Food and Drink

Monday, December 9, 2019

Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon soft opens

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 10:26 AM

COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon


The question isn’t “What is Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon.” It’s “What isn’t Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon.

Open as of 4 p.m., Monday, Dec. 9, the restaurant, bar and nightlife spot is actually our state’s first (and technically partial) “ghost restaurant” to hear co-owner Greg Howard (former McCabe's Tavern owner) explain it.

A ghost restaurant is a kitchen that serves delivery and take-out only, thereby keeping low overhead for economic viability. Howard cites recent data which indicates pickup and delivery as the #1 growing restaurant industry trend. “With this model coming out of big cities,” he says, “we looked at it and saw that we may not have the population [in this location] to support one restaurant, but it can support three of four different concepts out of one kitchen.”

A proper barbecue setting. - COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon
  • A proper barbecue setting.

So, Slingers is a sit-down bar and barbecue joint — “We’re all hospitality folks, so it’s hard for us to let that go,” he says — but it also sells 1) a vegan/vegetarian menu, 2) a Nashville hot chicken menu and 3) an Italian menu for pickup/takeout only (they’re partnering with third-party providers like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub).

Co-owner Stephon Black (who helped with Copperhead Road and Johnny’s Navajo Hogan openings) says Slingers has 20 taps (one with wine, another with Truly hard seltzer) and craft cocktails, and serves lunch, dinner and late night (until 2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, which also feature a DJ or live music). Programming includes sports channels, and themes like Taco Tuesday and Wing Wednesday. Slingers’ ownership team also acquired the adjacent, former Bikini Xpresso kiosk and intend to launch a coffee arm around mid January.

Birds in the oven. - COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon
  • Birds in the oven.

Also part of the ownership team are Travis Blaney, managing partner at Streetcar520, and Jay DesRoches, who brings other restaurant experience. Tommy Taylor is Slingers' kitchen manager; his recent work includes Patty Jewett Bar & Grill.

As for the barbecue, Howard says DesRoches lent his recipe for apple- and oak-smoked meats, and that "smokehouse" is the key word to understand Slingers' style. The team doesn't prefer to get caught up in all the regional banter about all the barbecue styles out there, believing that if you say you are one thing, like Kansas City style, for example, then some purists will attack you for not being dead-on style, while other potential diners will perhaps avoid you, saying, 'Oh, well I prefer Carolina- or Texas-style.' Here, they're just going for good barbecue all around.

You won't be putting angel wings on for your Instagram photos here. Nope, it's chicken wings for you. - COURTESY SLINGERS SMOKEHOUSE & SALOON
  • Courtesy Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon
  • You won't be putting angel wings on for your Instagram photos here. Nope, it's chicken wings for you.
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Friday, December 6, 2019

R&R Coffee Cafe's new Tri Lakes expansion opens

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 6:33 PM

Big mug, mini pie. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Big mug, mini pie.
R&R Coffee Cafe — Tri Lakes has finally opened, expanding on 12 years of well-regarded history for R&R in the Black Forest area.

The Indy first spoke to R&R owner Ryan Wanner about the new location in April, 2019, who said at the time, “The No. 1 goal is to make it to where it’s not your typical medical center coffee shop... Make it interesting.”

This new location, which has sat vacant for around a year, is in Monument, at the Tri-Lakes YMCA that shares space with Centura Health’s Tri-Lakes Health Pavilion.
R&R Tri-Lakes shares space with the YMCA and Centura Health’s Tri-Lakes Health Pavilion. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • R&R Tri-Lakes shares space with the YMCA and Centura Health’s Tri-Lakes Health Pavilion.

Wanner says the coffee menu's 95-percent the same as in Black Forest, but he has aimed for healthier food fares here to match both the neighboring fitness and health facilities. Which is to say if you want R&R's awesome biscuits and gravy, you still have to head into Black Forest for that.
A very shiny new espresso machine. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A very shiny new espresso machine.
Here, Wanner has added more smoothies, and already in the cafe's opening days, the turkey croissant (which is at Black Forest's location as well) is a bestseller, he says, also noting a new multigrain bread. Soon, he hopes to add some keto items he's been tinkering with recipes on. And maybe some avocado toast.
R&R owner Ryan Wanner. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • R&R owner Ryan Wanner.

R&R's popular in-house pastries will definitely be served at this new location for those still looking for a sweet treat. Wanner says he aims to make seasonal menu changes as this cafe moves forward, with a more flexible menu than the Black Forest location. 
OK macho drinkers: Here's your seven-shot Heart Murmur. Have fun! - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • OK macho drinkers: Here's your seven-shot Heart Murmur. Have fun!

