In 2006, Holiday Inns around the country partnered with the Sporting News magazine and opened nearly 100 Sporting News Grills. The "Gen-X" concept, according to a 2005 AP story, was aimed at "younger, action-oriented travelers."
This past December, after a major renovation, the Holiday Inn on Aeroplaza Drive opened its Sporting News Grill, complete with Broncos, Avalanche and Rockies' posters, seven large TVs and referee-jersey-clad servers. In contrast to those predictable touches, it outfitted the wide space with a sharp, well-stocked stone bar, modern comfy chairs and hip booth-upholstery for a slightly upscale feel — think Champps dressed to impress.
Unfortunately, aside from a few isolated flavors and great service (our waiter Steven belongs in fine dining), nothing does impress. In fact, some dishes are as dismal as the Avalanche's record of late: lifeless iceberg salads; dry chicken fingers and tough wings (on the Dugout Platter, $12.99); a charred, well-past-requested-temperature burger ($8.99); rubbery, overcooked salmon ($14.99) served with a boring citrus sauce and lifeless French fries; doughy, undercooked pizza ($12.99); a perplexing grilled poundcake ($4.99) turned soggy by its syrupy orange-segment topping.
I had higher hopes after speaking by phone with food and beverage manager and former restaurateur Nicky Serbanescu in early February. A very pleasant man, he charmed me with descriptions of off-menu, gourmet specialties, calling his options "limitless" on account of the kitchen being headed up by the also-pleasant Uwe Dethlefsen, founder of Uwe's German Restaurant.
Since selling Uwe's in 1996, Dethlefsen has worked in Los Angeles and Florida, been a private chef, catered and, most recently, given Manitou Springs' Castaways 3½ years of service. When I spoke with him by phone after two visits to Sporting News, he informed me that the "limitless" menu was offered early, to win customers; having since doubled sales, he's had to condense the menu to the prefab corporate list and one daily special of his choosing.
That special slot is where you'll now find the only German offerings: pork shanks on Tuesdays and Jaegerschnitzel on Thursdays, for example, separated by American items like barbecued ribs on Fridays. Otherwise, Dethlefsen makes a daily soup and preps during the days, leaving his crew to execute the bar food by night. (When they expand to lunch service March 28, he says he'll work it and add more European plates like Hungarian goulash.)
Dethlefsen's extras are generally better than the sad main offerings, but still not exceptional. His German potato soup (soup or salad comes with entrée) delivered hearty, bacon-aided flavor, but a ground chicken curry was a thick mush in need of more dimension. The braised pork shanks ($9.99) were flavorful and tender in the center but dry on the outside, served with a serviceable sauerkraut and gravy next to opaque buttered vegetables. His ribs ($10.99) were average.
The best dish I tried, a satisfying, creamy spinach-artichoke dip appetizer served with tri-color corn chips ($8.99), actually came from the sports menu. I didn't try the hotel breakfast menu, which caught our eye with the "Just Right" plate: an egg cooked your way with toast or a muffin — for a baffling $6.29.
Let that serve as another illustration of this eatery's ailments. Serbanescu and Dethlefsen are nice people, but they're serving unintentional food that reeks of a labored, please-all corporate concept.