Merry Christmas, everyone! I went to the oldest restaurant in Denver in my recent work trip to the US and it was an experience of a lifetime for American game food and taxidermy culture. If you are not into stuffed wild animals or stuffing wild animals into yourself, then this place is not for you.
History of The Buckhorn Exchange
Buckhorn Exchange opened in 1893 and is certified to be Denver’s Oldest Restaurant that is still in operation today. Special care was taken to preserve the basic exterior which was designated an historic landmark by the City and County of Denver in 1972.
Denver’s most historic eating and drinking establishment was founded by Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz, one of the most colourful figures of the Old West. The name “Shorty Scout” was given to him because of his small size by Chief Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief that formulate the world’s impression of American Indians with their feathered headdress and Yoda-like wisdoms. He was part of the band of scouts with Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Such were things that legends were made of.
The restaurant contains over 500 mounted animals and trophy heads of every description, including an African Cape Buffalo allegedly shot by President Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919).
In case you are wondering who was Teddy Roosevelt, he was that President that was constantly riding a horse in “Night at the Museum” played by Robin Williams. “Shorty” Zietz was Roosevelt’s hunting party scout in 1907 when he visited Denver.
The whole place brims with historic artefacts, legends and historic moments. Four presidents — Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan dined at the Buckhorn.
The walls of Buckhorn detailed its century-year-old history, including a rare 500-piece collection of game – deer and moose; giant buffalo and mountain sheep; dozens of indigenous fowl; even a two-headed calf and jackalope.
The 125-piece gun collection includes Colt .45s, Winchesters, Derringers, a Sharp’s sporting rifle dating to 1889 and rare palm pistol dating to 1891 and the Minneapolis Firearm Co.
Buckhorn Exchange is one of the oldest operating restaurants in the United States, but it was not the first restaurant in US. That honour goes to White Horse Tavern (1673). However it had the privilege to be the first restaurant to receive the first liquor license in the state of Colorado. The liquor license is still valid today.
The Buckhorn’s ornate white-oak bar and back-bar, made in Essen Germany in 1857, and brought here by the Zietz family, was relocated to the second floor where it anchors the Buckhorn’s Victorian lounge.
A roofgarten, heated year-round, was added to serve the restaurant and its patrons – a perfect place for private parties, family reunions, company dinners, or simply to take in the ambiance of the Old West.
Rocky Mountain oysters is a dish made with bull testicles. The organs are often deep-fried after being skinned, coated in flour, pepper and salt, and sometimes pounded flat. This delicacy is most often served as an appetiser. Here, they sliced the “oysters”, deep fried them, and served with a horseradish dip and a classic cocktail sauce. Tasted like deep fried shiitake mushrooms.
If buffalo meat was not your preference, I would suggest to get this sausage for that first encounter. Smoked buffalo sausage with red chile polenta and spicy wild game mustard is another crowd favourite and on their menu for the longest time. The sausage tasted like Taiwanese pork sausage but leaner. The casing had a crunch and meat heavily seasoned. The polenta was surprising delicious.
All the main courses came with a choice of a side which you can pick a salad or a soup, a starch (potato or wild rice) and bread.
Although it was just a cup of soup, the bean and bacon soup was large enough to be shared by two.
If you like baked beans, this soup is perfect. The beans had been stewed to mushy consistency which thickened the flavourful soup spiced with cayenne peppers, bacons and other spices.
For a bit more, you can get the Caesar salad, a more hippy choice. I guessed it was a concession to the changing tastes of modern consumers to provide something that is more accustomed by city dwellers.
I had to give it to them for such nostalgic tastes for their freshly baked breads. These rolls were soft and moist and sweet, you will need the salted whipped butter to balance the sweetness. But these were the dinner rolls that I grew up with, and I don’t know when the restaurants started to ditch these and gave the fancy sourdough and French breads instead.
Buffalo prime rib blackened 16 oz
The population dwindles once upon a time due to over hunting and destruction of their grazing ground, great American bison once again reigns as the king of the plains with conservation efforts. The meat of this historic beast is lean and sweet, and not gamey as many assumed. Although it was referred to as buffalo meat, it has nothing to do with the buffalo we knew in Asia. We order a prime rib blackened 16 oz to share.
The meat was pink in the middle and not as dry as I presumed. Came with au jus if you need more flavours, but the blackened crust was flavourful enough. Came with sides of kettle chips and fresh and horseradish cream as condiments, I was so engrossed and skipped those as I chowed down the wonderful steak.
The other main we shared was a mixed plate of two quails and elk tenderloin with a side of baked beans. The quails were grilled and served whole, no fanciful plating or deboning to get just the breast meat. The best way to eat this bird is to use your hands.
Before you start flaming me for eating wild game, elks served here are farm-raised specially for the Buckhorn. Elks are essential the North American version of deers, which is venison meat we eat in Asia regularly. We had a broiled medium rare tenderloin which has a velvety texture and flavour hinting of grass and cedar.
Double chocolate Rocky Road brownie
The Americans really know how to make their desserts. The crowd pleaser and decadent chocolate brownie was elevated with more Rocky Road (milk chocolate and marshmallows ) chocolate. Only the Americans can think of put more on top of more, just like peanut butter and chocolate in one Reese cup.
It was an experience that can only be Buckhorn. The gourmet trip was a like a visit to the Museum of the Wild West with a steakhouse serving game animals. Of course, these days the game was farmed. It did not spoil the fun to see things like Rocky Mountain oysters and rattlesnakes on the menu. Highly recommended if you come to the Mile High City.
1000 Osage St, Denver, CO 80204
Tel : +1 303-534-9505
Visited in Sep 2022