Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Smiling Toad Brewery got in eight slammin’ days at their new location before shut-down orders came in March, but they’re “very optimistic about the future”

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 9:39 AM

Few businesses will have a COVID-19 story quite as odd as Smiling Toad Brewery’s (smilingtoadbrewery.com).

Since closing in June 2019 at their former location at 1757 S. Eighth St. (now Happy Tap), co-owner Biff Morehead and crew had been toiling away to launch in their new spot at 2028 Sheldon Ave. (formerly Thirsty’s). They finally opened on March 9, seeing a huge response before on-site shutdown orders came down: “We kicked ass for eight days,” says Morehead. “I’m very optimistic about the future.”

Smiling Toad began brewing at greater volume, having upgraded from a 3- to a 10-barrel system. So, just after their short-lived opening celebration, they’re sitting on a lot of beer — 11 styles currently, including their beloved IPa Freely and Ella Lavender. Guests may bring growlers to be sanitized and filled, and crowlers are also available daily.

Another challenge Morehead notes is how crowler cans have increased in price from around 95 cents a can to $1.77 recently due seemingly to demand, but he doesn’t want to pass costs along to customers during this tough time. Still, “the margins are getting small for us as prices go up.”

Another interesting side note: He says in the symbiotic relationship between breweries and food trucks, the breweries used to support the trucks more, while now it’s the trucks who’re bringing vital business to the breweries. (Smiling Toad hosts several days weekly.) He’s grateful to them, and to “our amazing beer community, supporting us all — I’m overwhelmed.”

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Colorado Springs Bartenders' Guild launches Serving the Springs: A Food & Supply Drive for the Colorado Springs Hospitality Industry

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 7:21 PM

Not a truck commercial. Instead, members of the CSBG assembled outside Happy Belly Tacos' former downtown location for the first day of giving out goods. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Not a truck commercial. Instead, members of the CSBG assembled outside Happy Belly Tacos' former downtown location for the first day of giving out goods.

The Colorado Springs Chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild just launched an initiative to help take care of members of the hospitality industry during the Coronavirus pandemic.

It's called Serving the Springs, and any industry employees (whether furloughed, working part-time or unemployed) are welcome to take advantage of Wednesday and Saturday supply pickups from 2-5 p.m. at the former Happy Belly Tacos location downtown at 125 N. Spruce St. (While Happy Belly Tacos - East remains open for pickup and delivery, this location closed when service began at Happy Belly Tacos - West in the former Wobbly Olive - West location in Old Colorado City. Chef/co-owner Mark Henry says he may repurpose it into a new concept when restaurant service returns to normal; for now he's donating the space.)
Purple Mountain Coffee and Axe and the Oak donated coffee and spirits, respectively. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Purple Mountain Coffee and Axe and the Oak donated coffee and spirits, respectively.
Local CSBG leadership has "partnered with Shamrock Foods, local chefs and restaurants, distilleries, breweries, coffee roasters, and small businesses to provide a Make-At-Home meal kit, groceries, and essential supplies" according to verbiage on their Facebook page.

Donating organizations for the first round of pickups included: Purple Mountain Coffee Company, Axe and the Oak Distillery and Laws Whiskey House. With ingredients provided by Shamrock Foods, chef Mark Henry prepped the first meal kit: Chicken Cavatappi Alfredo. Other area chefs are invited to prep future meals to contribute. As well, look for live auctions on Facebook and Instagram during upcoming pickup hours so that the public can lend support by buying special gift bags of donated items (with proceeds directed back to Serving the Springs).
Shamrock Foods donated supplies for Happy Belly chef Mark Henry to make Chicken Cavatappi Alfredo to give out to industry folks during the first day of Serving the Springs. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Shamrock Foods donated supplies for Happy Belly chef Mark Henry to make Chicken Cavatappi Alfredo to give out to industry folks during the first day of Serving the Springs.
"Our goal is to keep this going long enough, until it’s no longer needed," says Chapter President Emillio Ortiz of 503W

Chapter Treasurer Dylan Currier of The Archives explains that weekly registration is required in order to pick up a meal kit and goodie bag so that enough supplies can be prepped each Wednesday and Saturday. As well, the group's seeking more donations from any interested food/drink entities in the area.

About 50 kits and bags were given out Wednesday, April 22, but CSBG members hope to ramp up to a couple hundred each donation day, provided enough community support.

Another way the public can participate is by buying a Stir Crazy t-shirt (get it? ... ahem) for $26, with $15 of each sale going directly back to Serving the Springs. You can order online via the above link, or pick one up at Happy Belly during the donation hours.
The front of the fundraising T-shirt, also highlighting at CSBG pin. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The front of the fundraising T-shirt, also highlighting at CSBG pin.

Badass branding courtesy Courtney Caldwell Design Co., with printing assist by Christian De Los Santos of The Bar at Almagre. - With every shirt purchase ($26), $15 will be donated to the CSBG in support of Serving the Springs. Buy one here. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Badass branding courtesy Courtney Caldwell Design Co., with printing assist by Christian De Los Santos of The Bar at Almagre. With every shirt purchase ($26), $15 will be donated to the CSBG in support of Serving the Springs. Buy one here.

About now, you might be wondering what the Colorado Springs Bartenders' Guild does during normal times, when not uniting to help their industry peers. You can read more on the national website, which pretty much captures what's going on locally too, local members tell me. 

