Brother Luck describes his new solo venture as a straightforward thing done for simple reasons — it's just good food for the layman, man — but his Street Eats is the latest reason to think Colorado Springs is moving toward the modern. With the help of local chefs like Kevin Campbell and Mark Henry, cookers of creative pop-up dinners at Motif and elsewhere, there's a scene building here, and Luck's downtown spot stuffed into the back of the Triple Nickel Tavern is the latest place to find it.
And not just for its food: Some free drama comes every Monday night, when the dining room fills with instantly recognizable cooking ruffians and Luck turns his whole kitchen over to two competing chefs working with two surprise ingredients. "Knife Fights" are attempts to settle all the culinary gasconnade that happens between local chefs, Luck says. A week ago, Bobby Couch of the Green Line Grill turned pomegranates and live lobster from Asia Pacific Market into victory over longtime local cuisinier Francis Schott, his pomegranate jam and fried lobster ravioli besting Schott's lobster ragout with pomegranate syrup. Appropriately, Henry was one of the judges.
Something there ...
All that said, there's interesting stuff waiting here for straight-up sustenance-seekers, too.
Essentially, the 30-year-old former kitchen head at spots like Craftwood Inn and the Cheyenne Mountain Resort has taken the back bar, with its semi-open kitchen, and given it the feel of a hip sushi counter — all wood-siding and centerpieces of bundled grass. The surrounding high-tops still come with uncomfortable, torn-up bar stools, with rock posters all over the walls, but it's Del the Funky Homosapien blasting from the radio instead of the Misfits, and that's bone-marrow risotto ($12) you're eating with that Bud Light.
(With no liquor license, Luck's dependent on the Nickel's selection, though he's nudging it into offering more wine. Good news: The Wolftrap, a mellow South African red blend, complemented everything. Bad news: The bar's wine glass came covered in gross lip smudges.)
Food-wise, two menus rotate weekly. One, a five-course tasting for $40, is certainly the better deal, with its large portions available à la carte as well, and it's where you'll find the most creativity. That said, almost all the food cooked by Luck and 30-year-old sous chef Katie Conlon rings with the kind of exciting playfulness common to popular Denver restaurants. The execution varies some, though.
For instance, the aforementioned (delicious) risotto came crammed with slices of meaty chanterelles and a topping of airy pork rinds, but was watery enough to make me think of stew. Some caramelized Brussels sprouts ($8) arrived soft, brown and beautiful in a pool of dark liquid, but were kind of one-dimensional and salty as hell to boot. The Frank and Beans ($8) bore bourbon-and-elk meat from Denver's Continental Sausage, but the black-eyed peas were unyielding beads of unpleasantness. And no crime here, but the Scorpion Chicken Waffle Wings ($9) never seemed to bring the heat, and finished with notes of watery maple.
... not there before
Around every other corner, though, there were thrilling entrées just dying to please.
Like a duck-breast grilled-cheese ($12), made with Gruyère and a fried duck egg; or an elegant bleu-cheese-stuffed quail ($16) pulled steaming from the pan by Luck and beautifully plated under a smear of squash purée; or a velvety butternut-squash soup ($6) served with house-made, toasted marshmallows that looked like popcorn — then revealed actual popcorn hidden among the fluff. It was like eating Thanksgiving at the theater.
The shells in a Gouda mac-and-cheese ($11) may have been overdone, but the sumptuousness oozing from the included pulled pork and soufflé-like chicken cracklings, cleaned off with a bright-green watercress pesto, was just perfect. Meanwhile, a lightly smoked pork loin ($10) was a little tougher than a butter knife could handle, but was plenty juicy and came heavy with a crazy-fun chimichurri that acted more like a chunky olive tapenade full of tart funk.
Then there was the focaccia bread pudding ($8), a beautiful dish so agonizingly interesting I'm still unsure how I feel about it. Watercress leaves and delicate fronds of dill got arrayed like a wooded glade next to candied almonds, cranberries, bleu cheese and moist chunks of focaccia. After getting my mouth pulled in six directions, more contemplation is needed.
After that came a plate of meat so rich I thought Philip Anschutz had just sat down: little rounds of gnocchi that seemed more cream than pasta, with a bright-pink steak ($16) lined with a quarter-inch of about-to-melt fat. It was impactfully delicious.
And though there's no coffee, currently, and not much in the way of salad greens, there are desserts like a thick, salted-caramel Anglaise over Nutella pot de crème next to tangy Beehive ice cream ($5). Plus, the service is good enough, because it's usually Luck bringing the food, pausing to cheerfully hype the next course.
"We're just cooking, that's it — simple," he says. "We're not trying to get all crazy and become the next fine-dining spot. We just want to do good food for good people."