Relatedly, Wanner notes a couple breweries in town currently serving beers made with R&R's Golden Pine label coffee beans: Black Forest Brewing has a Guatemalan coffee vanilla porter, while JAKs Brewing Company is still serving a coffee stout made with Monsooned Malabar cold brew coffee.
R&R's Golden Pine label house roasts. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • R&R's Golden Pine label house roasts.
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Monday, November 25, 2019

Happy Belly Tacos expands, takes over The Collective: A Social House

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2019 at 11:59 AM

COURTESY RMFR
  • Courtesy RMFR

The Indy reported in October on Happy Belly's new menu to mark its first anniversary downtown.

Now, just a month later, Rocky Mountain Food Report and Indy contributor Dionne Roberts broke the news on Happy Belly Tacos taking over The Collective: A Social House.

Here's Roberts reporting via RMFR:

Mark Henry, president of Elevated Carnivore Group (Rooster’s House of Ramen and Happy Belly Tacos) brings his Mexican cuisine to the rapidly growing Eastside of Colorado Springs and teams up once again with Sean and Inez Fitzgerald, owners of The Wobbly Olive and Allusion Speakeasy (the revolving pop-up bar inside of Rooster’s) to expand the concept and debut his third brick and mortar — set to officially open Thursday, December 12.

“I need to focus on my strengths and I’m a bartender at heart,” says Sean Fitzgerald. “So this partnership made a ton of sense because I can manage the front of the house, what I’m good at, and Mark, as the chef, can handle the back of the house. This way we can divide and conquer.”

The united front also benefits the original Happy Belly (125 N. Spruce Street) and finally puts the constant questions and outcries from patrons, who desperately (and rightfully so) desire margaritas and beers with their tacos, to rest. Fitzgerald confirms that “as soon as we get the change over completed in a successful way we will apply for a liquor license for the Westside.”

Beyond the appreciation for solid food and bev pairings, the lateral movement across town offers Eastsiders more variety of the local kind with an additional homegrown establishment amidst the layers of franchise restaurants in the general vicinity.

“It’s not necessarily better but I think it’s different,” says Henry. “Opposed to having an alley of chains we are representing the clientele, the community and bringing people the food they’ve asked for.”
MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
Give us what we want. The ultimate hand-held comfort foods.
The menus at both Happy Belly’s will read similar, with some additions at part two, but the transition appears to be seamless as, according to Fitzgerald, tacos already rank as the best selling food items at The Collective.

“This shows a need and we can play in the same sandbox with them,” seconds Henry. “They want somewhere they can sit down and have great margaritas and fast, good tacos. A place to call home.”

Fitzgerald and Henry both want Happy Belly to be a culture that reaches across Colorado Springs, an open forum whereas it’s very involved and committed staff can share suggestions and grow together to create heightened dishes and provide better service. During our recent podcast with Henry — “Livin’ that Chef Life” — he speaks directly to the importance of overall company morale and the dire need for constructive commentary saying, “I work on inspiring my staff, not motivating them… inspiration lasts longer.”

“Mark is really cultivating this idea that he doesn’t care where the idea came from,” says Fitzgerald. “He wants to listen to [his staff] and let them try things that are fun while staying in the mantra of what Happy Belly is.”
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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Happy Tap takes over former Smiling Toad Brewery under ownership of Springs-born Major League Baseball pitcher

Posted By on Sun, Nov 24, 2019 at 6:38 PM

15 weekly rotating taps. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • 15 weekly rotating taps.

Happy Tap has taken over the former Smiling Toad Brewery location at 1757 S. Eighth St. The new taproom, open daily, features 15 weekly-rotating, diverse beers on draft, wines and seltzers, and food trucks at least Thursdays through Saturdays, plus prepared foods otherwise available in-house, and Sunday pot lucks. Renovations include a new sports room with ping pong, darts and TVs with all the sports channels.
Sunday pot lucks. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • Sunday pot lucks.

Why the sports leaning? Owner Bret Helton, 26, has pitched five seasons in the MLB, having been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015. He’s currently a free agent, hoping to sign around Christmas, and he plans to run Happy Tap personally during his off seasons. Helton graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School, where his little brother still attends, and his father, Barry Helton played football in the NFL, helping the 49ers win two Super Bowls, in 1989 and 1990.
MLB pitcher Bret Helton on the field. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • MLB pitcher Bret Helton on the field.
Happy Tap owner Bret Helton off the field. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • Happy Tap owner Bret Helton off the field.

