Food and Drink

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“Upscale dive bar” The Block Bar & Grill opens in former Oscar’s Tejon spot

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2020 at 8:06 PM

COURTESY THE BLOCK
  • Courtesy The Block

The former Oscar’s Tejon Street at 333 S. Tejon St., which briefly operated as the rebranded Midtown Grill towards its end, has reopened under new ownership as The Block Bar & Grill.

Co-owners Benjamin Pate and Derek Sunde are leasing the space from Oscar’s founder/chef Phil Duhon, with an option to later buy. Duhon’s longtime head chef Steven Quinones has stayed on, and with Derek (a faithful Oscar’s patron) and his wife Stacey’s input, co-designed an all-new menu save for oysters that honor Oscar’s’ legacy. It features burgers, tacos, sandwiches, apps, soups and salads, and a few entrées like fish and chips.

“We aren’t trying to be a restaurant,” says Pate, who also owns and engineering consulting firm that he operates in Texas in three-week-on-three-week-off cycles. “We’re more of an upscale dive bar with a diverse menu.” The team has added more big-screen TVs, another pool table, a juke box, and given the place a significant decor face-lift to distinguish it from its predecessors.

Former Wobbly Olive co-owner Philip Arana is designing the bar menu. - COURTESY THE BLOCK
  • Courtesy The Block
  • Former Wobbly Olive co-owner Philip Arana is designing the bar menu.

Lead bartender Philip Arana, celebrated mixologist and former co-owner for Allusion Speakeasy and The Wobbly Olive, has designed The Block’s cocktail menu, noting that their concept is “to pay homage to the Springs of our youth... the late 90s and the turn of a millennium... the classics of a dying time... the downtown experiences of yesterday.”

Arana says he's launching with a remedial craft cocktail menu to train the staff up but once they're comfy and dialed in, he'll do a spring and summer update that'll be "all new and exciting." In addition, look for 20 beer drafts ranging from domestics and imports to local craft labels, plus daily 4-7 p.m. happy hours.

As for the spot's name, Pate says "it's down the block from the rest of the bars, and our logo depicts our corner orientation on the block."

The Block's owners did a fairly extensive cosmetic remodel to revamp the former Oscar's space. - COURTESY THE BLOCK
  • Courtesy The Block
  • The Block's owners did a fairly extensive cosmetic remodel to revamp the former Oscar's space.
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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Paradox Beer Company to open downtown Paradox Outpost location soon

Posted By on Sun, Jan 12, 2020 at 9:44 AM

A phenomenal Wiley Roots Brewing beer in collaboration with Paradox: a pineapple upside down cobbler IPA. Sadly, it may be all gone by the time you read this. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A phenomenal Wiley Roots Brewing beer in collaboration with Paradox: a pineapple upside down cobbler IPA. Sadly, it may be all gone by the time you read this.

Paradox Beer Company has announced plans for its first Paradox Outpost location at 522 W. Colorado Ave., across from Benny’s Restaurant & Lounge, tentatively set to open around March.

Brewer, blender, jack-of-all-trades employee Jeffrey Airman says there won’t be any brewing or aging at this satellite spot, that it’ll be a tap and tasting room with some live music offerings and a small kitchen for limited food service, supplemented by food trucks at times.

“You won’t be getting the full Paradox experience unless you come to Divide,” he says, “but we’ll do different productions for the Outpost and tailor the beer for the neighborhood.” For example, a collaboration with Cerberus Brewing Company’s already planned.

Paradox's facility in Divide host stunning views, and should be visited for the full Paradox experience says brewer/blender Jeffrey Airman. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Paradox's facility in Divide host stunning views, and should be visited for the full Paradox experience says brewer/blender Jeffrey Airman.

Paradox originally opened in Woodland Park in 2012, moving to (and significantly expanding in) Divide four years later. They’re nationally and internationally distributed, specializing in ambitious and experimental wild and sour beers, barrel-aged and blended into limited, totally unique production runs.

On our recent visit, we followed the advice of friends who said the pineapple upside down cobbler IPA collaboration beer with Wiley Roots Brewing at Paradox is a beer to behold. It's made with caramelized pineapple, cherry juice, vanilla, cinnamon and lactose, leading with cake icing in the aroma yet magically manages not to taste cloying. A trusted friend who samples widely said it was probably the best beer she had in 2019, commending the pure flavors. We concur and were simply stunned.

Here's some background on the beer from Wiley Roots Brewing Co.'s CEO and head brewer Kyle Carbaugh:

The Cobbler Series (County Fair Cobbler, State Fair Cobbler, and the Bi-County Fair Cobbler) is a Milkshake Sour IPA series pioneered by Wiley Roots since late early Fall 2018. The idea for a collaboration [with Paradox] came from tasting their Skully No. 40 Pineapple Upside Down Sour, and enjoying the pineapple and cherry aspect of that beer.

Pineapple Upside Down Bi-County Fair Cobbler was brewed by our team in Greeley, Colorado using our Cobbler Milkshake Sour IPA recipe with Paradox's input on processing and treating the pineapple component of the beer. After the beer was brewed, we sent kegs and cans to Paradox.

