The bison house that Ted built



Typically I resist reviewing chains, although a combination of curiosity and coincidence compelled me to check out Ted’s Montana Grill, cable magnate turned environmentalist/land baron Ted Turner’s culinary endeavor. When it comes to outspoken American billionaires, I’ve always preferred Turner’s vaguely crazed bravado, such as when he won America’s Cup in the ’70s, to Donald Trump’s cranky hyperbole.

Additionally, I took it as a sign to visit Ted’s for lunch when my brother lent me an enjoyably pulpy thriller novel. In this work, various and sundry miscreants wreak havoc with high-powered rifles in the orbit of a thinly disguised Turner character with an even more thinly disguised Jane Fonda-esque wife. No mention of a restaurant chain in this tome, though.

Friend Andrew (who himself sometimes goes by Ted — the coincidences keep stacking up) joined me for lunch at this East Pearl Street eatery. Ted’s menu occupies a unique niche between straight-up bar food and traditional American steakhouse, which likely makes it a good stop for corporate middle managers with expense accounts. On one hand, there’s happy-hour nachos. On the other, one can drop $29 on a bison filet entrée and, of course, there’s a full bar.

The ambience is much what you’d expect — it’s a subtle American-West-meets-steakhouse design scheme with plenty of dark, masculine woods. The clientele tended towards middle-aged business people, with nary a hipster to be seen. The servers were friendly but not intrusive and seemed uniformly clean-cut. One nice touch was the presentation of a dish of complementary  dill pickles that were crisp with an appropriately mild brine underscoring fresh cucumber flavor.

I suspect this would be a popular spot with out-of-town visitors who might be intimidated by European-influenced organic fare and simply desire a steak or burger. Which is ironic, since Ted’s prides itself on possessing a degree of environmental consciousness and pursues green practices. This ethos is demonstrated by an emphasis on serving bison, a critter that has significantly lower environmental impact than cattle, and such touches as providing paper versus plastic drinking straws.

Andrew had an $11 bison meatloaf sandwich, topped with jack cheese and grilled onions on a ciabatta roll. The roll was a touch doughy, but the filling meatloaf was tender and moist, which was somewhat surprising given the meat’s leanness. The bison was ably complemented by an understated sweet barbecue sauce.

My choice was a pricey, medium-rare, $16 Blue Creek bison burger with blue cheese and bacon. The burger was amply sized, although the saltiness of the cheese and bacon made it difficult to fully appreciate the rich, clean flavor of the meat. I took a bite of the buffalo without any of the garnishes, and found that it possessed an enjoyably hearty but not fatty taste. Next time I would order a bison burger with less assertive condiments, so as to fully enjoy the bison taste. Like Andrew’s side of fries, my accompanying onion rings were acceptably crisp, but otherwise not memorable.

Like most chain restaurants, I’m ambivalent about Ted’s Montana Grill. Sixteen dollars for a burger, even one made from bison, seems high to me, although it tasted fine. Ted’s isn’t the optimum spot for the Boulder foodie, and this may well be the intention. One suspects it’s best suited for the out-of-town visitor rather than the local.