“This is something I can focus on in the off season to keep me busy,” says Bret. “This is my favorite place in the world, and I lived in a lot of places. But to stay here and build my reputation outside of baseball... maybe expand to another bar later... I saw the opportunity here, so I made the leap.”
The new game room. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • The new game room.
Food truck service. - COURTESY HAPPY TAP
  • Courtesy Happy Tap
  • Food truck service.
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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The French Kitchen announces collaboration with Denver's La Belle French Bakery

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 9:44 AM

Chefs and new business partners Blandine Mazéran and Julien Renaut. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Chefs and new business partners Blandine Mazéran and Julien Renaut.

Indy
2019 Best Of gold winner in the category of Cooking Class, The French Kitchen (who also won a bronze nod for Best French), just announced a new collaboration and partnership.

TFK owner and chef Blandine Mazéran will now host cooking classes from owner and executive pastry chef Julien Renaut of Denver's La Belle French Bakery. Renaut has also begun providing dessert pastries for TFK's retail market and cafe. To begin, he'll regularly teach Monday croissant classes, which Mazéran says have been requested by clients ever since she opened, though this is the first time TFK is offering: The first is Nov. 25, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., for $159, at TFK's instruction kitchen attached to the two-and-a-half-year-old cafe.

"His food is quality — and I'm very picky," says Mazéran. "He brought me some sample cakes a while ago and I was like, 'Holy cow!' ... His design is simple, but modern; not everything has to be fancy pulled sugar."
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
Renaut has 15 years experience in the industry, beginning with obtaining his pastry and chocolate master degree and doing culinary competitions in France; he's from the northern city of Lille. He spent several years in the high-end hotel arena, also working closely with another chef who trained under three-star Michelin-star chef Paul Bocuse. He has also consulted and done product development for other businesses and done event-center work prior to launching La Belle three-and-a-half years ago. (La Belle doesn't have a retail front; it's a wholesale outfit that provides for coffee shops and other restaurants.)

"It's exciting to be working in the same industry as Blandine but in a different area," says Renaut. "The drive for both our businesses is the same quality, authentic French culinary experience. This partnership makes sense. I love to teach. This is the perfect setup."
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
Mazéran says that adding a new chef to her team and cooking class roster benefits clients because it offers more class variety. Her current lineup of teachers also includes Kristi Tutt and Anne Doan in addition to Renaut and herself. Sebastien Mullebrouck is still TFK's resident baker and pastry chef, making items like the true-to-French-style baguettes and other flaky pastries.

From Renaut's kitchen, look for items in the retail market now that include and an array of cakes like a triple chocolate mousse, yule logs, and the "Le Crunchy," made with milk chocolate mousse atop a crunch layer, coated in more chocolate with nuts and a whipped cream cap. It, and a few more items are pictured below:
The Le Crunchy dessert. - DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
  • The Le Crunchy dessert.

DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
DAVE + SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave + Sonya Photography
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Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Joint Food Truck creates collaboration between Odyssey Gastropub and The Bench

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 10:03 AM

COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck

The Joint Food Truck recently launched as a collaboration between five-year-old Odyssey Gastropub and year-and-a-half-old The Bench. Charlie Wofford, business development manager for the eateries, says the truck offers an avenue for testing out new menu items and allowing a little experimentation while getting out into the community more. Executive Chef Doug Pitts designed the menu and sometimes mans the truck along with owners Tyler and Jenny Sherman — all have ample brick-and-mortar experience but cooking on a truck’s new to everyone.
COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck

Pitts has placed spins on popular items found at the eateries, like a hand-held chicken and waffle cone with guajillo butter and smoked syrup that plays off the plated version. The Joint-exclusive items include South Dakota-inspired Chislic Cheesesteak Fries, topped with fried sirloin pieces, caramelized onions, bell peppers and queso.
COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck

Wofford says the truck eventually plans to be on the road four days a week or so, but for these initial months, it’s mainly hitting events like the upcoming Festival of Lights Parade, plus school events like football games and some brewery engagements. They’ve already tested a brunch menu as well with items like a biscuit waffle breakfast sandwich and Fistfull-O-Vegfast Burrito made with tofu scramble.
COURTESY THE JOINT FOOD TRUCK
  • Courtesy The Joint Food Truck
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Altitude Hospitality Group battles itself in knife and bar fight — and ... wins!

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 9:11 PM

The winning girls team: Larissa Vendola from Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe (right), Kelsey Horwitz from Pinery at the Hill (left), and Ariel Bilyeu from Sprig. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • The winning girls team: Larissa Vendola from Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe (right), Kelsey Horwitz from Pinery at the Hill (left), and Ariel Bilyeu from Sprig.