Wiley Roots also brewed a beer in Divide with Paradox, called "Koji Bros" which was released in July 2019. This [is a good] example of a Paradox beer with our input, whereas Pineapple Upside Down Bi-County Fair Cobbler is a Wiley Roots brand and is much different from what they are known for.

Views west face the back side of Pikes Peak. When you aren't facing that way, you'll likely be nosing a snifter. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Views west face the back side of Pikes Peak. When you aren't facing that way, you'll likely be nosing a snifter.
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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A Colorado Springs Chef's Guild has formed to elevate our scene

Posted By on Tue, Jan 7, 2020 at 4:41 PM

The Colorado Springs Chef's Guild organizers: Chris Lerdall (left, chef, TAPAteria), Justin Castor (executive chef, Urban Egg) and Hannah Cupples (former chef de cuisine at Four by Brother Luck, current chef at Wobbly Olive, and restaurant consultant). - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Colorado Springs Chef's Guild organizers: Chris Lerdall (left, chef, TAPAteria), Justin Castor (executive chef, Urban Egg) and Hannah Cupples (former chef de cuisine at Four by Brother Luck, current chef at Wobbly Olive, and restaurant consultant).

This is going to be a fairly informal post, as I'm not going to directly quote from my meeting on January 7 with the organizers of the recently formed Colorado Springs Chef's Guild (best connected with publicly for now via their Instagram page). Rather, I'm going to pluck the best bits from our two-hour sit-down and paraphrase the gist of what we talked about.

They called the meeting to get me up to speed on their goals, and have invited me to speak at their next meeting in late January (not open to the public; it's more of a networking, tip-sharing, productively shoot-the-shit kinda thing).

The chefs (19 so far, representing places ranging from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to Lucky Dumpling to the Broadmoor) describe themselves on their private Facebook group page as: "A group of determined professionals coming together to bridge the gap in the service industry of collaboration versus competition, with the aim to grow ourselves personally, professionally, and as a community." 

Relatedly, the Springs already has a bartender's guild, actually a nonprofit with membership fees, with some events open to the community by donation. Presently, the Chef's Guild costs nothing to join.

Anyway, pretty much the first thing the Chef's Guild organizers — see names and titles in the photo caption above — said to me upon sitting down with them over coffee was that they'd taken note of my recent review of the The Roswell and the broader questioning inside it about the direction of the Colorado Springs food scene at-large. Thematically, it's something they've been discussing also, as they look to elevate our scene. They say they're hungry for more criticism in the wider interest of inspiring chefs to be their better selves. (I confess this sounded good to hear, that they understand and respect the role of critical writing, which in part offers chefs honest feedback and a chance to improve, while also guiding readers to worthwhile spots as a utilitarian public service.)

They too are noticing regional expansions and/or chain places coming in from Denver and beyond (see: Denver Biscuit Company, Dos Santos, Snooze, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar) and have a gut feeling those types of openings locally will continue if the Springs doesn't bolster itself with enough really quality home-grow stuff. To be clear, many of these expansions are awesome, welcome and certainly have a place in our scene as options that may not be a mom-and-pop one-off, but are still keeping money relatively local compared to mass-market chain places. And they're showing a level of excellence proved in bigger and more persnickety marketplaces like Boulder. We're better with them. 

Our Guild's not looking to cut chefs from those places out of the discussion, or talk shit about anyone, they tell me; in fact, quite the opposite, they say one of the discussions in their first meetings centered around everyone's favorite spots in town, and why, basically championing what the Springs is doing well at present. The meetings are town halls for the industry, they say.

To me, they sounded genuinely constructive and well-intended, grasping broadly at how to figure out things like employee retention and best wage practices, best-educating the line cooks coming up, and communicating well between restaurants to share knowledge and tips such as great purveyors of items like locally grown microgreens.

Simply put, they want to see better food all around, to place the Springs as a destination market, not secondary place. To further clarify this point, they talk about how real foodies regularly drive to Denver to eat at top spots, but not enough traffic's going the other direction. Yet we have deserving eateries here, now. (We digressed briefly to point out how Urban Egg has actually grown northward into Denver, and how Bingo Burger was popular enough to hop from small-market Pueblo to the Springs.)

These chefs feel they don't need to be in competition with one another, that the town's easily big enough for everyone, and growing to support even more spots. So ahead of that growth is the vital time to have these discussions, while a supportive framework can be laid to set the table, so to speak.

My takeaway: With enough chefs on board (they're spreading the word now to gain new members) and active participation, this guild should be a force for good. Though their effectiveness might largely be hidden behind closed kitchen doors as day-to-day matters go, a span of years will ultimately determine the Springs' path toward (or...groan...away from) greatness as destination spots go. The word "middling" came up in various contexts in our discussion (yeah, I guess that counts as a direct quote after all, damn), and that's not a place where any chef or scene wants to linger. So, let's not.

—— UPDATE: 8:17 P.M. TUESDAY JAN. 7 ——

Shortly after posting this blog, I heard from area grower Dan Hobbs of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, who saw the post and offered a mini history lesson about another earlier attempt to unite chefs in some capacity.

