Comfort Food Series
This is the middle installment in three-part series reviewing iconic comfort-food destinations in Colorado Springs. Look for the final such review in January.
Since 2001, comfort food has dominated American menus. Retreating from the pan-Asian influences of the late 1990s, cooks have embraced potatoes, pork chops and braised short ribs, all served on white linens accompanied by super-ripe red wines.
This trend has also limited our sense of what "counts" as comfort food, seemingly excluding those institutions that served food like this long before it became trendy. In 1982, just as Wolfgang Puck opened Spago to a symphony of clicking and flashing cameras, the Mason Jar opened its doors on West Colorado Avenue. For 25 years, it's been sending the crowds home happy. And full. It could bear a sign reading, "Bad Place for Diets" or "Good Place for Fat Guys."
Solidly Old West décor sets the mood. Clever paper recasts the smooth walls as the inside of a rustic log cabin. Sconces featuring grizzly bears and mock kerosene camping lanterns split overhead lighting duties with antler chandeliers. Mounted racks abound, including large ones over the larger fireplaces in the Mason Jar's two rooms. Simple booths and wooden tables complete the look, which somehow avoids Disney-fied plasticity.
Evoking Grandma's pantry of preserved delights, the "Mason Jar" moniker applies to the preferred serving vessel for waters and cocktails. Notable among the latter is the outstanding, signature blackberry margarita ($5.50), which arrives in the eponymous container with a sugared rim. Fairly priced beers ($2.50-$3.50) make whistle-whetting an attractive option.
Beyond the booze, an abundance of fried snacks offer warm fuzzies, and zucchini ($6.99) was the best. Still visible through the crispy cornmeal batter, the skinny coins' faintly green flesh retained just enough moisture to taste fresh and flavorful.
Several entres also spent time in the Frialator. Although tasty enough, the house special chicken fried steak ($9.79/$11.79) proved to be the least inspiring, with a too-perfect shape, no little bumps in the crust, and rather bland cream gravy. Meanwhile, the moist and flavorful fried catfish filet ($11.79), tucked snugly inside a shattering crust, asserted the supremacy of surf over turf.
A perfectly broiled and delicately flavored lemon shrimp ($10.89) proved the cooks can do more than batter and fry. In fact, they also roast a mean prime rib. The special hot roast beef sandwich ($6.89) offered a mountain of shaved, rosy rare/mid-rare meat capped with rich, silky, dark brown gravy. It was delicious, though the two slices of Wonder buried beneath the avalanche turned inedibly soggy.
Entres included potato, veggies, bread and soup or salad. (The stuffed bell pepper soup, with a well-orchestrated mix of peppers, ground beef and rice in a tomato-y broth, was the best of the latter category.) Indulge in the fluffy biscuits and cornbread, but watch out for the cooked carrots they're mushy, artless and need work.
However full you might be, save room for the blackberry cobbler ($3.69). Topped with a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream ($1.79 extra), it's absolutely fantastic. Together with the friendly service and happy environs, it's why you'll leave the Mason Jar feeling warm and fuzzy. Once you manage to hoist yourself out of your booth, that is.
2925 W. Colorado Ave., 632-4820, masonjarcolorado.com
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.