Altitude Hospitality Group
hosted an internal Knife & Bar Fight on Tuesday, November 5, which is to say chefs from TILL, Garden of the Gods Gourmet, Sprig and The Pinery at the Hill faced off in friendly competition, with an invite to guest bartenders from Distillery 291 and Brooklyn's on Boulder. The event was free, and a small group of attendees, including me, acting in a judging role.

Wisely, Altitude couldn't really come off looking bad since one of the their chef teams was bound to win ... I mean, I suppose they could have goofed a course and risked bringing the whole empire crumbling down, but that did not happen. Not even close, as the three food courses — challenged by mystery ingredients of Dr. Pepper, goat cheese, blackberries and PSMO (full beef tenderloin) — completely kicked ass.

My favorite course of the evening, from the boys: coffee rubbed tenderloin with sunchoke, bacon, leeks, red potato hash and a sauce consisting of Dr. Pepper, English mustard and blackberries. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • My favorite course of the evening, from the boys: coffee rubbed tenderloin with sunchoke, bacon, leeks, red potato hash and a sauce consisting of Dr. Pepper, English mustard and blackberries.

Teams for the food fight were dividing into boys and girls: Respective head chefs Larissa Vendola from Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe, Kelsey Horwitz from Pinery at the Hill, and Ariel Bilyeu from Sprig. And TILL executive chef Philip Griffen, his sous chef Josey Boyd, and chef de cuisine David Platzer on the Altitude catering side.

TILL chef Philip Griffen, left. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • TILL chef Philip Griffen, left.

The girls ended up winning the night overall. Here are both teams' menus, utilizing the mandatory challenge ingredients in no particular order:

Girls:
1) Beet green salad with Dr. Pepper orange vinaigrette, goat cheese cream and honey candied pecans and baby beets.
2) Chile-rubbed tenderloin over sunchoke and celery root purée with roasted cauliflower and a Dr. Pepper-blackberry-jalapeño sauce.
3) Chevre and thyme mousse with roasted blackberries and strawberries topped with a brown sugar crumble cookie. 

Boys:
1) Roasted beets with beet leaf pesto and cashew nuts, beet crisps and a fennel-orange- pomegranate salad with chile vinaigrette.
2) Coffee rubbed tenderloin with sunchoke, bacon, leeks, red potato hash and a sauce consisting of Dr. Pepper, English mustard and blackberries.
3) Goat cheese honey mousse with blackberry chile jam and Dr. Pepper powder cinnamon crisps.

The chefs present to the judges, explaining their courses and intentions. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • The chefs present to the judges, explaining their courses and intentions.

For the bar fight, Brooklyn's on Boulder came up victorious in the end, utilizing challenge ingredients of rhubarb liqueur, spice cranberry Pinnacle vodka and Sipsmith sloe gin over three courses.

Brooklyn's on Boulder bartenders Philip Taylor, left, and Carlos Garcia. The won the bar fight. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • Brooklyn's on Boulder bartenders Philip Taylor, left, and Carlos Garcia. The won the bar fight.

Bartenders Philip Taylor and Carlos Garcia made the following recipes:

1) A sloe gin aperitif cocktail with Leopold Bros. Aperitivo, lemon and pomegranate juice, simple syrup and a lime garnish. (Garcia says it was an Aperol riff.)
2) Giffard's Rhubarb Liqueur with a split base of Michter's Rye and Weller Bourbon, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, bitters and hand-squeezed green bell pepper juice, garnished with orange peel pierced with clove spikes. (Taylor says it was partly inspired by a Martinez cocktail.)
3) Pinnacle spiced cranberry vodka split with Lee Spirits Dry Gin, plus Grand Marnier, Benedictine, Creme de Rose, Sauterne dessert wine and orange bitters, garnished with maraschino cherry and cranberry.

Distillery 291 bartenders Philip Rawleigh and Kande Warf. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • Distillery 291 bartenders Philip Rawleigh and Kande Warf.

Distillery 291 bartenders contributed my single favorite drink of the evening in their second round. Here's what they concocted:

1) A rye gin fizz with sloe gin, 291 rye, pink peppercorn infused 291 White Dog, orange and lemon juice and a candy garnish.
2) A strawberry rhubarb Old Fashioned with rhubarb liqueur, 291 bourbon, black walnut bitters, plum bitters and strawberries soaked in 291 Fresh, with Luxardo cherry and a lemon honey stick garnish. (Wow!)
3) "Christmas in Your Mouth" made with 291's Decc, spiced cranberry vodka, lemon and orange juices, ginger beer, earl grey tea, and cardamom bitters.

The guest judges sample spirits during a cocktail round. - AMANDA LAMB
  • Amanda Lamb
  • The guest judges sample spirits during a cocktail round.

