Five months have passed since executive chef Scott Coulter overhauled Phantom Canyon's nearly 10-year-old menu. More than a year has passed since longtime brew assistant Andrew Bradley and new head brewer Michele Lowney took over creation of beloved ales like the Queen's Blonde and Demolition Cream.
Chances are, if your last visit to Phantom dates back even farther, a return trip will show you some serious changes for the positive.
Having dropped into Phantom off and on since '97, I offer the following note with the utmost respect: Aside from its well-balanced pool tables, the restaurant has always suffered from inconsistency. The beer would be great, then lackluster; apps would be hot and delicious, then warm and bland. Some out-of-town guests would be impressed; others, months later, mildly satisfied.
Honestly, I stopped visiting for a while and didn't even know that previous chef Ketil Larsen had moved on, or that the brewery had new leadership.
But recently, I learned of Phantom's changes and made it in for a few meals and a night of pitchers and pool. Each time, the quality of my food and drink proved a pleasant surprise. And you could say I showed no modesty.
For drink: an oak-aged I.P.A., an E.S.B. Nitro, this year's barley wine, a sneak-taste of spiced Christmas season ale (yet to be named). For lighter fare: hummus, pita and vegetables, spinach and artichoke fondue, the simple greens salad with a salmon add-on, the mango shrimp salad, smoked gouda and ale soup. And for bigger dishes: the portobello patty melt, along with bites from a chicken-cheese-steak hoagie with homemade sauerkraut, and wild mushroom enchiladas. It's worth noting that all of the above cost under $10.75 each and that the black-and-tan brownie with vanilla ice cream proved a nice chaser.
Aside from one companion's opinion that her enchiladas were "bland," which I didn't totally agree with, nothing tripped any alarms. In fact, the mango shrimp salad's ginger-chili-peanut dressing and green salad's passionfruit dressing were rich and sweet, and paired nicely with each dish's ingredients. The polenta fries that came with my portobello were crispy and unique, the first time I've seen the loose grits solidified in fry form. The garlic beer bread that accompanied the fondue was damn near illegally delectable.
This was no base pub fare from years past, but rather, well-executed entres with personal signatures of competence and creativity in the sides, sauces and presentation. And in an age of attempted all-things-to-all-picky-eaters dining, when restaurants feel they must plate everything from burgers to snob food, it's rare to find a place that commands the variety well, especially when that place is also half bar and brewery.
My food was always prompt, even during busy, business lunch-hour rush times, and I was not the only person at the table to make at least one positive remark about my dish or drink. Phantom has always worn a lot of hats, but the tight kitchen, brew crew and attentive wait staff suggest they finally have matching suits and shiny shoes to boot.
In fairness, I'm speaking from repeat lunch and after-hours visits, so I haven't tried any of the steaks and higher-priced dinner items. But I'd wager a guess and offer a hope that this new face of Phantom will prove invariable across the board.
Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.
2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800
Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.