But, as explained to me by Ortiz, Currier and Axe and the Oak bartender Zach Sherwood, the CSBG essentially exists as an educational resource, offering accretions for various industry training, such as cicerone or sommelier classes. But for members (who pay an annual $125 fee), there's a whole digital library of resources available too, plus chatrooms and forums for support.

Locally, the group offers "community and camaraderie" with monthly meetings that include presentations and tastings (which will resume when the pandemic allows). Additionally, they do volunteer days in the community and participate in events like the Colorado Restaurant Association Pikes Peak Chapter Taste of Pikes Peak.

"I'm a third generation bartender," says Ortiz. "There was a time it was frowned upon, but now bartending's a legit career path." Entities like the USBG help legitimize that and ensure excellence.
Happy Belly's former spot at 125 N. Spruce St. (currently on hiatus, with chef Mark Henry saying he may introduce a new concept here once restaurant service returns to normal) is acting as the Serving the Springs pickup hub. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Happy Belly's former spot at 125 N. Spruce St. (currently on hiatus, with chef Mark Henry saying he may introduce a new concept here once restaurant service returns to normal) is acting as the Serving the Springs pickup hub.
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Friday, April 17, 2020

All Together (IPA) Now + more food/drink news

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2020 at 1:17 PM

On tap as of 11 a.m. Saturday, April 18 at both breweries.
  • On tap as of 11 a.m. Saturday, April 18 at both breweries.

Ahead of the weekend, here's a grab bag of current food and drink news:

Cerberus Brewing Company and Metric Brewing are releasing the collaboratively brewed All Together IPA this weekend to support employees at both companies. (All profits will go directly to them.) The idea hails from Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn, New York, and according to a release put out by Cerberus, nearly 600 breweries across 41 states and 39 countries are making this beer.

“There is an inextricable link that binds together everyone in the hospitality industry. Brewers, servers, bartenders, bussers, dishwashers, GMs, buyers, chefs, owners — we are all in this together," reads a statement by Other Half Brewing. "In this industry, when one of us struggles, the rest of us pick them up. It's baked into who we are.”

The New England-style IPA features a blend of Apollo, Mosaic, Wakatu, Simcoe and Citra hops and comes in at a more than sessionable but less than imperial 6.5 percent ABV. The beer's recipe is open source and its name and artwork are free to use for any brewery wishing to participate.

"As much as this is about raising money, this is also an exercise in awareness so that local communities can understand how daily life has been upended for those that rely on social gathering to make a living," the release notes.

Crowlers will be available on Saturday with limited-edition stickers gifted to buyers as a small gift of appreciation. Relatedly, Metric recently collaborated with local graffiti artist Paes164 on some slick new crowler labels — check these out:
Awesome crowler art by Paes164.
  • Awesome crowler art by Paes164.

• Also in beer haps: FH Beerworks has launched neighborhood deliveries via a new online ordering system. See details on their Facebook page, and check out this below graphic to match your neighborhood with delivery days:
93423789_2675573659236800_4062795069218881536_o.jpg

• In Side Dish, we recently reported on Red Gravy chef Eric Brenner's newly conceived Meals to Heal program, aimed at feeding frontline healthcare workers while stimulating restaurants financially. Other local restaurants have launched some cool community efforts as well; here's just a couple that we've noticed recently: Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. created Extra Helpings, which allows buyers of one meal to gift another to someone else in need for free. And the recently opened ViewHouse has conceived the 200 Meals a Day program, to donate as many meals each day to "local organizations in need that are affected by COVID-19."

Edelweiss Restaurant has joined a handful of other eateries we know of thus far to offer family meal packs and much more beyond their normal menu of fine German cuisine. You can now order online items like: flour, eggs, German rye bread, toilet paper, "culinary essentials" (celery, onion, carrots, potatoes, etc.), nitrile gloves and mixed, cryovaced variety steak packs. 
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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Slinger's Pit Stop set to open, get the Smokehouse back in the marketplace

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2020 at 10:19 AM

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Slingers Smokehouse & Saloon had only opened in early December, 2019, before opting to go dark recently when the state issued its temporary on-site dining ban. Co-owner Greg Howard explains: “The problem with a full wood smoker is it requires 16 hours of smoke time that has to be manned by a person. Whether smoking 5 or 500 pounds, it still costs us the same amount of time and money aside from the meat cost. Trying to figure out what our daily sales would be was going to be a nightmare in the beginning of this new market. We decided to sit back and watch.”

Until now. Slinger’s Pit Stop is staging to open as early as Friday, April 10, but no later than Monday, April 13, says Howard. Slinger's Pit Stop takes over the former Bikini Xpresso kiosk out front the Smokehouse. (No, employees won’t be scantily clad, but Howard says the El Paso County Public Health Department did thank them.)

In addition to espresso drinks and drip coffee, the Pit Stop will serve grab-and-go egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches (with brisket and pork belly options) and a fruit parfait during breakfast hours. Come lunch, get grab-and-go sandwiches: pulled chicken or pork, brisket or burnt ends. Additionally, call ahead or pre-order online for smoked meats by the pound, including wings, plus sides like potato and macaroni salads.

