History and fine exotic meats share a table at Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange.
Self-styled as Denver’s original steakhouse, the Buckhorn Exchange was opened in 1893 by Henry “Shorty Scout” Zietz for those carnivorously inclined. (Sitting Bull gave Zietz his nickname.)
The 124-year-old brick building is only 20 feet wide, stretching back nearly 70 feet with murals of the West of yore painted along one side. The interior décor is classic Old West with a wide range of animal trophies, antique firearms, and souvenirs collected by Zietz while riding as a scout with William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and as a hunting companion for President Theodore Roosevelt.
Besides Teddy, U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter have dined here. The upstairs bar has seen the likes of Cody bellied up for a drink away from his nagging sisters as well as John Wayne, James Cagney, Bob Hope, Will Rogers, Charlton Heston, and Roy Rogers.
There’s more here than a fine steak. The Buckhorn boasts a menu featuring pork, lamb, elk, bison, rattlesnake, yak, duck, alligator, quail, Cornish game hens, salmon, and Rocky Mountain oysters. Bison and elk are the restaurant’s biggest sellers.
“[Exotic meat] really put us on the map nationally and internationally,” says co-owner Bill Dutton. “[Customers] try things they don’t usually get back home.”
Dutton says his establishment has dropped various meats from the menu when quality and consistency came into question. “We dropped pheasant because of those issues.”
As for the Buckhorn’s selection of produce, Dutton says they stay within the boundaries of what was used in the Old West. “We use sage as a seasoning in some of our recipes.”
Technology has made a once out-of-the-way destination — “You were either looking for us or you were lost,” Dutton says with a laugh — convenient. Denver’s light-rail system now stops directly across the street from the Buckhorn, making the restaurant a 10-minute ride from downtown hotels.
Lavender Pepper Duck Breast With Raspberry-Red Zinfandel Sauce
Raspberry-Red Zinfandel Sauce
2 cups cold water
12 ounces raspberries
1½ teaspoons chicken base
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups zinfandel
1/3 cup dark rum
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup cold water
2 tablespoons Crème de Cassis
6 boneless duck breasts
Combine raspberries and water in heavy saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes; add chicken base and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Continue to simmer.
Add zinfandel and rum and continue to simmer until reduced by ¼. Combine cornstarch with ½ cup cold water and add to sauce. Bring sauce back to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Stir in Crème de Cassis. Force sauce through double mesh strainer.
Lavender Pepper Rub
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons lavender
1 tablespoon white pepper
Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until all seeds are reduced to a coarse grind.
Skin duck breasts and rub with lavender mixture 1 hour prior to cooking. Grill duck breasts over hot fire until medium rare. Allow to stand for 5 minutes and slice. Serve each breast with 2 ounces of sauce.
The Buckhorn Exchange, 1000 Osage St., Denver, 303.534.9505, buckhorn.com
From the October 2017 Taste of the West issue.