(This feature originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Colorado AvidGolfer magazine.)
By JOHN LEHNDORFF
There are no club sandwiches on the menu at Blackstone Country Club and at Topgolf. These are not your grandfather’s golf facilities and they do not serve the same old roster of dishes that have defined “golf food” forever.
Your votes in the 18th annual CAGGY Awards earned Topgolf (in Thornton and Centennial) top honors for the best food at public golf facility in Colorado. Blackstone Country Club in Aurora took home the gold for the best served at a private golf club.
After tasting the fare at both places, it’s obvious that the future of dining for golfers of all persuasions is bright. These are very different venues and experiences, but each offers a refreshing approach from Topgolf’s injectable doughnut holes to Blackstone’s almond-crusted halibut with shrimp and chorizo risotto.
Home on Topgolf’s Driving Range
Topgolf is an eye-opener for any first-time visitor. The three-story, high-tech driving range makes it easy to enjoy golf with climate-controlled hitting bays that come with music, clubs to use, and a video screen providing detailed info from micro-chipped golf balls.
One of the biggest surprises is just how good the food, drink and service is at Topgolf’s facilities across the nation. The chef-prepared fare made with non-institutional ingredients attracts golf fans who sometimes stop in for a meal and never actually pick up a club.
I visited the 4-year-old Thornton Topgolf facility but the recently opened Centennial location serves the same menu with a few tweaks. The complexes have common areas with full-service food and drink on each level. You can reserve a bay that seats eight comfortably (six players plus two spectators) with a large communal table looking out on the huge netted range. An attentive bay host takes orders on a tablet and delivers food and drink rapidly, a plus since golfers rent the bay by the hour.
Maria Galan, Topgolf’s executive chef in Thornton, says that the goal from the start was to serve restaurant quality fare. “The dishes on our menu are cooked from scratch, not pulled out of a freezer. Almost everything is made to be shareable, not fork and knife entrees,” she says.
The coolest platter is the meat and cheese board surrounded by a huge freshly baked soft pretzel. Spilling out of the middle are slices of Genoa salami, grilled jalapeño sausage and prosciutto with pepperjack and Cheddar chunks plus fruit, berries and candied pecans. Dipping joy is provided by ramekins of horseradish Dijon and warm, house-made Pabst Blue Ribbon cheese sauce.
Other great shareables include farmhouse flatbread pizzas on chewy naan bread, some well-constructed nachos and the truly exceptional Backyard Wings. The kitchen takes plump chicken wings – dry-rubbed and citrus-brined for 24 hours – roasts and then grills them until fall-apart tender and infuses them with garlic vinaigrette. Wing sauces from savory to fiery top them off.
You can tell a lot about a sports eatery by how seriously they take sandwiches, the perfect golf-watching meal. Topgolf’s burger is a fresh grind of different beef cuts that yields a nicely juicy patty with stellar toppings. The Sunrise is crowned with thick bacon, Cheddar and a fried egg.
Topgolf’s cocktail program would be at home in many downtown Denver bars. Several signature cocktails are poured from golf bag-shaped pitchers like the pineapple punch powered by Captain Morgan Rum and Malibu Coconut Rum. Besides a roster of local brews like Wibby IPL and Blue Moon Belgian White, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne is always available for those hole-in-one moments.
Mornings are busy here. Breakfast offerings start with a steady supply of good coffee, superfood bowls boasting acai, berries and bananas, granola and chia, and a substantial griddled breakfast burrito. Weekend mimosa brunches add fried chicken and Belgian waffle sliders and ahi and avocado toast plus an eggs Benedict atop crispy zucchini cakes.
Some families “golf” here just for the cake doughnut holes with plastic injectors of chocolate, raspberry jelly and Bavarian cream filling. Kids and others have been known to just squirt them directly in their mouths.
BLACKSTONE COOKS UP MAGIC
While The Fireside is located at Blackstone Country Club surrounded by a 7,313-yard Jay Morrish-designed course, it is nothing like a standard seasonal golf grill.
Besides serving golfers lunch and dinner fare and cocktails on the spacious patio, this is a year-round restaurant and watering hole for the many members whose families call the neighborhood home.
