Our mission this week was pretty simple: sandwiches in Manitou Springs. Just 'cuz.
That said, we felt a little awkward ordering only one sandwich between us, so we also opted for coffees at each spot. Spice of Life placed highest, with a totally decent, non-chalky mocha ($3.55) and honey-butter-pecan latte ($4.40). Only complaint: The first ingredient in Durango-based Honeyville's sweet spread is corn syrup. Speaking as a beekeeper, I think that apiary should be deeply ashamed.
Meanwhile, a place named European Cafe should do the world's romantic region justice with better coffee than the bitter Colombian bean served there; our waitress was politely and professionally hesitant to reveal it was purchased at the grocery store. Perhaps it was the same lame Folgers served by name at the Ancient Mariner. (Hey, it's a bar where people go to drink hooch — no major letdown there.)
Spice of Life
727 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-5284, manitouspiceoflife.com
I've been missing maybe the best Italian lunch food in this region, and I just learned as much the other day by tasting Spice of Life's Hot Man Sandwich ($8.90). This thing almost redefines the genre. It burns with a sexy, oily heat from a creamy chipotle aioli and jalapeño peppers, while layers of mortadella, Genoa salami, capicolla, lettuce, tomato and onions offer the guts of a structure built on a great, light sourdough bread from California's La Brea Bakery.
It's no surprise to find this texturally blissful bite at a store packed with shelves of coffee, tea and spices, as well as a fine deli case of meats and cheeses, many from Denver's Italco gourmet distribution company. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to discover it. — Bryce Crawford
962 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-5503, hmsancientmariner.net
The menu advertises the Reuben ($8.85) as "voted 6th in the nation by Reuben Realm," and the A-ranked sandwich is pretty damn good: buttery grilled bread, generous layers of corned beef, a hefty melted Swiss gob, and just enough homemade Thousand Island and sauerkraut for that desired fermented tang and creaminess. So, well-played.
But one problem: Website moderator Chris Rowland confirms that Reuben Realm doesn't rank sandwiches; it just arranges them in alphabetical order by state. In that list, Ancient Mariner takes the sixth spot from the top. Probably an innocent misinterpretation ... but I'd correct that menu, Captain. Also, I'd have liked our server to have offered the "Captain's special sauce" with the sandwich, since it's easy to miss the menu note about it. — Matthew Schniper
European Restaurant & Cafe
935 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-3556, europeancafemanitou.com
Considering that a pork cutlet sandwich generally strikes me as a bad idea — if it's good, you have a juicy, but thick, piece of fried pork between bread; if it's bad, you have a dry, thick piece of fried pork between bread — the Manitou Porky ($9.95) was a fine bit of sandwiching.
The cutlet alone was well-prepared, and the dominant flavors of pickles and mayonnaise (alongside American and Swiss cheeses, tomatoes and lettuce) as generally pleasurable as a hug from Mom. The bread, a lightly toasted rye, could've used more time under the heat to crisp, and more rye flavor.
Sandwich sides were unabashedly pleasant: fresh fruit in the form of half a banana and a large slice of orange, next to a handful of potato chips. — Bryce Crawford