The drive-thru nature of the kiosk makes it easier for staff and customers to limit contact during the COVID-19 pandemic; the main eatery will remain closed for now. But Howard says they expect to keep the kiosk running in this same fashion even after things get back to normal. Regarding prior ghost kitchen plans for additional cuisines out of Slingers, Howard says they’re still developing a vegan menu, but still anticipate respective Nashville Hot Chicken and mac ‘n cheese menus (the latter replacing a prior-planned Italian menu) later as well. 
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Friday, April 3, 2020

UPDATE: Red Gravy launches Meals to Heal to feed healthcare industry, keep jobs

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2020 at 2:08 PM

Red Gravy chef Eric Brenner and crew prepare 60 pans of lasagna (capable of feeding 60 families) for the first Meals to Heal donation, this one going to UC Health workers. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Red Gravy chef Eric Brenner and crew prepare 60 pans of lasagna (capable of feeding 60 families) for the first Meals to Heal donation, this one going to UC Health workers.

Chef Eric Brenner reached out with an update on Meals to Heal, which now has a dedicated website.

Brenner says on that site, "people can raise their own money, choose their neighborhood restaurants to provide the food, and decide where the need in their community is greatest."

He says four states around the country have thus far gotten on board to deliver meals, with 15 more planning to participate this upcoming week.

For its part, Red Gravy has now sent out more than 400 meals inside two weeks, says Brenner. With next week's upcoming distribution to UCHealth, Kangaroo Coffee plans to join in with coffee donations.

**** ORIGINAL POST: 5:43 P.M., THURSDAY, MARCH 26 ****

"We are trying to survive and help everyone at the same time. Putting our oxygen on ourselves  before we help others ... chefs are innately problems solvers, we're savvy and we can get stuff done."

That's Red Gravy chef Eric Brenner, telling me how Chef José Andrés' book We Fed an Island in-part inspired him to launch Meals to Heal, a local GoFundMe initiative to aid two frontline industries at once: the (overwhelmed) healthcare and (beleaguered) restaurant industries. 

"This effort is designed to provide food for our healthcare workers, first responders and emergency services personnel while simultaneously supporting our restaurants and foodservice business community," he explains on the page. He hopes to pioneer the model, then "try and export it to other interested restaurants."

Red Gravy remains open for pickup and delivery service and Brenner's taking every precaution he can to keep staff and consumers safe. He limits staff to no more than 10 at a time in the building, and prevents the public from entering at all — they bring food out to delivery people and takeout guests. They also try to maintain as much distance as they can from one another while on site. Even before the on-site service shutdown orders came last week, Brenner had begun seating guests at every other table to spread them out.

Since the shutdown, Brenner's been able to hire back some of the workers Red Gravy had to initially lay off, though most are working only about half the shifts the previously would have. And some have shifted roles; for instance I met a server who's jumped to back-of-the-house and was helping prep lasagna for Meals to Heal. (Shout out to DARS Supply Inc. for donating the aluminum pans and some supplies.)

In addition — and this is just one more example locally we've seen of how restaurateurs have stepped up in awesome ways to help their staffs during this time — Brenner has told his staff that they (and their direct family members) can come in to eat for free during this shutdown period, even (or especially) those laid off. He's also giving them free paper goods such as toilet paper to take home.

Getting back to chefs being problem solvers, Brenner says he's been through this type emergency situation before, first after 9/11 and then with the 2008 recession, both at restaurants he formerly operated in St. Louis. He says he had one advantage here in that he'd recently scaled up his POS system for online ordering, which allowed him to move rather seamlessly into that comprising the majority of his business now: "If that wasn't lined up we couldn't have pivoted as fast."

Donations to Meals to Heal are separate from Red Gravy's regular service now, but if you wish to help the entity as a whole, consider a donation to the GoFundMe and order some food from Red Gravy.

Brenner says he's trying to keep the cost to around $10 a person on his menu, and one current Family Meal Deal consists of any pasta and any salad plus lemon ricotta cookies for dessert, for $50 — it feeds between four and six people. (A bottle of wine or other spirits can be added on.)

MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
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Thursday, April 2, 2020

The French Kitchen offering COVID-19-convenient drone delivery, and more

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 1:15 PM

Can you believe it? Drone delivery! How about that?! - COURTESY THE FRENCH KITCHEN
  • Courtesy The French Kitchen
  • Can you believe it? Drone delivery! How about that?!

****UPDATE: 1:07 P.M., THURSDAY, APRIL 2****

Since yesterday's April Fool's Day post, we caught back up with TFK owner/chef Blandine Mazéran to see how the spoof went over as a whole.

She reports one big highlight: getting a call from the Federal Aviation Administration due to a complaint made that someone was selling baguettes by drone. The FAA apparently made it clear that this isn't allowed, prompting the TFK staff to let them know it was a joke.

Among other calls and messages received, Mazéran says there was a request for a big birthday delivery for some children and another from a neighborhood in a more remote area asking for drone delivery of cookies. Another call came internationally, from a company that apparently delivers medical supplies in Africa, who was asking about TFK's drone specs or something, she says.

So, yeah, um ... guess we can say this was a successful prank.

****ORIGINAL POST: 3:08 P.M., WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1****

Ok, the shelf life of this joke won't last much past April 1 anyway, so let's go ahead and acknowledge The French Kitchen's April Fool's joke as a well-timed and welcome reprieve from constant, heavy COVID-19 news lately.

Yes, many people were fooled, says TFK owner Blandine Mazéran, noting many phone calls to the business with folks saying they can't find the button online for ordering drone service. "It's going great and getting us new clients," she says. "We're inviting people to like our pages and hoping to increase our customer base."

One commenter on the Culinary Distancing Facebook group, where Mazéran shared the joke, wrote, "This is great, what is the delivery distance for the drone? I’m in Monument..."
The former retail bakery and cafe space has been converted into a staging ground for to-go orders for baking supplies and more. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The former retail bakery and cafe space has been converted into a staging ground for to-go orders for baking supplies and more.

