown. Heck, Disney+ is banking on nostalgia as a key piece of its multibillion-dollar business plan. If nostalgia could have an aura, it’d be rose-colored, as we reminiscence on what we miss about days gone by while disregarding less-pleasant memories.
Officers Club came about at just the right time, then. The 18-month-old restaurant in Lowry’s mixed-use Hangar 2 redevelopment was designed as an ode to midcentury officers’ clubs, a nod to its location on a former Air Force base. The space is a sophisticated and glam blend of the 1950s and today. The menus, as you’ll read more about below, mix old favorites (crab cakes, smoked ribs) with contemporary bites (avocado toast, chia seed pudding). Even the signature drink — eight varieties of Old Fashioneds — is a throwback.
One thing that has certainly changed, though, is people’s palates. While executive chef David Stetson’s menu is reliably good, dishes’ seasoning and heat levels are often muted. If the team can spice up the grub, brunch or lunch or dinner at this Lowry locale will feel like the refined-casual experience it already looks to be.
Food: At first glance, Officers Club’s menu is perplexing. Smoked salmon chowder and filet mignon on the same menu? Choosing between crab cakes and spaghetti and meatballs? What? More importantly: Why? Thankfully, there’s a good explanation. Back in the day, legit officers’ clubs were where officers went to unwind, and the venues had to cater to the tastes of people from all over the country. So, Officers Club’s regional American cuisine is intended to have a little something for everyone. Some folks will be more satisfied than others.
No matter which region you plan to visit with your entrée, every dinner should begin with the warm and fluffy cheddar biscuits ($7). Arriving four to a basket, the house-made bundles glisten with herb butter and while they’re flaky, they don’t crumble into tiny pieces as you eat them, a feat true biscuit-lovers will appreciate.
An heirloom garden salad ($8) is light on the garden vegetables and was quickly forgotten when the mains appeared mid-bite. The wild mushroom grilled cheese with tomato bisque ($13) is decadent and packed with fungi (yes, that’s a good thing). Adding avocado ($1.50) lends a creamy flavor that makes up for the fact that the cheese — a gooey blend of gouda, fontina, white cheddar and Parmesan — globs together and sticks to the bread rather than melting over the other toppings. The San Francisco-style sourdough from Denver’s Bluepoint Bakery is delightfully crunchy, if cut just a little too thick. And the soup? It’s an expected tomato bisque that effectively serves its role as a dipping bowl for its dish mate but doesn’t stand out on its own.
The crab cakes ($32) are a customer favorite. The two fall-apart patties are crafted from almost all jumbo crab claw meat, with just a smattering of breadcrumbs and seasoning thrown in the mix before they’re seared in brown butter, giving you bang for your $32 buck. Though, for a plate that’s mostly covered in crispy shoestring fries and dipping sauces (mustard seed tartar, cocktail sauce and ketchup), it can still be hard to swallow the price tag. Diners choose between an accompanying chopped salad or spicy creamed corn. The latter, a savory blend of corn, roasted bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes and onion, didn’t deliver on its spicy name; the crab cakes themselves would have benefited from some heat and bolder spices, too.
Arrive hungry at brunch because the Southern shrimp and “grits” ($16) — a richly appetizing combo of thyme- and goat cheese-whipped polenta, pan-seared blackened shrimp and fluffy scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese — is a belly-buster. Our one gripe: If you’re going to call them Charleston-style spicy shrimp, make sure the crustaceans have some zing. (Are you sensing a theme?)
The neon-red shakshuka ($12) arrived still-bubbling hot. The za’atar-flecked tomato sauce is flavorful, though more chili and garlic would have added depth, and the eggs are delightfully runny. (Tip: Remove the accompanying bread from the plate straight away so it doesn’t get soggy from sitting in the liquid.)
Interested in more basic American a.m. fare? The OC Hangover Breakfast Sandwich ($13) is a slightly jacked-up take on the standard thanks to the addition of Fresno chilis and a chipotle sauce. Skip the unimpressive breakfast skillet ($14); oddly, the menu promised “diced potatoes” but arrived instead with tater tots.
The warm, skillet-size cinnamon roll ($6) looks promising, drenched as it is in a coffee-tinged maple frosting, but the sweet flavor can’t overcome its dryness.
Drinks: Old Fashioneds are Officers Club’s signature; there are eight on the menu. You’ll find traditional takes as well as spins made with gin, maple or smoke (the most popular), all served in beautiful, ornamental glassware. We suggest sticking with the more classic varieties. The gin version ($12) upped the botanicals with the addition of lavender bitters and came across as too floral, though it would be a good fit for a palate that leans that way. The rest of the cocktail menu is focused on Prohibition-era-style tipples ($10 to $14), with names (Nose Dive, Flyboy) that nod to the site’s history.
The wine list covers all the major varietals ($9 to $21, by the glass). Beers are available by the bottle, can or on draft ($3-$7) and hail from the various corners of the U.S. The local scene is represented by the big guys: Oskar Blues, Great Divide, New Belgium, Coors (We can still call them local, right?).
Early drinkers will enjoy the lineup of brunch cocktails, a selection of classic drinks with smart a.m. twists. Iced tea and house-infused Early Gray gin give the Morning Tea ($7) a subtle flavor that’s not at all boozy. On the other end of the spectrum, the G’mornin’ Old Fashioned ($9) is a bourbon cocktail through and through; it’s swirled with maple simple syrup and arrives with a sliver of bacon brittle, which is all the permission you need to swill it before noon.
Vibe: The lively and inviting space feels simultaneously current and of another time. Between the elegant blond wood and metal furnishings, baby grand piano (there’s live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings) and throwback but oh-so-trendy light fixtures, one half expects Tom Cruise (and Anthony Edwards, who never gets enough credit) to pop out and serenade her with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” There are even blankets over the backs of the chairs on the enclosed-for-winter patio just in case the heaters aren’t keeping you snug enough.
Service: Satisfactory but inconsistent. During brunch, the server was cordial and accommodating when we asked to switch booths (why a booth was placed in a spot where a pole runs from the ceiling down one side is baffling), but he never inquired if we wanted cocktail refills and barely checked in. At dinner, the server was attentive, chatty and, dare we say, entertaining, but failed to show us the dessert menu. In fact, we wouldn’t have known Officers Club served dessert (pots de crème, cheesecake and key lime pie, all $9) had we not heard another server mention the options to a neighboring table.
Bottom Line: Officers Club is an elegant, enticing restaurant — with one of the best interior designs we’ve seen in recent memory — that serves something for everyone. But in trying to please everyone, the food suffers from too-mild flavors. Amp those up and keep the drinks flowing, and Officers Club will be a hit.
Price: Starters ($7 to $18); Entrées ($13 to $36); Desserts ($9); Cocktails ($10 to $14); Beers ($3 to $7); Wines by the glass ($9 to $21); Brunch ($6 to $17); Brunch cocktails ($6 to $12)
Fun Fact: The Officers Club name and theme isn’t just a shtick. Hangar 2 — the revamped, mixed-use district where the restaurant is located — was originally built in 1939 to store planes for Lowry Air Force Base. More than 1 million enlisted individuals graduated from the base’s technical training center.
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