All in all, the Knife & Bar Fight proved enjoyable as sort of a random election night one-off chef showcase with a booze back. (Special thanks to photographer Amanda Lamb for the free photo usage here.)

Head to TILL soon if you want to see it as it stands. Remember, come summer time, it'll be relocating to a spot in the Broadmoor area, and this location will be repurposed into a “family-friendly, open-air dining experience and entertainment complex, featuring pickleball courts, bowling, shuffleboard, a high-tech beer wall and plenty of outdoor games," according to a recent release. Here's a rendering:

COURTESY ALTITUDE HOSPITALITY GROUP
  • Courtesy Altitude Hospitality Group
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Friday, November 1, 2019

GoFundMe started to help O'Malley's recover from fire

Posted By on Fri, Nov 1, 2019 at 9:56 AM

MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
News travelled quickly earlier this week about a kitchen fire that has temporarily put O'Malley's out of commission.

The beloved steakhouse in Palmer Lake, popular in-part for its grill-your-own-steak concept, has already seen a wave of community support.

Among that support, a loyal patron has started a GoFundMe page to help owner Jeff Hulsmann reopen as soon as possible. The goal is a modest $2,500.

O'Malley's has stood for over three decades in the area, open daily year-round until 2 a.m., usually.

On the Indy's last formal visit in 2016, I commended the awesome staff for handling a loud Broncos game-day crowd with grace, as well as some great drink pricing. Not that I don't cook enough at home, but I recall enjoying the novelty of prepping my own food at a large hibachi-table-like setup, and enjoying my buffalo burger.

Here's hoping Hulsmann reopens quickly. 
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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Left Hand Brewing Company debuts mixed eight-packs... on nitro

Posted By on Tue, Oct 22, 2019 at 2:20 PM

Left Hand Brewing Company's nitro beer eight-packs will feature a rotating seasonal beer. For autumn, they'll offer this chai spiced version of their signature milk stout. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Left Hand Brewing Company's nitro beer eight-packs will feature a rotating seasonal beer. For autumn, they'll offer this chai spiced version of their signature milk stout.

Longmont, Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing Company has released mixed eight-packs of its nitro beers, available on liquor store shelves nationwide. Left Hand and nitro beer fans can pick up eight 13.65 oz. cans, with two each of the brewery's signature Milk Stout, Sawtooth amber ale, Flamingo Dreams blackcurrant-raspberry blonde ale and a rotating seasonal beer. For autumn, they're including Chai Milk Stout Nitro.

"Nitro is part of who we are, and we're driven to continue to be the innovators and leaders of the style" says JiIll Preston, Left Hand Brewing Company director of marketing, in a press release.

We recently received promotional cans of both the Chai Milk Stout and Sawtooth amber nitro beers. The former, a mellow 5 percent ABV, pours deep brown-black with a foam the color of Irish cream liqueur, matching its flagship progenitor. On the nose, we get the cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper from Left Hand's house-blended chai spice mix. When we sip the dark brew, we get cinnamon and cardamom again, but ginger supersedes pepper. The spices pair nicely with the roasty, coffee-like notes of the smooth stout. Fans of dirty chai will dig this beer.

As for the latter, it's the same hoppy 5.3 percent ABV amber ale that they've sold for a long time. We're fans of the balance between nutty malts and bright hops this beer has always had, but for my taste, the creaminess of the nitro version takes away from the crisp finish of the beer. Still, good beer, and nitro fans have and will continue to enjoy this version.
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Monday, October 21, 2019

Chew-Chew Gastrotruck expands with upcoming Black Forest Bistro

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 2:50 PM

Chew-Chew owner Deanna Johnson at a recent event. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Chew-Chew owner Deanna Johnson at a recent event.

Three-year-old Black Forest Chew-Chew Gastrotruck will as of January, tentatively, have a new commissary and sister eatery, to be called the Black Forest Bistro. Owner Deanna Johnson will be purchasing the former Descar’s Roadside Bar & Grill at 6750 Shoup Road and plans to overhaul it and open Thursdays through Sundays, including for Sunday brunch service.

Once Black Forest Bistro opens, Johnson says she'll part the truck onsite for a few months, at least, to get the bistro going. The benefit of that is it'll be able to act as a second kitchen or snack bar, as planned for future music events on the location's patio. Johnson says not to worry though, that she will put the truck — proudly all-female-staffed — back on the road come late spring and summer, for festivals and weekly events like the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum's Food Truck Tuesdays, if she's once again accepted.

As for the bistro's menu, Johnson says "the food will evolve into some items we can't do on the truck ... we’re known for our international street food with a twist — so we’re going to definitely have that. But we’re going to have seafood and lamb and pasta, burgers, sandwiches just a little bit for everyone. We are going to keep our menu changing like we do on the truck."

