Recently, some friends of ours got a bee in their bonnet to go up to Palmer Lake for dinner. The only problem was that the place they wanted to go no longer exists. So they took a recommendation from a Palmer Lake local, and made reservations at the B & E Filling Station.
Aside from the person who recommended it, none of us knew anyone who had ever even heard of the place, let alone eaten there. Was it a gas station or a restaurant? Taking a leap of faith, six of us piled into a big Suburban and made the drive north on I-25. I teased my friend that if it was no good it was going to be his fault.
The minute we walked in the door I knew he was off the hook. Set back in a low, square, stucco building, the inside of the B & E Filling Station is pure romance. There are two small rooms, each with hardwood floors, soft light and seating for less than 20 diners. The tables, mostly for two, are well spaced and each little nook is staged for an intimate dinner. One room has cool blue tones whereas the other warms with oranges and reds. Crisp, white tablecloths and fresh flowers finish the inviting atmosphere.
Love is on table as well as in the air, beginning with fresh poppy seed rolls that could warm the coldest night and the coldest heart. B & E offers a substantial menu leaving many options for your own brand of quiet romance, from simple homemade tortellini ($11.95), combining the classic elements of tender pasta, creamy cheese and a stirring marinara sauce, to a dramatic roasted rack of lamb ($19.95) with lingonberries and red wine.
For duck lovers, B & E has several offerings. A double portion of grilled duck breast ($19.95) is dressed with a red wine and black currant glaze. The dark fruit emphasizes the breast's richness. If you're not afraid of a little work, the roasted orange duck ($18.95) is worth the effort: half of the bird, slow roasted and fork tender. The restrained orange sauce offered just enough tanginess to squeeze out every last drop of its natural sweetness.
Fresh fish specials change nightly, but seem trustworthy. We had a thick filet of fresh Hawaiian wahoo, encrusted with poppy seeds, grilled and topped with a citrus-chipotle cream sauce. The seeded crust made for a crispy mantle with a satisfying crunch and a great texture contrasted with the dense, tender chunks of fish that it protected from the fire. The sauce added a sweet heat and subtle acidity to round off each forkful.
Chef Chris Bohler proved equally gifted when working with pork. He grills loin chops ($12.95) very slowly and serves them with mango chutney and a green peppercorn sauce. The result is succulent meat that tastes almost like bacon, while the sweet, tart and creamy elements of the two sauces bounce around on the tongue.
In fact, all of the sauces we had impressed us, in a less-is-more fashion. Instead of being over-reduced and unnecessarily concentrated, which can overpower and sometimes overwhelm a dish, these light and loose sauces delivered solid flavors that genuinely enhanced the other ingredients.
We were even more impressed when we found out that the kitchen at B & E is essentially a one-man show, as Chef Bohler turns out the dishes unassisted. He's not afraid to mix it up either, and the menu changes by a few dishes several times each week so you will always eat the best of what's available. No matter the platter, each dish clearly benefits from Bohler's personal attention, and you can taste the homemade care in every bite. This commitment to excellence has spread to the front of the house, as everyone on the staff provides friendly and professional service. There were no mistakes and no complaints throughout the evening, quite an achievement considering we were a party of six, of whom I am probably only the fourth most demanding.
Portions were generous across the board. The grilled duck entree featured a full breast (meat from both sides of the bone), and the rack of lamb was exactly that -- a full, seven-bone rack. Each dinner comes with a choice of soup or salad, plus a side dish of pasta, garlic mashed potatoes or grilled polenta. Most prices range between $13 and $20.
As the name suggests, it's a great place to fill up, but it's so much more. Nestled in the pines, this is a true gem, a quiet respite that might just sweep you off your feet.
-- David Torres-Rouff
B & E Filling Station Restaurant
25 S. Highway 105, Palmer Lake
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m.