But, joking aside, it's been serious business lately for Mazéran and her crew, pivoting the business to address the laws of the COVID-19 shutdown and needs of her clientele.

TFK was forced to cancel all TFK’s cooking classes, their main staple, and take a huge financial hit with upcoming class reimbursements. And since the retail bakery and cafe too had to cease on-site service, she had to investigate pickup and delivery options.

So, virtually overnight, TFK began selling baking supplies along with baked goods and Mazéran and visiting instructor/chef Shane Lyons (Nosh, Distilled NY) created to-go family meals, becoming so busy that Mazéran actually had to hire for new positions (during a time of tremendous layoffs everywhere). “The parking lot is full of cars and I’m super happy,” says Mazéran, “we’ve had a big response.”

New family meals include Beef Bourguinon, Coq au Vin, shepherd’s pie, and chicken pot pie. - DAVE+SONYA PHOTOGRAPHY
  • dave+sonya photography
  • New family meals include Beef Bourguinon, Coq au Vin, shepherd’s pie, and chicken pot pie.

Among other baked goods and products, TFK now sells boutique high-fat butter and high-protein unbromated and unbleached flour which yields much better baking results that commercially available flours, she says. Family meals include Beef Bourguinon, Coq au Vin, shepherd’s pie, and bestselling chicken pot pie, plus sides like mac and cheese and cauliflower gratin. “If Shane hadn’t been here, I’d have probably shut my doors,” she adds.
Consulting chef Shane Lyons, now adding to his resume the title of "modern-era French resistance fighter." - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Consulting chef Shane Lyons, now adding to his resume the title of "modern-era French resistance fighter."
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Drink at home, tip a (furloughed) service industry worker anyway

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 4:36 PM

Be your own bartender, but help another professional one weather their current unemployment. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Be your own bartender, but help another professional one weather their current unemployment.

Though Colorado's allowing the sale of to-go liquor as an economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, many bartenders are still out of work due to the cessation of on-site consumption of food and drink.

A local guy, Aaron Maynard, has helped launch a platform where we can assist some of those folks, called Help the Colorado Springs Service Industry.

How it works is a random industry worker's name will appear as you pull up the page, and you'll have options for tipping them. From the page:

Every time you have a drink at home during social distancing, consider tipping a local service industry worker through Venmo or Cash App.

Right now, service industry people are severely impacted by social distancing and quarantine. Lower amounts of patrons and restaurants closing will be tough on everyone. Every little bit helps.

If you are a service industry employee in the area who's lost work, there's a form at the bottom of the page to become one of the beneficiaries.

I emailed a bit with Maynard to find out more about the effort. Here's what he had to say:

Indy: What’s your connection to the industry? Are you just a faithful diner/drinker or did you have friends who lost jobs?

Maynard:  I was in the restaurant industry for almost 15 years as a server, bartender and manager. I now work in restaurant technology at Synq3 Restaurant Solutions here in Colorado Springs. My wife has been in the industry as long as I have and was managing at Old Chicago until she was laid off last week.

Indy: What gave you this particular idea for this model?

Maynard: A friend of mine in Chattanooga, TN (where I lived for 13 years until we moved here six months ago — my wife grew up here.) came up with the idea. I jumped at the chance to bring it out here. In just over a week, they have added 70 cities and have had over 3 million views!

Indy: So the selection of who to tip is random, folks can't choose their favorite person, right?

Maynard: Yes, it is always a random server to spread it out to as many as possible. In the past five days, we have added over 500 bartenders and servers here in COS.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

1874 Distilling to join Windsor Hotel; Square Peg Brewerks to partner on brewery at Sand Dunes Recreation

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2020 at 1:00 AM

MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
• Come April, tentatively, the Windsor Hotel will debut its new, attached 1874 Distilling arm, named for the year the hotel was founded. Kodi Whitehead says the distillery will begin by making gin and vodka, with whiskey to follow, in time. The distillery plans to use “100-percent” homegrown ingredients in the making of its products — or home-foraged in the case of juniper berries.

• Sand Dunes Recreation plans to add a brewery and taproom on-site soon, subcontracting to Alamosa’s Square Peg Brewerks in the endeavor, says Donnie Bautista. Aside from upping the craft elements on-site, two green-minded features Bautista plans to incorporate are the capture of the CO2 from the beer-making process to feed to the Greenhouse (i.e., sequester the carbon) as well as using geothermal water that leaves the ground at 125 degrees to brew the beer (meaning little energy will be required to bring the water further up to temp for making wort).
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Monday, March 16, 2020

Culinary Distancing: Take-out, Cook-in quarantine survival guide

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 3:03 PM

We saw it coming with the limited capacities and closures of restaurants and bars in major cities, and earlier today Denver announced the ending of on-site restaurant/bar service until May 11. You can read that order in full here: 
The clock's probably ticking for Colorado Springs and many cities to follow suit, and it's fair to say that unease and uncertainty are the flavor of today. I've already been contacted by restaurant employees who're reporting wide layoffs — I don't want to name businesses because it's undoubtedly a tough decision for them and they shouldn't receive flack for trying to stay afloat in the face of major revenue loss while following state and federal guidelines.

Many places are doing what they can to quickly pivot into pickup and delivery models — some are already contracting with Grubhub and Uber Eats or providing their own delivery service, but others will soon get in the game, which might mean turning service staff into delivery drivers, for example.