From his Facebook comment:
"We started doing this with the chef's collaborative in 1999 and it seems that, at least with respect to local food procurement, Springs has been in culinary decline for some time...
I may not know the whole story, but here is what I remember from 1999-early 2000s: Chris Adrian at La Petite Maison was the driving force, working closely with Carrie Carter Balkcom from Denver, who I think was with Chef's Collaborative at the time. I think Brent [Beavers] was cutting his teeth at La Petite at the time, and there was a fellow named Marcus at Walter's Bistro who was getting some notoriety, maybe for working with Bison meat. He left the area early on and the main chef group that was working with the farmers and seemed to have higher culinary standards and appetite for innovation were John Broening of Primativo, Chip [Johnson] of Briarhurst, James Africano at the Warehouse, and of course David [McDonough] at Adams [Mountain Cafe], but I don't remember him engaging much with that chef's collaborative/Club 9 group."

If I hear from some of the other chefs from that era with more info, I'll update this post again. Credit where it's due, and all. Clearly these new Guild members aren't the first to be examining our scene (it's done over beers between a few chefs here and there all the time) but perhaps they'll prove to be the most organized — and, if they meet their mission, the most effective. 
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Saturday, January 4, 2020

Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar expansion set to dazzle

Posted By on Sat, Jan 4, 2020 at 12:26 PM

The former, longtime Il Vicino space at 11 S. Tejon St. has been transformed into Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar's sixth location. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The former, longtime Il Vicino space at 11 S. Tejon St. has been transformed into Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar's sixth location.

In June, 2019, the Indy announced the impending arrival of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar.

To recap in brief: Jax is part of Boulder-based Big Red F Restaurant Group, a 25-year-old company that also operates Lola Coastal Mexican, The Post Brewing Co., The West End Tavern, Zolo Southwestern Grill, and Centro Mexican Kitchen. Jax — which specializes in sustainably sourced seafood, being the first Colorado restaurant certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch — also has locations in Boulder (the original spot), Fort Collins, Lodo Denver, Glendale, and Kansas City.
Upon entry, guests are greeted by an alluring raw bar display. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Upon entry, guests are greeted by an alluring raw bar display.

This Colorado Springs location opens Tuesday, Jan. 7, with the first brunch service beginning Sunday, Jan. 12. I got a media preview on Jan. 3, with a mini tasting and tour through the significantly overhauled facility with chef/founder Dave Query. (Random related fun fact: I served and shift managed in this spot circa 1999/2000 when I was in college and it was Il Vicino — so this tour for me was more of a "oh, the brewery used to be there, and fermentation tanks here ... how the hell did you get the pervasive wood-oven pizza smell out?" type tour.)

Executive Chef Sheila Lucero (left), chef/founder (or "Chief Instigator") Dave Query, and "Creative Cat" Dana Query. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Executive Chef Sheila Lucero (left), chef/founder (or "Chief Instigator") Dave Query, and "Creative Cat" Dana Query.

Back in June, Query told me he’s been waiting for the right Springs location for 20 years, saying: “We’re excited to have found a location we think suits the brand and allows us to do something in the way we do it well — which is small.”
Considering that well-established brand, he speaks modestly as we sit together in the new space. "We don't see ourselves as a big fish in a small pond; we work twice as hard to gain our cred," he tells me. "We've got proving to do."

Steak tartare with dijon creme and grana padano. Jax sources the beef for it through Denver's River Bear  Meats (run by Chef Justin Brunson from Old Major) — River Bear sources this beef from Revere Meat Co. out of Minnesota. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Steak tartare with dijon creme and grana padano. Jax sources the beef for it through Denver's River Bear Meats (run by Chef Justin Brunson from Old Major) — River Bear sources this beef from Revere Meat Co. out of Minnesota.
Seasonal Spanish octopus: sous vide octopus with sherry and orange zest, 'nduja sausage, anchovy tapenade made with Castelvetrano olives, almond crumble and grana padano, over traditional risotto with compound butter. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Seasonal Spanish octopus: sous vide octopus with sherry and orange zest, 'nduja sausage, anchovy tapenade made with Castelvetrano olives, almond crumble and grana padano, over traditional risotto with compound butter.

Executive Chef Sheila Lucero joins us for a moment, while dropping off stellar samples of Oysters Rockefeller (traditional style) and oysters chargrilled in Creole butter with garlic and parsley and grana padano cheese. She serves on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch's Blue Ribbon Task Force, networking with others around the U.S. on sustainability concerns. Jax's menu features a "note on sourcing" on its back page that explains their ethics and practices.


Guests can get in on the action via the Jax Oyster Club, through which you can order from the same providers and pick up oysters at Jax for dining at home.

Past the long central bar and near the open kitchen, guests will find a colorful aquarium. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Past the long central bar and near the open kitchen, guests will find a colorful aquarium.

I also meet newly appointed beverage director Alan Henkin, who brings experience from The Wolf's Tailor, Basta and Frasca. In addition to overseeing a fairly extensive bottle and glass wine list, he's curated around a dozen beers for this location (including a couple local breweries) and a dozen cocktails, broken into martini, NOLA Classics and house infusion categories that capture both traditional and longtime favorite Jax drinks.

Our Colorado Springs location Sous Chef Brian Pistorino (left) and Chef de Cuisine Jesse Guare. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Our Colorado Springs location Sous Chef Brian Pistorino (left) and Chef de Cuisine Jesse Guare.