One of her bestselling items, her Korean bulgogi steak, for example, will become an entrée with the added side of the truck's popular sticky street noodles. She says she'll likely keep the menu in the $15 to $25 range for top items.

That steak, by the way, is what won the truck the first round of Food Network’s Food Truck Fan Fight, which Chew-Chew went on to win for the Rocky Mountain region, beating out several Denver and Boulder entities.

Johnson says to expect cocktails and 13 craft Colorado beer taps as well at Black Forest Bistro. The location will serve as the Chew-Chew truck's new commissary, and Johnson says she'd like to open it up to be a commissary for others as well during off hours.   
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Bread & Butter Neighborhood Market launches Kickstarter ahead of May 2020 launch downtown

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 7:25 AM

Bread & Butter Neighborhood Market recently launched a Kickstarter page to help fund its planned May 2020 opening at 602 S. Nevada Ave., in what’s currently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’s Colorado Springs Vet Center building through January’s end.
Stacy Poore (left) and Aubrey Day, co-owners. - COURTESY STACY POORE
  • Courtesy Stacy Poore
  • Stacy Poore (left) and Aubrey Day, co-owners.
“When we look around the downtown area where people are working and living, plus the adjacent neighborhoods... we think it’s needed ... we feel like it’s the perfect time,” says co-owner Stacy Poore.

She notes several nearby residential units both existing and underway, from Blue Dot and Casa Mundi to new apartments on Cascade Avenue plus Kinship Landing, a small hotel on the way across the street, and the upcoming Olympic Museum complex and expected build-outs. As well, there’s the Mill Street and Hillside neighborhoods not far away.

Poore and co-owner Aubrey Day see Bread & Butter as serving both the downtown resident or worker and parts of the underserved community who live in near-food deserts. Inventory in the 1700-square-foot grocery store won’t include “six different brands of toothpaste,” but rather a wide, both boutique and affordable offering of staple products, from dry goods and Colorado produce and meats and cheeses to frozen and pre-prepared items, plus flowers, greeting cards, coffee, and “nicely curated wines and spirits” from an attached 800-square-foot liquor store. (That’s how they’ll make up for the typical “razor thin” margins on retail grocery items, says Poore.)

Another important feature to their market, says Poore, is free on-site parking, noting that’s partly if not largely why an attempted market on North Tejon Street around a decade ago failed to take root — that, and it was just ahead of its time in terms of enough residential rooftops downtown.

As for what the owners (who both hold Masters degrees) bring to the table for directly relevant work experience, Day “has been involved in food systems and health related work throughout her career at El Paso County Public Health,” while Poore spent seven years with Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, most recently as its chief operating officer. 
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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Four drinks to be drinking now: Axe and the Oak Whiskey House releases new fall menu

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 9:35 AM

The Editor's Fizz. It's the first time house gin has appeared on a menu here. This one's barrel-aged and not yet available in bottles. This fizz, inspired by the classic Ramos Gin Fizz, subs out the orange blossom water for orange bitters. It also contains apple bourbon, roasted butternut squash simple syrup, egg white and cream. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Editor's Fizz. It's the first time house gin has appeared on a menu here. This one's barrel-aged and not yet available in bottles. This fizz, inspired by the classic Ramos Gin Fizz, subs out the orange blossom water for orange bitters. It also contains apple bourbon, roasted butternut squash simple syrup, egg white and cream.

Axe and the Oak Whiskey House released its new fall menu on October 15, featuring 16 freshly created drinks — a collaborative effort by the staff. The new menu will run through February most likely.

Hosting bartender for our preview tasting, Maggie O'Leary, says the “guiding flavors” for team inspiration were “tea, squash, cognac, and pomegranate.”

Those came through in various ways in the drinks we sampled, with liberal spice usage a familiar nod to the arrival of colder weather. The use of cream and egg white also adds a heavier texture to many drinks as well, feeling fortifying for winter.

View the captions under each photo for drink details.
The Penrose Vault starts with Axe's Incline Rye. Then comes pomegranate juice, an Earl Grey simple syrup, bergamot oil, cardamom bitters and a pour of Korean yogurt soda (carbonated water and milk and cream). - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Penrose Vault starts with Axe's Incline Rye. Then comes pomegranate juice, an Earl Grey simple syrup, bergamot oil, cardamom bitters and a pour of Korean yogurt soda (carbonated water and milk and cream).