Change is happening fast and nobody in our town wants to see our local businesses shutter or be taken out by COVID-19 economic fallout. As a community, we can clearly support them by ordering food from them in the coming days/weeks to keep money flowing and jobs intact. We're aware of many wonderful efforts underway by neighborhood and business groups and city and county agencies, and applaud everyone's hard work and concern.

All that in mind, I created an open Facebook group — everyone welcome — called Culinary Distancing: Take-out, Cook-in quarantine survival guide, with the goal of creating a platform for restaurants to post their takeout and delivery deals and other timely info for the community to easily find. As well, we're encouraging chefs or anyone to post recipes to inspire folks at home. (Drink establishments like coffee shop and breweries are welcome too.)

Several eateries (and a couple cooking class institutions) have already posted, as well as agencies like the Small Business Development Center (who has shared a Disaster Recovery and Continuity Guide), and membership has grown to more than 530 people inside the first 24 hours. We invite you to join us and participate, share info on specials you see around town, or post a favorite recipe.

We'll all get through this together, and hopefully we can maintain some normalcy and eat and drink pretty well along the way.

If you're self-isolating, it's a great time to bring out some recipes and cook. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • If you're self-isolating, it's a great time to bring out some recipes and cook.
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Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Fighting 69th Irish Whiskey releases ahead of St. Patrick's Day

Posted By on Sun, Mar 8, 2020 at 8:31 PM

COURTESY FIGHTING 69TH WHISKEY
  • Courtesy Fighting 69th Whiskey

Right up front I should tell you there's no direct Colorado Springs tie for this new whiskey on the market — The Fighting 69th Irish Whiskey — other than it's now being distributed here — a timely release ahead of St. Patrick's Day.

But we are a military town, and a dollar of every bottle sold will be donated to the 69th Infantry Regiment Historical Trust, which helps veterans and their families. And we are a whiskey town, based off the successes and major awards won by our local whiskey makers such as Distillery 291 and Axe and the Oak. And the brand reps behind The Fighting 69th will be participating in the Colorado Springs St. Patrick's Day Festival, I'm told.

Click on the first two links above to learn much more about The Fighting 69th "Irish Brigade" regiment, "one of the oldest and most honored military units in the history of the United States ... founded in 1849 as a New York State Irish Militia ... now a U.S. Army infantry regiment [that's fought] in major engagements from the Civil War to modern day Iraq and Afghanistan."

As for the spirit itself, it's made solely from barley and malted barley and sees a triple distillation in copper pot stills before getting at least three years to rest in "once used Bourbon casks." The company then does a secondary aging on "a variety of other casks," including single- and double-char barrels as well as rum, port and Oloroso sherry casks.

The final whiskey is blended from a mix of all those, but for all that diversity, the flavor doesn't speak to any individually in terms of something like vanilla or caramel notes. From our sampling, we noting a pretty hot nose for an 80-proof spirit but it drinks smooth and sweet. We didn't get to testing any cocktails with it yet, but should you pick up a bottle soon, here's four suggested cocktails provided by the brand:
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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Sasquatch Cookies grows into a brick-and-mortar location with expanded hours

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 1:00 AM

COURTESY SASQUATCH COOKIES
  • Courtesy Sasquatch Cookies

We at the Indy got our first, satisfying taste of Sasquatch Cookies (sasquatchcookies.com) in mid-2018, nine months after the delivery-only gourmet cookie business launched. The company gained a following in part for funny aspects such as the $10 optional upcharge to have your cookies delivered by a person in a Sasquatch costume, who’ll give high fives, do a silly dance and take photos with people. Sasquatch Cookies also donates 10 percent of profits to Springs Rescue Mission and aims for sustainability, mainly through recycled-content packaging and recycling efforts in the bakery.

Now, owner/baker Brooke Orist — with a background in the nonprofit world, but who always wanted her own bakery — has grown the business into a brick-and-mortar spot at 2107 Templeton Gap Road, expanding hours to 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday though Saturday. To be clear, that means you can now access the cookies by visiting the business, though the delivery and out-of-area shipping options will remain.

Orist plans to add four new flavors at the spot, for a total of 13 cookie options, including a rotation seasonal cookie. Look for the addition of a peanut butter and white chocolate macadamia flavor, as well as vegan chocolate chip and double chocolate chip flavors; there’s already a gluten-free chocolate chip option for that market segment. 

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Lee Spirits Distillery and Tasting Room opens in Monument

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 9:12 PM

All the same cheery faces you know from Brooklyn's on Boulder downtown will be operating the bar in Monument as well on a rotational basis. Robin Jones (second from right) has been named head bartender in the new tasting room. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • All the same cheery faces you know from Brooklyn's on Boulder downtown will be operating the bar in Monument as well on a rotational basis. Robin Jones (second from right) has been named head bartender in the new tasting room.

Lee Spirits Company has opened a second tasting room at 303 W. Hwy. 105 in Monument, attached to its new, expanded distillery space.

Not only can it fit around 20 more people than Brooklyn's on Boulder downtown, but it has a  different menu focus as well. Just one new item to Lee product fans: lavender lemonade and strawberry lemonade on tap. As well, both lemonades have just been launched as a canned product available within days in area liquor stores; you can purchase four-packs on site here as well, along with Lee's dozen other bottles. 

Available on tap in Monument or in cans in liquor stores very soon, Lee Spirits Co. just released non-carbonated Lavender Gin and Strawberry Gin canned lemonades that weigh in at 9-percent ABV. The organization says they are the first in North America to offer non-carbonated gin cocktails to the marketplace. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Available on tap in Monument or in cans in liquor stores very soon, Lee Spirits Co. just released non-carbonated Lavender Gin and Strawberry Gin canned lemonades that weigh in at 9-percent ABV. The organization says they are the first in North America to offer non-carbonated gin cocktails to the marketplace.

