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Burgers, wine and a view 

The Wines of Colorado blends sophisticated flavors with a casual dining experience

One day last summer I hiked Ute Trail from Manitou to Cascade. As I approached the end of the trail, the aroma of a cookout was overwhelming. Turns out, I was just down the road from a place called The Wines of Colorado. It was a wonderful moment that drastically changed my hiking routine.

Located in Cascade at the base of the Pikes Peak Toll Road, just off of Highway 24 (not far from where part of the Ute Trail comes to an end and dumps you out on to the highway), The Wines of Colorado, as the name suggests, sells about 17 different wines from around the state. But more importantly, it also offers up some of the finest grilled fare around, burgers and brats being their specialties.

Let us begin with the burger, which is not the basic burger that Dad used to throw on the grill. This is a Colorado wine burger ($5.95). Served on a Kaiser roll with grilled onions and roasted green chilies, it's burger ecstasy -- a third of a pound of top quality ground beef soaked in a fine cabernet, grilled to your specification. The flavor is wonderful. A hint of wine is present in each bite, but it's not overpowering. And the wine flavor mingles unbelievably well with the onions and the green chills, forming sort of a sweet yet spicy alliance of flavor in your mouth.

If you prefer a leaner meat, there is the buffalo wine burger ($6.50). Because they are lean, buffalo burgers tend to run on the dryer side, but the wine marinade makes these a little juicier than usual. Very, very good, even if you like your meat grilled beyond recognition.

For those who want to stick with tradition, non-alcohol-soaked burgers ($5.95 for buffalo/$4.95 for plain) are also available. And not to overlook the herbivores, there is even a grilled veggie burger.

This place does a good brat ($3.95), too. Perhaps borderline outstanding. All-natural Swiss white veal, beer-soaked and served with kraut, they are large, thick and spicy, as brats should be.

Also worthy of mention are the chicken (free-range) sandwiches ($5.75) and the fish (Ahi or swordfish) sandwiches ($7.50). As with the chicken and burgers, the fish (I tried the tuna) is done well, very flavorful and moist.

Side dishes of either baked beans or grilled red potatoes go for a mere 69 cents and complement the meals nicely. There are also soups (some homemade) and dinner salads available, but the outstanding sidedish is the beans. They appear to be homemade, or doctored up fairly well, cooked in a thick tangy sauce with a smoky barbecue flavor. I will warn you: the serving is not huge, very small would be more accurate. But then again, we're talking 69 cents.

The potatoes are good, too, and actually provide more food for the price. But depending on who is working the grill, they may or may not arrive with your burger.

The Wines of Colorado provides a comfy and casual dining environment. Floor-to-ceiling windows trimmed in natural wood allow lots of light and great views. The hanging strings of red chili peppers, along with strategic plant placement brightens things up even more, and an old potbellied stove in the back corner adds sort of a homey touch.

There are, however, a few organizational things about the place that are handy to know. First, it's a seat-yourself deal, and there is no sign indicating this. As you walk in, you will see a sort of station on your right giving the impression that you should wait there for a host or hostess to appear. But that's not going to happen. Just find yourself a table. If you wait, others in the know will walk in, push right past you and seat themselves at what should have been your table. So be assertive. Claim your space right away.

Secondly, patience is a virtue. Sometimes the place is super busy and things are slow going. Usually there are only two waitpersons, young ones who, particularly in the summer, have been dealing with the tourist population all day. They sometimes appear rather harried. Luckily, the wine store is attached to the restaurant and offers tastings from local vineyards. It's a fun way to pass the time.

Despite some of these organizational shortcomings, the food is usually good, relatively inexpensive and satisfying. So if you need yet one more reason to trek up the pass, you can add The Wines of Colorado to the list.

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