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Friday, September 9, 2016
Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que (Denver, CO)
With just over two and a half hours to burn before my connecting flight to Montrose, Colorado, I thought I'd take a gander at what sort of barbecue could be had at Denver International. Almost three years ago to the day, I found myself sorely disappointed with what passed for pulled pork at Lefty's Colorado Trail Grille over in Terminal A. I was cautiously optimistic that Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que would yield better results. If nothing else, I figured that I could always wash things down with a few local brews.
Unsurprisingly, nearly everything here is aviation-themed, including the somewhat perplexing handwashing sink right behind the hostess stand. I guess they expect people to get a little messy with the ribs. Far from a hole-in-the-wall joint, Aviator's is more of a sit-down bar and grill, complete with the standard wall o' televisions. What Aviator's lacks in non-airplane ambiance it certainly makes up for in people watching, and I had a prime spot beside the pedestrian throughway.
According to the Aviator's menu, their smoking is done with a combination of apple and hickory. This fruity/salty combo surely works great for pork and poultry, though I had my doubts about pairing it with beef. I was also unsure how far away this smoking was being done, but figured that I'd find out soon enough. Exorbitant airport prices aside, I ordered the Smoky Combo of smokehouse chicken, baby back ribs, and kielbasa sausage, plus a little brisket for a $3.00 upcharge. After all, when you're already paying $24.00 for a meal, what's another three bucks? This combo also came with mandatory potato salad, which was just fine by me.
Their delicious mayo-based potato salad was laden with black pepper and pickles. The red onion was a nice touch, too. Each bite was both savory and slightly acidic, with just enough natural potato flavor present to still be noticeable.
While the lean slices of brisket looked tasty enough, the meat was fairly dry. It also lacked much meaningful smoke, though it could be found here and there if you really concentrated. There was decent seasoning on the bark, little as there was to be had. Overall the brisket was ok, but certainly not intensely satisfying.
A nice spiral scoring on the kielbasa added a flair of sophistication to my lunch. The sausage had a great char on it, obvious to both the eyes and the taste buds alike. There was also an ever-rising heat level that really crept up on me. I sincerely doubt that the kielbasa was made in house, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. Particularly the spices!
Much like the rest of my plate, the chicken looked pretty dry, but thankfully it couldn't have turned out more juicy and tender. The blackened skin packed most of the flavors, and they were perfect. I couldn't pinpoint more than a modicum of smoke here either, though that's fairly common with barbecue chicken.
When I ordered, I was told that nothing came pre-sauced, but apparently that didn't extend to the ribs. There wasn't much to these bones at all; they were exceptionally tiny, even for baby backs. The meat came right off the bone, as expected but definitely not desired. The thick slathering of "barbecue sauce" tasted like 95% ketchup, so much so that I couldn't make it past my first rib.
The two best meats of my lunch turned out to be the ones that I was initially the least excited about. I finished my chicken and kielbasa, polished off my pilsner, and headed to my gate. Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que will do just fine on an extended layover, but it wouldn't fare quite so well out in the wild.
Aviator's Sports Bar & Bar-B-Que
Denver International Airport
Terminal B, Mezzanine
8500 Pena Blvd.
Denver, CO 80249