But the main difference guests will notice up north is a simple, one-page menu (versus Brooklyn's flip-book) with easy offerings like Champagne spritzes (infused with house creme de rose or creme de violette), flavored Lee Spirit vodkas, whiskey and colas, and shots such as a Mexican Chocolate, made with house Ginfuego and creme de cacao.

The menu does still lead off with a dozen classic cocktails for $10 each, but Ian Lee says the goal with this tasting room is more to highlight the raw materials here, in a way that can be easily replicated at home. Whereas Brooklyn's highlights bartender creativity with complex seasonal menus, here many of the items are left to shine in a more singular, spotlighted way.

Lee Spirits Co. founders and cousins Ian (left) and Nick Lee. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Lee Spirits Co. founders and cousins Ian (left) and Nick Lee.

Having become well acquainted with Lee's classic cocktails at Brooklyn's over the years, I focused on small samplings of the new products during the soft opening night. I sipped the 80-proof vodka, which earned a silver award at the 2018 Denver International Spirits Competition. Lee Spirit cola syrup makes for a pretty fantastic whiskey and cola to put any Jack-and-Coke pour to shame.

Lee Spirits long ago developed a corn-based vodka and has sold it on other states in white-label form for several years. Now, the company has re-labeled it for local release as an affordable "upscale well vodka" that'll be available in bars as of March 1. Liquor stores should also have it on shelves by late March. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Lee Spirits long ago developed a corn-based vodka and has sold it on other states in white-label form for several years. Now, the company has re-labeled it for local release as an affordable "upscale well vodka" that'll be available in bars as of March 1. Liquor stores should also have it on shelves by late March.
In total there's about 20 more seats at this tasting room compared to Brooklyn's on Boulder downtown. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • In total there's about 20 more seats at this tasting room compared to Brooklyn's on Boulder downtown.

I try the creme de violette Champagne spritz with a lemon rind garnish that makes for a fabulous aroma all concocted and a fine bubbly sipper that wants only for warmer weather. The new lemonades — off tap, on ice — also scream for summer; they're on the sweet side, slightly viscous from the gin body, and very expressive with their respective lavender and strawberry-ginger flavorings. Ian Lee tells me it wasn't as simple as making lemonade and pouring the house spirits in — that the lemonades had to be reverse engineered to achieve the right balance to be kegged and placed into cans as batched cocktails. 

For the soft opening, the crew put a Pink Squirrel on as the special of the week. It's made with Lee Spirits' creme de cacao, creme de noyaux and heavy cream. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • For the soft opening, the crew put a Pink Squirrel on as the special of the week. It's made with Lee Spirits' creme de cacao, creme de noyaux and heavy cream.

The trio of available shots for $5 each are all more of quick liquid desserts, which is to say delicious. In addition to the aforementioned Mexican Chocolate, look for a Frostbite made with creme de violette and Lee Peppermint Schnapps, and the Peppermint Patty, made with the same schnapps and creme de cacao. (Yes it tastes like the cookie.)

The tasting room occupies 1,340 square feet of the larger 5,600 square-foot complex. There's the same number of seats at the bar as at Brooklyn's then an array of four-top tables leading back to a mural wall, as well as a rail for standing room opposite the bar near the entryway.

Mural by Rachel Dinda; dreamscape_r on Instagram. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mural by Rachel Dinda; dreamscape_r on Instagram.

The distillery won't actually be operational until sometime around summer. To give the whole building more curb appeal, the team put a copper-colored metal roof accent around the whole building, plus a wall of wood boards to support the Lee Spirits logo near the customer entryway. The structure was formerly a collision shop, hence three bay doors on the distillery side.

South-facing signage near the tasting room entryway. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • South-facing signage near the tasting room entryway.
East-facing signage on the distillery portion of the building, not open to the public. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • East-facing signage on the distillery portion of the building, not open to the public.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Wobbly Olive - Old Colorado City becomes Happy Belly Tacos - West

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 4:24 PM

COURTESY HAPPY BELLY TACOS
  • Courtesy Happy Belly Tacos
Following the successful transition just before the new year at 7702 Barnes Road from The Collective to Happy Belly Tacos - East, co-owners Mark Henry (also of Rooster’s House of Ramen) and Sean Fitzgerald (also of The Wobbly Olive and Allusion Speakeasy) have turned the Wobbly Olive Old Colorado City location at 2611 W. Colorado Ave. into Happy Belly Tacos - West.

Happy Belly Tacos - West hopes to soft open Friday, Feb. 21 — but short of that mark will open on the 22nd says Fitzgerald.

In turn, the former and original Happy Belly location at 125 N. Spruce St. has become a commissary kitchen they’re tentatively referring to as The Kitchen. Company Chef de Cuisine Chad Henry (Mark’s younger brother) will oversee prep and consistency out of that kitchen to supply both Happy Belly locations, while Fitzgerald says the space (liquor license to come) will also allow for pop-ups and incubation space for other chefs to try out concepts before leveraging themselves to brick-and-mortar space.

Fitzgerald says the original Wobbly Olive location at 3317 Cinema Point will refocus on its creative roots (undistracted by a second location) under executive chef Justin Edgar, and that the reason he’s decided to turn the west location into Happy Belly is because underperformance during non-tourist seasons, making for fluctuating staffing levels and not exactly a thriving business situation.