Something I may circle back on later is any extra significance of Jax's arrival on the scene — call it Boulderization maybe? — as in late 2018 I opined about the Denverization of the Springs with the arrival of Denver Biscuit Company and Dos Santos.

More recently, I caught all kinds of holy hell from some Indy readers when I used the opening of The Roswell to examine the current state of the Springs food scene, questioning if we were making any backward progress (concurrent with other hopeful openings, in this case.)

I'll conclude here by simply saying Jax will be one to watch in 2020, and the early samplings show a lot of promise. 
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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Havana Grill relocates, becomes legit dance venue, El Taco & La Arepa Venezuelan & Mexican Grill opens in its wake

Posted By on Sat, Dec 14, 2019 at 3:28 PM

Havana Grill, home to hearty Cuban sandwiches and now, much more. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Havana Grill, home to hearty Cuban sandwiches and now, much more.

Year-and-a-half-old Havana Grill recently moved north to 2165 Academy Place, the site of the former Brayla Wedding and Events, which as of the summer of 2019 began hosting the 719 Hump Day Food Truck Rally. What that triggered: The food trucks now park nearby at Copperhead Road on Wednesdays, and the former Havana Grill spot at 3748 Astrozon Blvd. has become El Taco & La Arepa Venezuelan & Mexican Grill.

Fusing Venezuelan and Mexican foods. - EL TACO & LA AREPA, COURTESY FACEBOOK
  • El Taco & La Arepa, courtesy Facebook
  • Fusing Venezuelan and Mexican foods.

As for Havana Grill, co-owner Carlos Rodriguez says the new location has “everything we were looking for,” and that after one week open, response “has been amazing.” The team has essentially quadrupled its capacity, capable of seating up to 215 people for dining service (with more tables capable of being set up, he says, noting an overall capacity of 441). That means jumping from seven staff at the old spot to 28 people for weekend nights, when Fridays bring family-friendly karaoke and Saturdays usher in club nights, with free salsa lessons from 8 to 9 p.m., followed by live music or sets by resident DJ DjDannyblaze (Danny Baez) for the 21-and-over crowd until 2 a.m.

Baez spins nightly (except for Sundays, when the venue closes for private parties) and Rodriguez credits production manager Victor Carbonell for helping get Havana Grill to the next level as a legit concert and dance venue, now hosting 24 laser lights and a couple C02 cannons amidst its party arsenal. So, “we’re a restaurant with a music venue,” explains Rodriguez, also listing off four pool tables (with leagues coming soon), an arcade room and dominoes tables. The bar hosts a full beer, wine and spirits menu with mojitos being the best seller by far, while the Cuban food menu remains unchanged, just expanded greatly in daily output.

Even though it is winter, the Wednesday food truck rally continues, relocated to Copperhead Road. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Even though it is winter, the Wednesday food truck rally continues, relocated to Copperhead Road.
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Monday, December 9, 2019

Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon soft opens

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 10:26 AM

COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon


The question isn’t “What is Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon.” It’s “What isn’t Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon.

Open as of 4 p.m., Monday, Dec. 9, the restaurant, bar and nightlife spot is actually our state’s first (and technically partial) “ghost restaurant” to hear co-owner Greg Howard (former McCabe's Tavern owner) explain it.

A ghost restaurant is a kitchen that serves delivery and take-out only, thereby keeping low overhead for economic viability. Howard cites recent data which indicates pickup and delivery as the #1 growing restaurant industry trend. “With this model coming out of big cities,” he says, “we looked at it and saw that we may not have the population [in this location] to support one restaurant, but it can support three of four different concepts out of one kitchen.”

A proper barbecue setting. - COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon
  • A proper barbecue setting.

So, Slingers is a sit-down bar and barbecue joint — “We’re all hospitality folks, so it’s hard for us to let that go,” he says — but it also sells 1) a vegan/vegetarian menu, 2) a Nashville hot chicken menu and 3) an Italian menu for pickup/takeout only (they’re partnering with third-party providers like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub).

Co-owner Stephon Black (who helped with Copperhead Road and Johnny’s Navajo Hogan openings) says Slingers has 20 taps (one with wine, another with Truly hard seltzer) and craft cocktails, and serves lunch, dinner and late night (until 2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, which also feature a DJ or live music). Programming includes sports channels, and themes like Taco Tuesday and Wing Wednesday. Slingers’ ownership team also acquired the adjacent, former Bikini Xpresso kiosk and intend to launch a coffee arm around mid January.

Birds in the oven. - COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon
  • Birds in the oven.

Also part of the ownership team are Travis Blaney, managing partner at Streetcar520, and Jay DesRoches, who brings other restaurant experience. Tommy Taylor is Slingers' kitchen manager; his recent work includes Patty Jewett Bar & Grill.

As for the barbecue, Howard says DesRoches lent his recipe for apple- and oak-smoked meats, and that "smokehouse" is the key word to understand Slingers' style. The team doesn't prefer to get caught up in all the regional banter about all the barbecue styles out there, believing that if you say you are one thing, like Kansas City style, for example, then some purists will attack you for not being dead-on style, while other potential diners will perhaps avoid you, saying, 'Oh, well I prefer Carolina- or Texas-style.' Here, they're just going for good barbecue all around.

