I might be forgiven for expecting nothing less than unmitigated folksiness from a restaurant housed in the old Hungry Farmer building, where the staff used to be notoriously overall-clad and straw-hatted.
But the Ranch Steakhouse and Market is driven by beef visionary Mike Callicrate and staff, whose Ranch Foods Direct has helped bring naturally raised hormone- and antibiotic-free meats to Colorado Springs. In their new establishment, they've created a space that neatly walks the line between the down-home and urbane.
With a staggering amount of capital and a ton of sweat, the Hungry Farmer barn was gutted and transformed into a 400-person capacity restaurant with infinitely more ambience. Plagued by delays early on, the Ranch House (as it's often called), finally opened its doors in October. A horde of kitchen and service staffers has been recruited, and a substantial operation has begun.
The beef carpaccio ($10), rolled and piled over super-fresh, explosively peppery arugula, is served with cute garlic croutons. The meat itself, while tasty, is far too cold. Nearly frozen, it requires a good 20 minutes to warm enough to be eaten.
Simpler, albeit more daunting, are the Maytag bleu cheese chips ($8), a torso-sized portion of mandolined potato slices, fried and smothered in small-production bleu cheese from Iowa's Maytag Creamery.
Adventurous salad eaters certainly should sample the so-called Signature Salad ($12). Though ostensibly a romaine-based concoction, each forkful unearthed another ingredient, from chicken to tortilla strips to avocado to goat cheese, julienne carrots, tomatoes and so on. My entire refrigerator often contains less food. "Dates! There are dates, too!" I shrieked. "And cornbread!"
As expected, the Ranch House's selection of entrees is biased heavily toward meat. While a few chicken, fish and pork entrees round out the menu, Ranch Foods' natural beef clearly is the star of the show. Likewise, most beef dishes aren't sauced (though they are seasoned during cooking), allowing diners to enjoy the meat's inherent flavors.
Even cooked beyond rare, the Ranch House's signature cut, a massive 16-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip steak ($36), still is texturally lovely, with strong, almost nutty overtones and terrific marbling. The 6-ounce filet ($25), a cut that, while obviously tender, sometimes can be insipid in flavor, is gorgeously, exultantly buttery-bloody and aggressively beefy.
Barbecue, in the form of pork baby-back, beef short ribs and beef back ribs, also is offered. The fattier beef back ribs ($21) are nice, if not life-changing, sparingly brushed with a sweet, mild sauce and slow-smoked.
A little braver is the prime rib, which is available "regular" (I assume roasted) or smoked. While it's usually counterintuitive to smoke such an expensive piece of meat, I no longer want prime rib any other way. Ordered rare, it's still bright red, enormously smoky and well textured.
Sides here are numerous and varied. Most highly recommended are the baked sweet potato (order it with a ramekin of cinnamon butter) and the red cabbage, a magenta-hued, German-style, vinegar- and caraway-redolent ode to joy.
Ranch House's local-foods politics are so visibly ingrained that local gourmands will find the place difficult to resist. And though the prices are higher than those at the nearby Ai or Marigold, the menu is solid and unpretentious enough to attract the often less snobby steakhouse demographic.
-- Aaron Retka
Ranch Steakhouse and Market
575 W. Garden of the Gods Road, 593-1955 or ranchhouseamericangrill.com
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.