The Little London Fog features vanilla bourbon, lavender liqueur and garnish, cream and Earl Grey simple syrup. A little hot water thins the heavy cream and it's a rich drinkable dessert or nice drink to share sips of. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Little London Fog features vanilla bourbon, lavender liqueur and garnish, cream and Earl Grey simple syrup. A little hot water thins the heavy cream and it's a rich drinkable dessert or nice drink to share sips of.

Bartender Maggie O'Leary and the Millionaire City. That drink starts with a cognac barrel-aged bourbon (which tastes remarkably like scotch on its own), to which ginger liqueur, toasted allspice dram and bitters is added. The allspice shows up prominently. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Bartender Maggie O'Leary and the Millionaire City. That drink starts with a cognac barrel-aged bourbon (which tastes remarkably like scotch on its own), to which ginger liqueur, toasted allspice dram and bitters is added. The allspice shows up prominently.

It's a cool logo. 'Nuff said. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • It's a cool logo. 'Nuff said.
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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Happy Belly Tacos releases bright new menu to mark first anniversary

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Nobody will notice the humans in this photo since they'll be focused intently on the two-month old Pomeranian puppy. That's Chef Mark Henry's new doggie (Mark's in the middle), visiting his dad at just the right time for this reporter to snap a pic. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Nobody will notice the humans in this photo since they'll be focused intently on the two-month old Pomeranian puppy. That's Chef Mark Henry's new doggie (Mark's in the middle), visiting his dad at just the right time for this reporter to snap a pic.
Happy Belly Tacos just celebrated its first anniversary, inspiring Chef/Owner Mark Henry, also of Rooster's House of Ramen, to release a new menu to mark the occasion. Everything's overhauled save for the popular carne asada and pastor tacos.

When I ask if this is a seasonal menu that we should expect to change again in a few months, he says, no, "I'm so happy with what's on this menu I don't want any of it to go away. But we'll do some daily specials, things like flautas and crunch wraps."
From left to right, three new menu items: a buffalo cauliflower taco; bulgogi carnitas; and the Happy Belly Taco with mojo pork belly. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • From left to right, three new menu items: a buffalo cauliflower taco; bulgogi carnitas; and the Happy Belly Taco with mojo pork belly.
Henry invited me to sample some of the new offerings, including the above taco trio — all constructed with Denver-made Raquelitas Tortillas, regarded for its use of Colorado-grown corn, all non-GMO and organic.

On the left is a gluten-free and vegan-optional buffalo cauliflower taco, inspired by his New York roots, says Henry. Before frying, Henry brines the cauliflower with salt, sugar, cumin and chili powder then breads it with corn starch. For plating it's dressed with house chipotle ranch sauce in addition to the house Frank Bonanno Sauce fortified with butter. That's a playful jab at the Denver celebrity chef, whose concept restaurants Henry respects, and who Henry says he defeated at a Pony Up French Dip cook-off event. The awesome,  spicy sauce, set in bottles on tables for self dispensing, is made with chile de árbol peppers, garlic, vinegar, water and salt. 
New tacos for a new year — Happy Belly just reached its first anniversary. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • New tacos for a new year — Happy Belly just reached its first anniversary.
Next up is the bulgogi carnitas taco, obviously Korean-cuisine-inspired. "We're known for big, bright flavors and fusion," says Henry. "But I have to make sure that's balanced. Because one wrong bite on a six-inch tortilla and a taco can be fucked. It's a small artist's palate to work with."

He braises the Korean barbecue beef-carnitas style, but it's actually pork shoulder, slow-roasted and shredded. He takes the same kimchi he makes for Roosters and purées it with xanthan gum to thicken it a bit, to basically a ketchup consistency. The idea's to even out the pungency that whole kimchi cabbage leaves can lend to a single bite. Pickled onions and jalapeños as garnish lend nice, complimentary acidity and bite to the tangy meat — it's a delicious taco.
A trio of the house salsas: a verde, ranchero and chipotle. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A trio of the house salsas: a verde, ranchero and chipotle.
Lastly for the tacos, and my personal favorite, the Happy Belly Taco features badass mojo-marinated pork belly slices, à la a Cuban cuisine but with a soy twist and an assist from Henry's wife's garden (thyme and oregano). The combo of that mojo pork and a chipotle salsa rojo, plus pickled carrots and jalapeños, make for a symphony of smokiness punctuated by acidic notes and a respectable spice that helps cut the fat. If you are going to name an item after your eatery, it better taste this good; a year was worth the wait.
A newly added, gluten-free and vegan green chile (pork belly addition optional). - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A newly added, gluten-free and vegan green chile (pork belly addition optional).