You won't be putting angel wings on for your Instagram photos here. Nope, it's chicken wings for you. - COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon
  • You won't be putting angel wings on for your Instagram photos here. Nope, it's chicken wings for you.
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Friday, December 6, 2019

R&R Coffee Cafe's new Tri Lakes expansion opens

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 6:33 PM

Big mug, mini pie. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Big mug, mini pie.
R&R Coffee Cafe — Tri Lakes has finally opened, expanding on 12 years of well-regarded history for R&R in the Black Forest area.

The Indy first spoke to R&R owner Ryan Wanner about the new location in April, 2019, who said at the time, “The No. 1 goal is to make it to where it’s not your typical medical center coffee shop... Make it interesting.”

This new location, which has sat vacant for around a year, is in Monument, at the Tri-Lakes YMCA that shares space with Centura Health’s Tri-Lakes Health Pavilion.
R&R Tri-Lakes shares space with the YMCA and Centura Health’s Tri-Lakes Health Pavilion. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • R&R Tri-Lakes shares space with the YMCA and Centura Health’s Tri-Lakes Health Pavilion.

Wanner says the coffee menu's 95-percent the same as in Black Forest, but he has aimed for healthier food fares here to match both the neighboring fitness and health facilities. Which is to say if you want R&R's awesome biscuits and gravy, you still have to head into Black Forest for that.
A very shiny new espresso machine. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A very shiny new espresso machine.
Here, Wanner has added more smoothies, and already in the cafe's opening days, the turkey croissant (which is at Black Forest's location as well) is a bestseller, he says, also noting a new multigrain bread. Soon, he hopes to add some keto items he's been tinkering with recipes on. And maybe some avocado toast.
R&R owner Ryan Wanner. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • R&R owner Ryan Wanner.

R&R's popular in-house pastries will definitely be served at this new location for those still looking for a sweet treat. Wanner says he aims to make seasonal menu changes as this cafe moves forward, with a more flexible menu than the Black Forest location. 
OK macho drinkers: Here's your seven-shot Heart Murmur. Have fun! - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • OK macho drinkers: Here's your seven-shot Heart Murmur. Have fun!

Relatedly, Wanner notes a couple breweries in town currently serving beers made with R&R's Golden Pine label coffee beans: Black Forest Brewing has a Guatemalan coffee vanilla porter, while JAKs Brewing Company is still serving a coffee stout made with Monsooned Malabar cold brew coffee.
R&R's Golden Pine label house roasts. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • R&R's Golden Pine label house roasts.
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Monday, November 25, 2019

Happy Belly Tacos expands, takes over The Collective: A Social House

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2019 at 11:59 AM

COURTESY RMFR
  • Courtesy RMFR

The Indy reported in October on Happy Belly's new menu to mark its first anniversary downtown.

Now, just a month later, Rocky Mountain Food Report and Indy contributor Dionne Roberts broke the news on Happy Belly Tacos taking over The Collective: A Social House.

Here's Roberts reporting via RMFR:

Mark Henry, president of Elevated Carnivore Group (Rooster’s House of Ramen and Happy Belly Tacos) brings his Mexican cuisine to the rapidly growing Eastside of Colorado Springs and teams up once again with Sean and Inez Fitzgerald, owners of The Wobbly Olive and Allusion Speakeasy (the revolving pop-up bar inside of Rooster’s) to expand the concept and debut his third brick and mortar — set to officially open Thursday, December 12.

“I need to focus on my strengths and I’m a bartender at heart,” says Sean Fitzgerald. “So this partnership made a ton of sense because I can manage the front of the house, what I’m good at, and Mark, as the chef, can handle the back of the house. This way we can divide and conquer.”

The united front also benefits the original Happy Belly (125 N. Spruce Street) and finally puts the constant questions and outcries from patrons, who desperately (and rightfully so) desire margaritas and beers with their tacos, to rest. Fitzgerald confirms that “as soon as we get the change over completed in a successful way we will apply for a liquor license for the Westside.”

Beyond the appreciation for solid food and bev pairings, the lateral movement across town offers Eastsiders more variety of the local kind with an additional homegrown establishment amidst the layers of franchise restaurants in the general vicinity.

“It’s not necessarily better but I think it’s different,” says Henry. “Opposed to having an alley of chains we are representing the clientele, the community and bringing people the food they’ve asked for.”
MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
Give us what we want. The ultimate hand-held comfort foods.
The menus at both Happy Belly’s will read similar, with some additions at part two, but the transition appears to be seamless as, according to Fitzgerald, tacos already rank as the best selling food items at The Collective.

“This shows a need and we can play in the same sandbox with them,” seconds Henry. “They want somewhere they can sit down and have great margaritas and fast, good tacos. A place to call home.”

Fitzgerald and Henry both want Happy Belly to be a culture that reaches across Colorado Springs, an open forum whereas it’s very involved and committed staff can share suggestions and grow together to create heightened dishes and provide better service. During our recent podcast with Henry — “Livin’ that Chef Life” — he speaks directly to the importance of overall company morale and the dire need for constructive commentary saying, “I work on inspiring my staff, not motivating them… inspiration lasts longer.”