By contrast, since its opening, Fitzgerald says Happy Belly - East has seen five times the traffic as The Collective did, spawning wait times and even running out of food during unexpected rushes as they settle into the new flow. Under the new merger of sorts, Fitzgerald oversees front of the house and drink programs, while Henry puts his energy strictly on the back of the house and menus, “focusing on our strengths,” says Fitzgerald.
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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

16 pretty views of the ViewHouse

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 6:21 PM


The ViewHouse is now open with its Colorado Springs location, the fourth currently in parent company Lotus Concepts' portfolio of eateries. The first location opened eight years ago in Denver, with Centennial and Littleton locations following; a Thornton store's planned for 2021 as well.

We took a tour on Tuesday, Feb. 11 and were treated to a limited menu and drink sampling. Read the captions of the below photos for more info on the outfit.
The upstairs patio sports the best, unobstructed mountain views. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The upstairs patio sports the best, unobstructed mountain views.
Big big TVs, everywhere for your sports viewing pleasure. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Big big TVs, everywhere for your sports viewing pleasure.
Local, organic lemon-thyme grilled chicken over butternut squash, garlic mashed potatoes, kale and microgreen and fingerling potato chip salad. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Local, organic lemon-thyme grilled chicken over butternut squash, garlic mashed potatoes, kale and microgreen and fingerling potato chip salad.
Look for 35 local taps and bottles total plus 15 area distilleries on display. ViewHouse has its own beers as well, currently being brewed for them by Denver Beer Company. I sampled a flight: the 1858 IPA (mosaic and citra hop, bitter and easy drinking), Ballpark Pale Ale, Rockpile Red Ale, Que Pasa Mexican-style Lager (made with cucumber purée- yum), and Peach Buzz Blonde. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Look for 35 local taps and bottles total plus 15 area distilleries on display. ViewHouse has its own beers as well, currently being brewed for them by Denver Beer Company. I sampled a flight: the 1858 IPA (mosaic and citra hop, bitter and easy drinking), Ballpark Pale Ale, Rockpile Red Ale, Que Pasa Mexican-style Lager (made with cucumber purée- yum), and Peach Buzz Blonde.
Pineapple mahi mahi tacos. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pineapple mahi mahi tacos.
Outdoor cabanas are available just off the game turf. In total, the space, off Woodmen Road, occupies around 18,000 square feet. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Outdoor cabanas are available just off the game turf. In total, the space, off Woodmen Road, occupies around 18,000 square feet.
The California Burger, made with grass-fed beef from Frontiére Natural Meats. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The California Burger, made with grass-fed beef from Frontiére Natural Meats.
Cornhole boards galore, with a killer view. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Cornhole boards galore, with a killer view.

The ViewHouse also serves sushi plates; one of the chefs formerly worked at Sushi Den in Denver, lending the expertise. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The ViewHouse also serves sushi plates; one of the chefs formerly worked at Sushi Den in Denver, lending the expertise.
The upstairs sports pretty awesome mountain views. Catch 3-6 p.m. happy hours, Monday through Friday, for select $3 drinks and $6 bites. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The upstairs sports pretty awesome mountain views. Catch 3-6 p.m. happy hours, Monday through Friday, for select $3 drinks and $6 bites.
The spicy salmon friend rice bowl with sriracha-glazed salmon. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The spicy salmon friend rice bowl with sriracha-glazed salmon.
In total, there's about 24 different beer taps, plus 70 varieties of canned beers. Five taps are devoted to ViewHouse beers. Sometime in the nearish future, they plan to open their own brewery and tap room in Fort Collins. Also look for a new Lotus Concepts spot called My Neighbor Felix in LoHi Denver come May. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • In total, there's about 24 different beer taps, plus 70 varieties of canned beers. Five taps are devoted to ViewHouse beers. Sometime in the nearish future, they plan to open their own brewery and tap room in Fort Collins. Also look for a new Lotus Concepts spot called My Neighbor Felix in LoHi Denver come May.
A newly added item: Nashville Hot Chicken and Waffles. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A newly added item: Nashville Hot Chicken and Waffles.
Wait for your party around the cozy upstairs fireplace or enjoy a whole meal fireside. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Wait for your party around the cozy upstairs fireplace or enjoy a whole meal fireside.
This sign speaks for itself — ViewHouse is clearly trying to support Colorado growers and ranchers "when possible." And they're working toward sustainability. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • This sign speaks for itself — ViewHouse is clearly trying to support Colorado growers and ranchers "when possible." And they're working toward sustainability.
A Nutella dessert pizza. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A Nutella dessert pizza.
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Friday, February 7, 2020

Huge gaming complex North Side Social a week from opening at former Till

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 10:35 AM

Mascot Marvin the Marmot - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mascot Marvin the Marmot
The new signage. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The new signage.
You may recall my reporting last fall on the closure/relocation of Till Kitchen to make way for a gaming concept. At the time we didn't know where Till was moving exactly, and the gaming concept didn't yet have a name.

Today, we now know Till will join Garden of the Gods Gourmet at its 26th Street location for fine-dining evening service (to begin around May, tentatively) while its former space has been morphed into North Side Social, an already huge building that'll continue to grow with attached outdoor features as well as an ancillary structure if all goes according to plan. (Relatedly, another holding in parent company Altitude Hospitality Group's portfolio, Sprig, has also closed on the north end with plans to reopen in the former Zeezo's location downtown around mid June, tentatively.)

