The Keg Lounge
730 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9531, facebook.com/TheKegLounge
This Manitou standard has been around for 32 years, racking up "Best Of" wins like arcade tickets. Accordingly, the Keg's patron loyalty is no surprise. When the long, narrow wooden space isn't serving up booze (including mostly local brews), it's serving affordable, generally delicious food.
The berry salad ($8/small) continues to be one of the most buzzed-about menu items, cutting fatty bleu cheese and savory walnuts with bright berries and a clean vinaigrette. While the buffalo burger garners the same devotion as that salad, the fillet burger ($6.50/5oz) brings plenty of meaty pleasure. Cooked to a requested medium rare, mine was a special kind of tender. Though the dollar-extra roasted chile is tasty, it would sit better diced rather than whole atop the notably affordable grass-fed beef tenderloin. — GS
People's Choice Café
3315 W. Carefree Circle, 574-8332
When someone makes a point to say what a great big deal they are, they almost always fail to live up to the expectation. So I was skeptical when the gregarious owner (and musician and "five-star chef") of the latest coffee spot to occupy this space told us he plans to open 300 total coffee, beer and wine franchises under this brand. This first and only outpost, opened last July, does not yet have a liquor license.
Based on the coffee, a custom Indonesian/South American blend from local Spanish Peaks Roasters, he's lucky he's kept the lights on. The mix makes a cappuccino ($3.75/12-ounce) that tastes like an unwashed grill brush. Criminally spendy house specials like a Heath bar latte and People's Choice Choco Delight ($6.80/16-ounce) attempt to cover the foul brew with baleful amounts of syrup. There's a legitimately good idea here, bringing arts and coffee to an under-served part of town. But given the 'choice,' I'd even go Starbucks. — GS
1647 S. Tejon St., 323-8010, distillery291.com
Distillery 291's owner/distiller Michael Myers recently racked up a new round of top awards between the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Denver International Spirits Competition and World Whiskies Awards. His products have been excellent since day one, and the best way to sample through them is at 291's tiny tasting room, from 5 to 11 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays.
Usual brand ambassador Philip Rawleigh had Tyler Hill of the Principal's Office — who competes this weekend at the U.S. Barista Championship — fill in one recent Friday. Hill featured two specials ($10 each): the Physical Education, likely to hit PO's next menu, beautifully pits 291's Fresh corn whiskey with bittering from Plymouth Sloe Gin, lemon and muddled mint. Hill infused Campari with juniper for his pleasant 291 Negroni, made with the 291 Colorado Rye (instead of gin), sweet vermouth and garnishing orange. Both prove the whiskey's versatility. — MS