“Mark is really cultivating this idea that he doesn’t care where the idea came from,” says Fitzgerald. “He wants to listen to [his staff] and let them try things that are fun while staying in the mantra of what Happy Belly is.”
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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Happy Tap takes over former Smiling Toad Brewery under ownership of Springs-born Major League Baseball pitcher

Posted By on Sun, Nov 24, 2019 at 6:38 PM

15 weekly rotating taps. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • 15 weekly rotating taps.

Happy Tap has taken over the former Smiling Toad Brewery location at 1757 S. Eighth St. The new taproom, open daily, features 15 weekly-rotating, diverse beers on draft, wines and seltzers, and food trucks at least Thursdays through Saturdays, plus prepared foods otherwise available in-house, and Sunday pot lucks. Renovations include a new sports room with ping pong, darts and TVs with all the sports channels.
Sunday pot lucks. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • Sunday pot lucks.

Why the sports leaning? Owner Bret Helton, 26, has pitched five seasons in the MLB, having been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015. He’s currently a free agent, hoping to sign around Christmas, and he plans to run Happy Tap personally during his off seasons. Helton graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School, where his little brother still attends, and his father, Barry Helton played football in the NFL, helping the 49ers win two Super Bowls, in 1989 and 1990.
MLB pitcher Bret Helton on the field. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • MLB pitcher Bret Helton on the field.
Happy Tap owner Bret Helton off the field. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • Happy Tap owner Bret Helton off the field.

“This is something I can focus on in the off season to keep me busy,” says Bret. “This is my favorite place in the world, and I lived in a lot of places. But to stay here and build my reputation outside of baseball... maybe expand to another bar later... I saw the opportunity here, so I made the leap.”
The new game room. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • The new game room.
Food truck service. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • Food truck service.
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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The French Kitchen announces collaboration with Denver's La Belle French Bakery

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 9:44 AM

Chefs and new business partners Blandine Mazéran and Julien Renaut. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Chefs and new business partners Blandine Mazéran and Julien Renaut.

Indy
2019 Best Of gold winner in the category of Cooking Class, The French Kitchen (who also won a bronze nod for Best French), just announced a new collaboration and partnership.

TFK owner and chef Blandine Mazéran will now host cooking classes from owner and executive pastry chef Julien Renaut of Denver's La Belle French Bakery. Renaut has also begun providing dessert pastries for TFK's retail market and cafe. To begin, he'll regularly teach Monday croissant classes, which Mazéran says have been requested by clients ever since she opened, though this is the first time TFK is offering: The first is Nov. 25, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., for $159, at TFK's instruction kitchen attached to the two-and-a-half-year-old cafe.

"His food is quality — and I'm very picky," says Mazéran. "He brought me some sample cakes a while ago and I was like, 'Holy cow!' ... His design is simple, but modern; not everything has to be fancy pulled sugar."
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
Renaut has 15 years experience in the industry, beginning with obtaining his pastry and chocolate master degree and doing culinary competitions in France; he's from the northern city of Lille. He spent several years in the high-end hotel arena, also working closely with another chef who trained under three-star Michelin-star chef Paul Bocuse. He has also consulted and done product development for other businesses and done event-center work prior to launching La Belle three-and-a-half years ago. (La Belle doesn't have a retail front; it's a wholesale outfit that provides for coffee shops and other restaurants.)

"It's exciting to be working in the same industry as Blandine but in a different area," says Renaut. "The drive for both our businesses is the same quality, authentic French culinary experience. This partnership makes sense. I love to teach. This is the perfect setup."
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
Mazéran says that adding a new chef to her team and cooking class roster benefits clients because it offers more class variety. Her current lineup of teachers also includes Kristi Tutt and Anne Doan in addition to Renaut and herself. Sebastien Mullebrouck is still TFK's resident baker and pastry chef, making items like the true-to-French-style baguettes and other flaky pastries.

From Renaut's kitchen, look for items in the retail market now that include and an array of cakes like a triple chocolate mousse, yule logs, and the "Le Crunchy," made with milk chocolate mousse atop a crunch layer, coated in more chocolate with nuts and a whipped cream cap. It, and a few more items are pictured below:
The Le Crunchy dessert. - DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
  • The Le Crunchy dessert.

DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
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Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Joint Food Truck creates collaboration between Odyssey Gastropub and The Bench

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 10:03 AM

COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck

The Joint Food Truck recently launched as a collaboration between five-year-old Odyssey Gastropub and year-and-a-half-old The Bench. Charlie Wofford, business development manager for the eateries, says the truck offers an avenue for testing out new menu items and allowing a little experimentation while getting out into the community more. Executive Chef Doug Pitts designed the menu and sometimes mans the truck along with owners Tyler and Jenny Sherman — all have ample brick-and-mortar experience but cooking on a truck’s new to everyone.
COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck

Pitts has placed spins on popular items found at the eateries, like a hand-held chicken and waffle cone with guajillo butter and smoked syrup that plays off the plated version. The Joint-exclusive items include South Dakota-inspired Chislic Cheesesteak Fries, topped with fried sirloin pieces, caramelized onions, bell peppers and queso.
COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck

Wofford says the truck eventually plans to be on the road four days a week or so, but for these initial months, it’s mainly hitting events like the upcoming Festival of Lights Parade, plus school events like football games and some brewery engagements. They’ve already tested a brunch menu as well with items like a biscuit waffle breakfast sandwich and Fistfull-O-Vegfast Burrito made with tofu scramble.
COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Altitude Hospitality Group battles itself in knife and bar fight — and ... wins!

