LYONS/ESTES PARK – Barbecue lovers know there’s no substitute for the real thing; there can be no compromise when achieving the succulent flavor and tenderness that makes this glorified food group so delicious. Barbecue might mean different things to a Texan and a Tennessean, but they’ll agree that a slow, steady hand is required to do it right.
So when you think of states where barbecue is king, does Colorado come to mind? If not, there’s a passionate cook right here on the Front Range waiting for a chance to change your mind.
Dave Oehlman is owner and operator of Smokin Dave’s BBQ & Taphouse with locations in Estes Park and Lyons. The restaurant makes barbecue in a variety of styles to suit regional tastes and pairs it with microbrews for a meal you won’t soon forget. “Our goal is to do barbecue justice,” says Dave. “We touch on the different regional styles and pay as much respect to them as we can.”
This simple mission has proved to be a recipe for success. The Estes Park location opened to much acclaim in 2007 and is firmly established as the place for barbeque in the tourist-thick town. Cat Oehlman, Dave’s wife and business partner, is still amazed at the response from the community. “The Estes location has done business above and beyond our expectations,” she says. “We had no idea it would take off like it did. We’re overwhelmed and thankful for such good people.”
Rib lovers are right at home at the eatery. The Bison Ribs – “the Dinosaur of Ribs” – are marbled to perfection, lightly seasoned and hickory smoked. The St. Louis Ribs in small, medium and large are “baptized” in Dave’s original sauce and cooked slow and low. Sandwich lovers drool over the Texas beef brisket, Carolina pulled pork, and barbecue chicken. Options abound: choose a barbecue sausage platter, a bowl of pork green chili or a smoke shack Caesar salad, and you still haven’t scratched the surface of the menu.
The barbecue is so on point that diners might be surprised to learn that Smokin’ Dave is not a Southerner. He didn’t train in Memphis’ sweatiest kitchens or study with the pit bosses in Birmingham. That would be cliché.
A California native, Dave credits his grandfather for instilling in him an all out love of cooking. “My granddad taught me not to be scared of the kitchen,” he says. “He helped me know that it’s okay for a guy to be in the kitchen and that so much love and comfort comes from there.”
With a degree in business administration, Dave was keenly interested in becoming an attorney and practicing contractual law in the sports industry, but cuisine came calling. He ran a couple of steakhouses before the lack of barbecue in the mountains offered a new challenge. The Oehlmans even went on an investigative barbecue-themed road trip to states like Texas, Georgia, Florida and others. “I was blown away on the trip by the food, the history and the passion surrounding barbeque,” he recalls. “I became completely inspired to do it and do it well. It’s not just about smoking a piece of meat. It’s about affecting somebody’s life by it.”
Dave is a humble guy, but he admits to some natural talent in the kitchen. Cat agrees. “I’ve never met anyone so gifted with food. He can mix a few ingredients with a couple of good ideas and make something absolutely amazing. “
In April 2012, Smokin’ Dave’s opened its Lyons location. “It’s a totally different market,” says Cat. “It’s very consistent and steady. We have live music, and we are drawing a regular crowd. In tourist season, folks from Estes even drive down to avoid the big dinner crowds.”
Among the favorites on the extensive Lyons menu are appetizers of deep fried pickles or Pit Master sliders, entrees such as a Southern catfish salad, aged rib-eye (21 days!), or a Smokin’ chili burger, and of course the finest microbrews and ciders to wash it all down.
“What I love about this business is the same thing that frustrates me when it’s missing, and that’s customer satisfaction,” says Dave. “I love to put a smile on someone’s face, and seeing those same faces over and over keeps us going.”
Smokin’ Dave’s invites you to come eat at either location, or take advantage of its catering options. No matter how you enjoy Dave’s barbecue, the family’s commitment to quality will be evident in every bite. Dave knows he’ll be in business as long as he can effectively honor the art of American barbecue and serve it with a
taste that people love.
Smokin Dave’s BBQ & Taphouse
228 Main St., Lyons; 303.823.7427; 820 Moraine Ave., Estes Park; 970.577.7427; smokindavesq.com
By Darren Thornberry, At Home. Photos by Jonathan Castner