This private eatery sees many of the same customers week after week all year long. “We’re here to cook what they want. We survey them and we have a feedback committee that tell us how they feel about potential menu items … and they aren’t shy about it,” says Scott Ballard, executive chef at Blackstone Country Club. He attributes the eatery’s success to the fact that the staff actually listens to members.
You enter Blackstone’s expansive stone Tudor-style clubhouse under a towering wooden arch into The Fireside bar and restaurant which is warmed by tons of natural light and roaring fireplaces.
It has the potential to be clubby and stuffy, but the facility and menu have been designed to be comfortable and casual. Members enjoy everything from a quick Tuesday night burger with the kids to celebrations of major life events here, but nobody feels obliged to wear uncomfortable clothes.
The names of the lunch and dinner dishes are not exotic, but the ingredient sourcing, preparation and plating elevates them significantly. “We call it familiar but refined,” Ballard says
Dinners can start with crowd-pleasers like Buffalo chicken wings and Asian potstickers. I lift a toast to the grilled crostini which was born to snag a bite of creamy burrata cheese with pesto-like walnut pistou sprinkled with black salt. Even diehard Brussels sprouts haters are likely to get seduced by the sweet, salty, crunchy melding of fried sprouts with crispy candied bacon, Granny Smith apple and pistachios.
Per members’ requests for health-conscious – but not boring cuisine, The Fireside’s menus showcase many main dish salads. Vitamin Greens are layered with roasted beets, watermelon radish, tomatoes, apple, toasted pumpkin seeds and blood orange vinaigrette. The Power Salad combines quinoa, goat cheese, dried blueberries and grilled lemon vinaigrette. Either can be dressed with grilled shrimp, salmon or chicken.
The diverse specialty entrees have earned their way on to the menu over time, often after being tested as nightly specials. One flavor winner is the almond-crusted halibut. The firm-fleshed fish is dished over sautéed spinach and creamy shrimp and chorizo risotto. The most popular entrée is Asian beef tenderloin tips stir-fried with sesame oil, snowpeas, sweet chile oil and chewy soba noodles.
On Saturday nights, The Fireside becomes an old-fashioned prime steakhouse that grills big steaks and lobster tails with a full salad bar. The prime rib has its own devotees as does the craveable buffet of serve-yourself sides: roasted asparagus, baked spuds, sauteed mushrooms and onions and cavatappi mac with cheddar, Asiago and Parmesan cheeses.
The establishment eschews the steakhouse-sized wine libraries and focuses on good wines (including affordable reds and whites) not typically found in liquor stores. The Fireside’s mixologists concoct an array of cocktails such as the signature Smoked Manhattan served in a chilled, oak-smoked glass.
The lunch menu includes the starters and salads and well-crafted sandwiches such as the prime rib French dip and the best-seller, a peppercorn-crusted Black Angus bleu cheeseburger with Balsamic onions on brioche.
Chef Ballard says he studiously avoided putting a conventional club sandwich on the menu. Instead he proudly points to the Caddy Master, a “gooey grilled sourdough sandwich” middled with turkey, ham, bacon and Cheddar – best served with beer-battered onion rings.
Ballard’s newest addition is a schnitzel-thin chicken fried ribeye steak with skin-on Colorado mashers and gravy. Pounded thin and lightly crusted, the steak overfills The Fireside’s biggest plates and exceeds expectations.
Ballard and his staff obsess about culinary details that aren’t necessarily bragged about on the menu, but the regulars take it for granted. For instance, when tacos are dished the meats are smoked in-house and the soft corn tortillas are handmade. All the baguettes and other breads are baked on premise because they simply taste better.
Ballard says he also wants to pass along skills to his young staff.
“We try to always put some heart into what we cook,” he says.
Blackstone is part of the ClubCorp family of clubs across the country. Members have privileges at the nearby Black Bear Golf Club in Parker (which serves golfers a casual gastropub menu) and they can also golf at more than 200 courses nationwide.
Finally, I’m glad to see that both our reader favorites still pour sterling versions of my favorite golf-watching beverage: The Arnold Palmer.
Topgolf Thornton, 16011 Grant St., Thornton, 303-785-6350
Topgolf Centennial, 10601 E. Easter Ave., Centennial, 720-880-3151, topgolf.com
Blackstone Country Club, 7777 S. Country Club Parkway, Aurora, 303- 680-0245, clubcorp.com/clubs/blackstone-black-bear