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 9:11 PM

The winning girls team: Larissa Vendola from Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe (right), Kelsey Horwitz from Pinery at the Hill (left), and Ariel Bilyeu from Sprig. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • The winning girls team: Larissa Vendola from Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe (right), Kelsey Horwitz from Pinery at the Hill (left), and Ariel Bilyeu from Sprig.

Altitude Hospitality Group
hosted an internal Knife & Bar Fight on Tuesday, November 5, which is to say chefs from TILL, Garden of the Gods Gourmet, Sprig and The Pinery at the Hill faced off in friendly competition, with an invite to guest bartenders from Distillery 291 and Brooklyn's on Boulder. The event was free, and a small group of attendees, including me, acting in a judging role.

Wisely, Altitude couldn't really come off looking bad since one of the their chef teams was bound to win ... I mean, I suppose they could have goofed a course and risked bringing the whole empire crumbling down, but that did not happen. Not even close, as the three food courses — challenged by mystery ingredients of Dr. Pepper, goat cheese, blackberries and PSMO (full beef tenderloin) — completely kicked ass.

My favorite course of the evening, from the boys: coffee rubbed tenderloin with sunchoke, bacon, leeks, red potato hash and a sauce consisting of Dr. Pepper, English mustard and blackberries. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • My favorite course of the evening, from the boys: coffee rubbed tenderloin with sunchoke, bacon, leeks, red potato hash and a sauce consisting of Dr. Pepper, English mustard and blackberries.

Teams for the food fight were dividing into boys and girls: Respective head chefs Larissa Vendola from Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe, Kelsey Horwitz from Pinery at the Hill, and Ariel Bilyeu from Sprig. And TILL executive chef Philip Griffen, his sous chef Josey Boyd, and chef de cuisine David Platzer on the Altitude catering side.

TILL chef Philip Griffen, left. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • TILL chef Philip Griffen, left.

The girls ended up winning the night overall. Here are both teams' menus, utilizing the mandatory challenge ingredients in no particular order:

Girls:
1) Beet green salad with Dr. Pepper orange vinaigrette, goat cheese cream and honey candied pecans and baby beets.
2) Chile-rubbed tenderloin over sunchoke and celery root purée with roasted cauliflower and a Dr. Pepper-blackberry-jalapeño sauce.
3) Chevre and thyme mousse with roasted blackberries and strawberries topped with a brown sugar crumble cookie. 

Boys:
1) Roasted beets with beet leaf pesto and cashew nuts, beet crisps and a fennel-orange- pomegranate salad with chile vinaigrette.
2) Coffee rubbed tenderloin with sunchoke, bacon, leeks, red potato hash and a sauce consisting of Dr. Pepper, English mustard and blackberries.
3) Goat cheese honey mousse with blackberry chile jam and Dr. Pepper powder cinnamon crisps.

The chefs present to the judges, explaining their courses and intentions. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • The chefs present to the judges, explaining their courses and intentions.

For the bar fight, Brooklyn's on Boulder came up victorious in the end, utilizing challenge ingredients of rhubarb liqueur, spice cranberry Pinnacle vodka and Sipsmith sloe gin over three courses.

Brooklyn's on Boulder bartenders Philip Taylor, left, and Carlos Garcia. The won the bar fight. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • Brooklyn's on Boulder bartenders Philip Taylor, left, and Carlos Garcia. The won the bar fight.

Bartenders Philip Taylor and Carlos Garcia made the following recipes:

1) A sloe gin aperitif cocktail with Leopold Bros. Aperitivo, lemon and pomegranate juice, simple syrup and a lime garnish. (Garcia says it was an Aperol riff.)
2) Giffard's Rhubarb Liqueur with a split base of Michter's Rye and Weller Bourbon, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, bitters and hand-squeezed green bell pepper juice, garnished with orange peel pierced with clove spikes. (Taylor says it was partly inspired by a Martinez cocktail.)
3) Pinnacle spiced cranberry vodka split with Lee Spirits Dry Gin, plus Grand Marnier, Benedictine, Creme de Rose, Sauterne dessert wine and orange bitters, garnished with maraschino cherry and cranberry.

Distillery 291 bartenders Philip Rawleigh and Kande Warf. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • Distillery 291 bartenders Philip Rawleigh and Kande Warf.

Distillery 291 bartenders contributed my single favorite drink of the evening in their second round. Here's what they concocted:

1) A rye gin fizz with sloe gin, 291 rye, pink peppercorn infused 291 White Dog, orange and lemon juice and a candy garnish.
2) A strawberry rhubarb Old Fashioned with rhubarb liqueur, 291 bourbon, black walnut bitters, plum bitters and strawberries soaked in 291 Fresh, with Luxardo cherry and a lemon honey stick garnish. (Wow!)
3) "Christmas in Your Mouth" made with 291's Decc, spiced cranberry vodka, lemon and orange juices, ginger beer, earl grey tea, and cardamom bitters.

The guest judges sample spirits during a cocktail round. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • The guest judges sample spirits during a cocktail round.

All in all, the Knife & Bar Fight proved enjoyable as sort of a random election night one-off chef showcase with a booze back. (Special thanks to photographer Amanda Lamb for the free photo usage here.)