The below renderings show part of the scale of North Side Social after the next phases. The pictured pickleball courts and entertainment features will go where the current, west-facing parking area is.

The grand plan. - COURTESY NORTH SIDE SOCIAL
  • Courtesy North Side Social
  • The grand plan.
Plans call for outdoor performances. - COURTESY NORTH SIDE SOCIAL
  • Courtesy North Side Social
  • Plans call for outdoor performances.

Ahead of the February 14 opening day, I took an interior tour on February 6 at the still-in-construction North Side Social with Altitude Hospitality Group Founder Mitch Yellen. The entrepreneur feels so confident about the potential for pickleball in particular, as the fastest growing sport in the U.S., that's he's also underway with two locations of another concept called Pickle Republic; one in Lone Tree, another in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He calls them "a country club for people who don’t belong to country club."

Ambitious Altitude Hospitality Group Founder Mitch Yellen - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Ambitious Altitude Hospitality Group Founder Mitch Yellen

As we toured through North Side Social, I asked Yellen about what didn't work with Till that precipitated the move to the gaming concept. He proved pretty forthcoming with lessons learned.

"If you're thinking you're building something too large, talk to Mitch," he joked. "Once I knew it, I didn't wait. I called an audible. ... The vision was too big for a single concept. But this building makes sense for this concept."

It's actually not the first audible he'd called for this space, which shifted focus not too long after opening. Yellen says he wasn't exactly losing money, and described what sounded like a break-even situation, where Till was bringing in good money, but putting it largely toward bills, with simply too much overhead. If you've been in, you probably have the visual of the 80-foot long open kitchen inside of more than 17,000 square feet; the initial construction cost topped $13 million.

Dining tables have been cleared to make way for shuffleboard tables near the bar. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Dining tables have been cleared to make way for shuffleboard tables near the bar.

"Overall, not enough people were willing to pay for good quality food," he said. "And I'm not going to serve crappy food. At North Side Social, we're going to serve bar food in a healthy way." (Till Chef Philip Griffen will launch and stabilize North Side Social before moving to his new location; he's designed the opening menus, which you can view here.)

Back to our tour: Yellen takes me through what was formerly The Roost at Till on the building's north end, which will now be called The Burrow, and still cater to coffee drinkers, while also selling alcohol. (After 9 p.m., "family-friendly" North Side Social will be age 21 and up until midnight closing hours.) The Burrow will host dart boards as well as vintage 80s and 90s arcade games.

Moving south toward what was the bakery and one-time grab-and-go market, he points to an area that will now host a dozen pinball machines in another arcade zone. He mentions plans for pinball tournaments and many other gaming tournaments to be hosted on site as well.

Duckpin bowling balls at a two-lane bowling court. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Duckpin bowling balls at a two-lane bowling court.

In addition to bowling and pinball, paid games will include: 8-foot Battleship, Killer Queen (a 10-player strategy game), bubble hockey, shuffleboard, 4- and 8-man foosball and skee-ball. Free games on site include: ping pong, cornhole, giant Connect 4, and ladder toss.

The outdoor games coming in phase two, sometime around June, tentatively, are pickleball (including a pro shop and private cabanas for groups), bocce ball, giant Jenga and more. Phase three, which could break ground as early as October if all's going well on the first two phases, would include indoor pickle ball courts inside a new building for winter play, as well as an outdoor ice skating rink.
Dining booths remain near the open-kitchen counter, but some 50 large TVs have been added all over the building for sports viewing. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Dining booths remain near the open-kitchen counter, but some 50 large TVs have been added all over the building for sports viewing.

As for Griffen's "approachable" food and drink, you can see from the menus that pizza remains a fixture in the space; Yellen's still proud of their San Francisco sourdough starter that's always informed the pies at Till. The prices will generally range from $9 to $14, he says, noting again that it'll stay "consistent with Altitude's quality."

Look for upwards of 50 beers plus other wines and drinks on the taps, as well as the cocktail list. Some popular drinks are holdovers from Till, but with new names. Depending on where you sit in the facility, you can either go for counter service (near the pizza kitchen) or full service (closer to the bar), so it may take a couple visits to fully figure out the lay of the land.

70 total taps are being installed. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • 70 total taps are being installed.

Till and Garden of the Gods Gourmet's former baking operations have moved to the Focus on the Family campus, where kitchen space was available; plus, they're a client, Yellen notes. That leaves open room in North Side Social's rear kitchen, which Yellen hopes to rent out to other businesses as commissary space. Much refrigeration space is open along with ample baking equipment.

The former private-dining area on the building's far south end will remain in use to host parties now, as well as tournaments, opening up to a patio area when needed. 

Some neon near the bar. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Some neon near the bar.

Seemingly never content to be doing just one giant project at a time (hence the Pickle Republic idea), Yellen teases a couple future plans he and his wife and his investors have in mind.

The first relates to taking Till to the next level at its new location, where construction's also underway to expand the facility and redecorate it. (Garden of the Gods Gourmet will still serve breakfast and lunch, turning over the space to Till in the evenings.) Yellen says Griffen worked at a Michelin starred restaurant, and he believes Griffen could bring a star here.

And if all that's not enough, Yellen concludes by saying he has his eye on space at Gold Hill Mesa, which in a few years, given success on the north side, could see another concept like North Side Social.

Many mini Marvins. The design comes via a Minneapolis firm, says Yellen. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Many mini Marvins. The design comes via a Minneapolis firm, says Yellen.
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