One Old Town bistro experiments with adding creepy-crawlies to its menu.
MY HUSBAND AND I ARE sitting across a table from one another, slightly aghast at the meal before us. On each of our bright white rectangular plates sits a petite egg-white and chimichurri omelet. Our omelets are flanked by thin strips of colorful veggies and a magenta swipe of beet and roasted garlic sauce. So what’s troubling us? Perhaps it’s the three-inch locust perching on top.
Our locusts seem to be staring at us while we, in turn, stare back at them. When I glance up at my husband his face tells me he shares my dismay and curiosity. It’s a standoff of sorts and for a moment neither of us makes a move toward a first bite.
Admittedly, we were the ones who contacted Nate Hines, Chef/Owner at The Welsh Rabbit, and specifically requested a “bug lunch” after learning he has been experimenting with and developing insect-themed dishes for over a year. But the reality is a little daunting.
“The idea of edible insects had been floating around in the back of my mind for a while,” Hines says. “One day I started Googling it and eventually stumbled across a handful of suppliers and thought to myself, ‘Why the hell not?’”
Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch (RMMR) ended up being one of those suppliers. Founded by Wendy Lu McGill in 2014, Denver-based RMMR raises crickets and sells them along with other bugs (think locusts and meal worms) to seven restaurants and counting along the Front Range and beyond. “Insects are not only a sustainable food source that’s high in protein, they’re packed with dense micronutrients like calcium and iron,” says McGill. “Not to mention they’re extremely tasty.”
Eager to introduce us to the world of edible insect cuisine, Hines created a four-course meal with each dish featuring an insect element. Our lunch included the locust-topped omelet, a goat cheese tasting encrusted in black ants, a savory bread pudding with crickets, and a chocolate crepe cake with a towering wafer, also coated in ants.
After plunging past the ick factor, we found all of Hines’ dishes to be quite delicious. The locust added a hay-like flavor and crunch to the omelet. The black ants (my favorite of the bunch) enhanced the cheese with an airy crispness, best described as minuscule, albeit bitter, Rice Krispies. And the nutty smokiness of the crickets, roasted in brown sugar and butter, complemented the savory bread pudding.
Hines plans to offer his insect-focused savory bread pudding on The Welsh Rabbit’s spring menu, although items often change throughout a season based on availability of ingredients as well as Hines’ desire to explore how different flavor profiles work together. “It’s a constant experiment,” Hines says. “I’m always curious how Fort Collins will respond.”
Guests can always try the Cricket Curious option on the Welsh Rabbit’s small bites menu. Hines admits they’re primarily a novelty item for those who want the bragging rights. For the more insect interested, however (and with a two-week notice), he will prepare a multicourse, bug-centric meal.
After experiencing what can be done with insects in capable culinary hands, my husband and I agree we’d be willing to try more edible insect dishes. Just as long as we can get over the stare factor when facing our meals.