Head to TILL soon if you want to see it as it stands. Remember, come summer time, it'll be relocating to a spot in the Broadmoor area, and this location will be repurposed into a “family-friendly, open-air dining experience and entertainment complex, featuring pickleball courts, bowling, shuffleboard, a high-tech beer wall and plenty of outdoor games," according to a recent release. Here's a rendering:

COURTESY ALTITUDE HOSPITALITY GROUP
  • Courtesy Altitude Hospitality Group
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Friday, November 1, 2019

GoFundMe started to help O'Malley's recover from fire

Posted By on Fri, Nov 1, 2019 at 9:56 AM

MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
News travelled quickly earlier this week about a kitchen fire that has temporarily put O'Malley's out of commission.

The beloved steakhouse in Palmer Lake, popular in-part for its grill-your-own-steak concept, has already seen a wave of community support.

Among that support, a loyal patron has started a GoFundMe page to help owner Jeff Hulsmann reopen as soon as possible. The goal is a modest $2,500.

O'Malley's has stood for over three decades in the area, open daily year-round until 2 a.m., usually.

On the Indy's last formal visit in 2016, I commended the awesome staff for handling a loud Broncos game-day crowd with grace, as well as some great drink pricing. Not that I don't cook enough at home, but I recall enjoying the novelty of prepping my own food at a large hibachi-table-like setup, and enjoying my buffalo burger.

Here's hoping Hulsmann reopens quickly. 
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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Left Hand Brewing Company debuts mixed eight-packs... on nitro

Posted By on Tue, Oct 22, 2019 at 2:20 PM

Left Hand Brewing Company's nitro beer eight-packs will feature a rotating seasonal beer. For autumn, they'll offer this chai spiced version of their signature milk stout. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Left Hand Brewing Company's nitro beer eight-packs will feature a rotating seasonal beer. For autumn, they'll offer this chai spiced version of their signature milk stout.

Longmont, Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing Company has released mixed eight-packs of its nitro beers, available on liquor store shelves nationwide. Left Hand and nitro beer fans can pick up eight 13.65 oz. cans, with two each of the brewery's signature Milk Stout, Sawtooth amber ale, Flamingo Dreams blackcurrant-raspberry blonde ale and a rotating seasonal beer. For autumn, they're including Chai Milk Stout Nitro.

"Nitro is part of who we are, and we're driven to continue to be the innovators and leaders of the style" says JiIll Preston, Left Hand Brewing Company director of marketing, in a press release.

We recently received promotional cans of both the Chai Milk Stout and Sawtooth amber nitro beers. The former, a mellow 5 percent ABV, pours deep brown-black with a foam the color of Irish cream liqueur, matching its flagship progenitor. On the nose, we get the cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper from Left Hand's house-blended chai spice mix. When we sip the dark brew, we get cinnamon and cardamom again, but ginger supersedes pepper. The spices pair nicely with the roasty, coffee-like notes of the smooth stout. Fans of dirty chai will dig this beer.

As for the latter, it's the same hoppy 5.3 percent ABV amber ale that they've sold for a long time. We're fans of the balance between nutty malts and bright hops this beer has always had, but for my taste, the creaminess of the nitro version takes away from the crisp finish of the beer. Still, good beer, and nitro fans have and will continue to enjoy this version.
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Monday, October 21, 2019

Chew-Chew Gastrotruck expands with upcoming Black Forest Bistro

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 2:50 PM

Chew-Chew owner Deanna Johnson at a recent event. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Chew-Chew owner Deanna Johnson at a recent event.

Three-year-old Black Forest Chew-Chew Gastrotruck will as of January, tentatively, have a new commissary and sister eatery, to be called the Black Forest Bistro. Owner Deanna Johnson will be purchasing the former Descar’s Roadside Bar & Grill at 6750 Shoup Road and plans to overhaul it and open Thursdays through Sundays, including for Sunday brunch service.

Once Black Forest Bistro opens, Johnson says she'll part the truck onsite for a few months, at least, to get the bistro going. The benefit of that is it'll be able to act as a second kitchen or snack bar, as planned for future music events on the location's patio. Johnson says not to worry though, that she will put the truck — proudly all-female-staffed — back on the road come late spring and summer, for festivals and weekly events like the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum's Food Truck Tuesdays, if she's once again accepted.

As for the bistro's menu, Johnson says "the food will evolve into some items we can't do on the truck ... we’re known for our international street food with a twist — so we’re going to definitely have that. But we’re going to have seafood and lamb and pasta, burgers, sandwiches just a little bit for everyone. We are going to keep our menu changing like we do on the truck."

One of her bestselling items, her Korean bulgogi steak, for example, will become an entrée with the added side of the truck's popular sticky street noodles. She says she'll likely keep the menu in the $15 to $25 range for top items.

That steak, by the way, is what won the truck the first round of Food Network’s Food Truck Fan Fight, which Chew-Chew went on to win for the Rocky Mountain region, beating out several Denver and Boulder entities.

Johnson says to expect cocktails and 13 craft Colorado beer taps as well at Black Forest Bistro. The location will serve as the Chew-Chew truck's new commissary, and Johnson says she'd like to open it up to be a commissary for others as well during off hours.   
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