Another new item: a gluten-free and vegan green chile, unless you elect to pay extra for that same mojo pork belly to be added. For it Henry uses a roasted tomatillo base, with Hatch chilies, yellow onions and jalapeños plus annatto seed and cumin for seasoning. He thickens the soup with crumbled pieces of corn tortillas, which float about offering some chunkiness sans toothsomeness, and garnishes with Mexican crema and queso fresco. It's a spicy bowl, unique from every other green chile in town.

Yucca fries tossed in chimichurri, with queso fresco garnish, also on the new menu. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Yucca fries tossed in chimichurri, with queso fresco garnish, also on the new menu.

The final dish for my sampling, yucca fries, offer their textbook starchy bliss, with a zesty edge from being rolled in chimichurri. Queso fresco garnish adds a little counterpoint. As fat fries, basically, they're always a treat, well handled here.

In closing, and before I can steal his stupid-cute dog, Henry says that because there are so many taco shops in town, he really has tried to stand out by "getting away from the traditional." Anyone who knows the chef knows that ever since he's been on the Springs scene, he's shown himself to be anything but. 
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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Midtown Grill closes for restaurant service, is up for sale

Posted By on Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 11:45 AM

Along with a "Gone Fishing" photo, the following note appeared on Midtown Grill's Facebook page yesterday:

As of today, Midtown is closed for public service. We will host private functions only now through the holidays. We can accommodate 100-150 easily. Party basic and Extensive menus available!! Call or text Phil for appointments!! 719-338-9394

Oscar's Tejon Street and Midtown Grill owner Phil Duhon. - COURTESY MIDTOWN GRILL
  • Courtesy Midtown Grill
  • Oscar's Tejon Street and Midtown Grill owner Phil Duhon.
The Indy spoke to owner Phil Duhon this morning, who was quite forthcoming about his reasons for closing the business down. Duhon confirmed the business and property are now for sale.

Duhon originally launched Oscar's Tejon Street in April, 2003, rebranding the business to Midtown Grill earlier this year.

"I may have opened Midtown too early for the downtown renovations underway and it just didn't stick," he says. "I think people still wanted a local hangout bar, and I'm not a drinker anymore. I haven't drank in three years — I just don't want to be in that industry anymore."

Duhon says that after running some numbers, he realizes he can sell everything and bank what it would take him 10 years to make if provided the same annual revenue Oscar's made. "I can be done. I can retire. I can do little things on my own. Invest, remodel, renovate, take time off, be with my kids — just cash the chips in," he says. 
"Maybe remodeling was a bad decision," he continues. "But owning the property was a great decision. I bought if four years ago at 1/4 the price it's currently worth."

Duhon says he believes the business dynamic both at-large and downtown has changed a lot over the years. He cites factors ranging from social media influences to legal marijuana. "The dynamic change so much, faster than I'm accustomed to."

In the end, he says, "I could have pulled through the rough time, but I just don't wanna."

Duhon got his start at The Ritz and Mackenzie's Chop House. He says he's grateful for what downtown has given him over the years. "My biggest thanks is to the general public who has accepted me and forgiven me for my past ... I wasn't a very anonymous alcoholic. But I don't do that anymore. I've grown up. ... When I made this decision, I felt the weight lifted off. ... I've had a wonderful last couple years, I'm grateful to be a part of the Springs."
The fine house Reuben served at Midtown Grill. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • The fine house Reuben served at Midtown Grill.
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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

La Carreta replaces Lemongrass Bistro

Posted By on Tue, Oct 1, 2019 at 8:10 AM

The Molcajete Duranguense plate at La Carreta. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • The Molcajete Duranguense plate at La Carreta.

Lemongrass Bistro closed its doors this past week at 6840 N. Academy Blvd., to be replaced just days later by a second La Carreta location.

La Carreta has been open on 35 Iowa Ave., just northeast of Memorial Park, for 23 years; Blanca Reyes and her mom Lorenza Galvan have owned it for the last five of those years.
"We appreciate the neighborhood that has been supporting us all this time," says Reyes, noting many regular customers who'd drive from the north side of town. So this new location is partly meant to place an eatery closer to those loyal customers, she says.

Though she had dreamed of a second location some day, Reyes said the opportunity to branch out now came when Lemongrass Bistro's owner recently approached them about a sale. What enabled La Carreta to open doors just days after Lemongrass closed down is how good of shape the spot's in, she says. The front-house decor was already fairly "plain," she adds, meaning it's an easy transition from Vietnamese to Mexican service, and her crew mainly just needed to reorganize the kitchen area.

Reyes says the menu at this new north location will be exactly the same as at the original, and Galvan will do the prep at both to ensure consistency.

"This is authentic Mexican food, the same way we cook at home," says Reyes, noting their Durango, Mexico roots. "Everything is from scratch: no cans, nothing frozen." 
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