When I first started writing this column my mother begged me not to specifically mention my dates. “Just refer to everyone as your ‘dining companion’,” she suggested with a certain tone. She didn’t want me to get in a situation where one of my “dining companions” was no more and I was left looking like a slut. She didn’t say it like that exactly, but I know what she meant. Of course, yet again, I did not follow her advice and here I am looking like Slutty McSlutson, writing a review that spanned two different gentleman callers. Let’s ignore that and talk about the food.
Restaurant 415 was recommended to me by a loyal reader who was certain that I would enjoy their mac & cheese. This is not a recommendation that can be made to me lightly, as I have an appreciation for everything from Kraft Dinner and Shells & Cheese, to homemade with a bread topping and gourmet style with lobster. Mac & cheese can certainly be done poorly, but as long as it bats at it’s proper level, I’m game for almost anything. So me saying that this is easily, far and away, my favorite mac & cheese in town is a BFD (big fucking deal).
Typically I am an elbow pasta snob but here the corkscrew pasta worked well buried under layers of perfectly melted cheese and a light bread crumb topping. The pull-away-while-the-cheese-is still-attached effect? Totally happening here in every bite. On my first visit we ordered this for an appetizer and my only compliant is that I want twice as much and to call it dinner. On it’s own it’s one of the $5.10 plates and with bacon it is an $8.10 plate.
I don’t usually like a menu that appears gimmicky, but their division of tapas and small dinners as $3.60, $5.40, $8.10, and $9.90 plates is kind of adorable. This also makes it easy to have a dinner of appetizers and multiple choices which is my favorite way to dine, having serious problems with both decisions and commitment. The dinner menu also includes pizzas, “mains” (which it should be noted is nearly completely GF), and the signature dish: “When Pigs Fly” which I ordered as dinner. Because chicken and waffles seemed like a suitable way to follow-up mac & cheese.
When Pigs Fly ($11 or $15 for a whole waffle and double syrup) is three house made fried chicken tenders on orange-infused waffles with bacon-thyme real maple syrup. Can we talk about that syrup for a minute? I’m not a huge bacon fan (only because I am still hoping that my dream of having a pet pig will come true), but I would eat this syrup on anything. I would Buddy The Elf the fuck out of this syrup. I think it may work in spaghetti. I’ve had chicken and waffles before and have never found it to be anything special until now. That infused syrup and the slightest orange flavor of the waffles rocked my world. The chicken tenders reminded me that while I can quit bacon, I will never be able to quit chicken. I brought home what I couldn’t force myself to eat even though I wanted to, and my dog Wednesday seemed to appreciate that this wasn’t just an average chicken tender.
My…AHEM, dining companion started his meal with a Bud Light. Maybe that was one of the first signs that this would be our Last Supper. To balance out his boring, I took it upon myself to start at the top of the cocktail list ($8 each) and get as far as I could. The 415 is hand-juiced ginger, lime, and Ketel One Vodka and it does not mess around. You know how they say ginger is the cure for basically everything now? This drink gives you a solid dose of treatment for whatever that is. The Paloma includes their fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice that was so good, I had them make me a Salty Dog (vodka instead of tequila) just to have it again. A Mint Julep, Cane & Flower (ginger, lime, and rum), and a Gin Mojito are also on the double pour cocktail menu. I was not able to veer much beyond this, but the bar is well-stocked and includes a good sized wine and beer list (where even a Bud Light fan in Beer’s Napa Valley, will not be disappointed).
My date ordered the Grilled Ribeye with “those long green bean things” (clue two!) also known as asparagus, potato gratin, and a choice of lemon basil or mustard compound butter ($25). More than once I’ve had someone tell me that they won’t order steak in a restaurant because they grill a great one themselves and don’t want to pay restaurant prices for something that’s subpar. This, by all accounts, is not a subpar steak. Seasoned well and cooked to perfection, this may be THE steak of Fort Collins. The asparagus was asparagus (or long green bean things) but the potato gratin was ridiculously delicious.
This was the first time since taking over this column where I was so excited to get back for my second “official” visit that I blew off the other restaurants that have been waiting much longer for their second visit. Both times I went to 415 happened to be late evening on a Wednesday and both times it was so crowded that we sat in the bar. 415 does not take reservations but I enjoyed the bar booths and felt the service was every bit as good in the bar as it likely is in the main area. On this second visit I once again took a Meat & Potatoes kind of guy who let me order for us both after I explained what kale was.
We started with the Mozzarella Fritti ($8.10), a likely authentic take on cheese sticks: “hand cut fresh cheese, breaded and fried and served with marinara.” I assume since they don’t brag about it, their marinara isn’t house made from someones grandmothers secret recipe straight from Italy, but honestly they could say that and I wouldn’t doubt it. Wherever they are getting this magical sauce from, I wish they would advise every other pizza place in town. It’s hard coming up with something special to say about fried cheese, but the marinara is phenomenal.
For dinner I talked my carnivore date into splitting The Woodland pizza with me. A “garlic and olive oil base, caramelized onions, hazel dell mixed mushrooms, dried figs, goat cheese, mozzarella, balsamic glaze, chard, and kale” this is probably the most special(ity) pizza I’ve had in my life. While it wasn’t as appreciated across the table, I found the tang of the goat cheese with the sweetness of the figs to be inventive, different, and delicious. We added bacon if only because I wanted to actually see this guy again and the idea of a vegetarian dinner seemed a bit much for him. It came covered in it and the only teeny, tiny, barely noticeable feedback I could come up with is I would have liked the bacon to be crisper. But that could just be because I don’t like the idea of eating Eugene, which is what I’m going to name the pet pig I will eventually get.
Restaurant 415 has something I’ve never seen before and completely appreciate: an affordable dessert menu. Five choices (all of which are different than what’s currently listed online) including a vegan option, each $3 or $4.50. My dated picked a Vanilla Rum Cupcake ($3) that I would bet good money was from Butter Cream Cupcakery, and a delightful job they did. I wish it hadn’t been straight out of the fridge, but still delicious.
In only two visits (on two very different dates), Restaurant 415 quickly soared to the top of my favorites list. There isn’t a more diverse menu with so many options for GF and vegan in this town, a feat that’s nearly impossible to pull off while still being appealing to the Meat & Potato people. I’d love to go back again and soon, but alas….I have that long list of other places I really need to get to. Even though I already know that they only thing one of these places may beat 415 on is the temperature in the bathrooms (bring your jacket!).
415 South Mason Street
Parking: Small lot plus off-street parking
Healthy Options? Yes! Many GF, vegetarian, and vegan options.
Budget-Friendly? On scale for style and environment.
Recent Health Inspection: Excellent.