Hotel Boulderado’s Spruce Farm & Fish is one of Boulder’s best kept restaurant secrets.
Hotel restaurants typically get overlooked by a city’s residents. For one, locals may not know about the eateries because they retire to their own homes rather than to a hotel room. And for another, hotel food doesn’t exactly have a sparkling, must-try reputation. For those reasons, you may not have heard of Spruce Farm & Fish, housed in the historic Hotel Boulderado. But even among Pearl Street’s multitude of standout restaurants, Spruce holds its own and is worth a taste.
It’s a little ironic that out-of-towners would have the heads-up on one of the city’s best kept restaurant secrets. Spruce advertises itself as being fresh and locally focused – de rigueur in today’s restaurant climate – and its Boulderado home certainly walks the walk. The Hotel Boulderado has been locally-owned since its debut in 1909, so they are no strangers to supporting local businesses.
Spruce, which occupies the space long held by Q’s Restaurant, embodies that spirit by using Boulder County-based farms and vendors, like Silver Canyon coffee, Red Wagon farm, Haystack Mountain dairy and Madhava Natural Sweeteners, among many others. For the ‘fish’ part of their name, they partner with sustainable oyster farms and fisheries to bring in fresh, ocean-friendly catches.
The menu changes with the season, but the cornmeal fried oysters appetizer ($10) is always available. The creamy tabasco remoulade kicks up the little suckers, while the cornmeal batter makes them accessible to even the oyster-averse (because everything’s better fried, right?). During happy hour (5-7 p.m.) they go for $7, which makes them a steal at just about $1 a piece.
Entrees are a good mix of the traditional and unexpected. On the traditional side, there’s the crispy skinned half chicken ($18) with fingerling potato salad and green beans. The chicken is juicy, flavorful and pairs nicely with the smokiness of the bacon in the vinegar-based potato salad.
The unexpected is the crispy whole bass served with red potato hash and orange fennel slaw ($25). As a general rule, if a whole fish preparation is on a menu, it’s a good idea to order it. Besides the flavors you get from it being cooked with all of its parts, it’s an experience. There are the eyes looking up at you, the bones to dodge and the crispy fins and tail suspended in time. It’s like science class in food form.
For some reason, crispy fish doesn’t appear on American menus all too often (it’s a French favorite). But it’s a delicious way to seal in a white-fleshed fish’s moisture while offering a little bit of fat for a richer flavor. Spruce’s version is great, especially with the pool of Romesco sauce under it that gives a jolt of smoky, peppery heat.
One of the menu highlights is a side. The Brussels sprouts with Sriracha soy glaze ($6) are among the best I’ve ever had – and I’m a sprout devotee. Warning to those with spice-sensitive palates: they bring the heat.
Cocktails are inventive and well-balanced. The Hibiscus ($11) is a slightly sweet blend of gin, hibiscus simple syrup, grapefruit juice and rhubarb bitters. Tea Thyme ($8) tastes like it sounds – house-infused sweet tea vodka with fresh thyme, simple syrup and soda. There’s also a nice selection of wines by the glass, with most in the $7-9 range.
It’s nice to see hotels investing in their restaurants and putting out food that rivals the city’s best. The St. Julien’s Jill’s Restaurant and Panzano inside Denver’s Hotel Monaco are also doing a great job. And hey, if you have one too many Hibiscus cocktails while at Spruce, you’ve got a bed waiting right upstairs.
Spruce Farm & Fish
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
2115 13th St.