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3487 S. Broadway, Englewood
The Draw: An all-vegan menu; great bar setup
The Drawback: Some dishes fall victim to well-known pitfalls of vegan cooking
Noice Level: Medium
Don’t Miss: Mexican-inspired plates such as chilaquiles and a smothered burrito; an extensive collection of bitter liqueurs; great nonalcoholic cocktail choices
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(Read More: Why Restaurant Reviews are Important, According to a Veteran Denver Food Writer)
Vegans are grateful diners. At least, that’s how it appears from crowd-sourced reviews of vegan restaurants, which are overwhelmingly positive—almost no venomous, one-star reviews or angry rants there. With food inspiring this sort of praise, you’d wonder why everyone isn’t vegan.
I am not, and neither are 95 percent of eaters in the United States. Which means most of us don’t understand what it’s like to eat out when animal-derived ingredients—such as meat, cheese, milk, and eggs—are off limits. Fortunately, the already meatless friends I brought to Fellow Traveler, an Englewood vegan restaurant that opened in January, enlightened me.
A good portion of omnivores would likely say that one of the most enjoyable parts of eating out is the options, but vegan diners experience a restaurant’s offerings in a different way. They pore over the ingredient details with the hope that there might be something they can consume. That sanguinity often fades quickly, leaving them relegated to a salad—again.
This is not the case at Fellow Traveler, where every item is a possibility and where my first bite filled me with optimism for mile-high plant-based eaters.
The menu is divided into entrées and starters, like the shareable, nacholike mound of chilaquiles: fried corn tortilla wedges loaded with ruby serrano rings, scrambled tofu, green chile, slivers of avocado, diced onion, pinto beans, and chipotle crema. It was a bright, balanced blend of spicy, sweet, creamy, and crunchy, and I didn’t miss the eggs or cheese at all.
I was vegan-Yelp-reviewer-level happy, until I tasted the cornbread. The baked-then-deep-fried biscotti-size sticks were cloyingly sweet—a peril of vegan cooking, where sugars can often be overused to make up for the absence of milk and eggs—and their red pepper and tomato jam only added to the saccharine overload.
Other starters, like the falafel and chile garlic cauliflower, were markedly better, though. The five large balls of falafel are bound by potato starch before taking a dip in the fryer, resulting in a light, fluffy texture. The cauliflower is battered in rice flour and black garlic, giving off delightful General Tso’s chicken vibes, and the ranch dipping sauce, made with a vegan mayo base, was all comfort.
The delectable banh mi would have been well executed if the bread—a critical component to any sandwich, vegan or otherwise—hadn’t collapsed under the weight of the miso-, tamari-, lemongrass-, and ginger-marinated tofu, miso aïoli, and pickled sticks of carrots and daikon. Another entrée, the aloo gobi, a muted version of what can be a gloriously flavorful Indian curry (typically rich with cumin, ginger, and chiles) left me wishing the restaurant would kick up the spices a notch, a task easily completed.
The kitchen staff seems most capable cooking Mexican-style fare—something it might want to consider leaning further into. To wit: The satisfying Deep South Broadway Burrito is stuffed with chorizolike spiced cauliflower, potatoes, beans, and tofu, then drenched in green chile (made with an abundance of onions, tomato, and peppers to beef up the flavor without employing pork) and drizzled with the chipotle crema that made the chilaquiles so tasty.
Unlike many restaurants that use alternative proteins like seitan, tempeh, and processed products, Fellow Traveler prefers to use natural ingredients such as vegetables and fruits as the stars of its dishes. “We don’t use fake meat substitutes or anything like that,” says co-owner Joe Phillips, who’s a vegetarian but wanted to attract vegans with a 100 percent plant-based program. “If you travel the world, there’s a ton of stuff that’s just accidentally vegan. That’s what we’ve been trying to dial into: Keep it clean, keep it simple.”
Which is also how one could describe the feel at Fellow Traveler. Phillips is a longtime barman who spent nearly a decade at Sputnik. His first objective was to create an easygoing neighborhood watering hole—and he did that without intending the business to become known as an eatery. “As time has gone on, I’ve realized I opened a restaurant instead of a bar,” he says.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if Fellow Traveler is going to be a restaurant first and a bar second, Phillips and company may need to reprioritize. Right now, Phillips’ passion for and skill with adult beverages is apparent even in the physical space. The sparse, narrow dining area reads as an afterthought compared to the well-considered bar—which fairly gleams with bottle-packed wooden shelves, a menu of expertly mixed cocktails with intriguing ingredients (get the nonalcoholic, pickle-brine-zinged Nectar of the Gods), and a 40-strong offering of bitter liqueurs. The food, by comparison, feels underdeveloped and unfocused.
My meatless dining companions had the run of the menu, but they were ultimately split on whether there were enough stellar options on the menu. This omnivore would go back for the drinks and chilaquiles, but I’m not quite ready to write my own gushing Yelp review.
A peek behind Fellow Traveler’s extensive bitter liqueurs collection, plus three more places where you can find and enjoy the potent elixirs.
Fellow Traveler’s Joe Phillips wasn’t always an adventurous drinker. But bartending in Chicago—the home of Jeppson’s Malört, a love-it-or-hate-it wormwood-based digestif—introduced him to the world of bitters.
Before that first funky sip, Phillips only drank Mexican lagers and Irish whiskey. Now, he carries about 40 bitter liqueurs, including at least 26 amari and other varieties such as Middle Eastern Arak and herbaceous Becherovka, as well as four types of Bäsk (the Swedish liqueur category that encompasses Malört). But Fellow Traveler isn’t the only spot that can put a bitter taste in your mouth.
Erin Homburger goes through about a case of Malört a week at her South Broadway bar, but she also recommends the Nomört, a locally made version from Lakewood’s Ballmer Peak Distillery.
Run for the Roses
Pull up a stool at this subterranean Dairy Block bar and let the expert bartenders pour you a shot from their collection of bitters, including rare vintage bottles like a 1960s-era Amaro Montenegro.
The Block Distilling Co.
In December, you’ll be able to take home bottles of this RiNo establishment’s first amaro—ripe with sarsaparilla, cardamom, and star anise—and aperitif, a potion infused with pink peppercorn and bitter orange.