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Colorado Craft's love letter to local ingredients 

click to enlarge Colorado Craft’s menu items, like the Corner Post Cubano, highlight fresh, local ingredients. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Colorado Craft’s menu items, like the Corner Post Cubano, highlight fresh, local ingredients.
In dining at Colorado Craft, I’m drawn to certain parallels with chef/co-owner Mario Vasquez’s former employer up north, TILL. Both have decor in whites and light grays, imparting a certain breeziness. It’s a huge change from the art deco bustle of Craft’s prior tenant, The Ritz.

Though the dishes are different, they bear some similarities to TILL — fresh, clean presentations with a measure of elevation and refinement, telling of Vasquez’s Napa Valley roots. But Craft’s a little different. The restaurant’s logo dubs it “Tejon street social,” and the menu adheres to a hip but approachable spread, with some dishes feeling like elevated pub grub. With it, Vasquez, manager/co-owner Bryan Bradigan and co-owner/building co-owner David Lux have a hit on their hands.
We start with green chili wings (check out the recipe in our Spring Dish recipe guide). Tender confit wings and drumsticks bear a sweet, not-too-spicy sauce with chunks of not-quite-candied green chili clinging on; we’d like a crisper exterior, but we’re generally happy.

Traditionally fermented pickles in the house pickle jar come punchy-tart — we get mostly cauliflower and green beans — with a beautifully tender pretzel roll and turmeric butter.

The craft poutine starts with a wonderful skillet of smashed, fried potatoes. The mushroom gravy’s perhaps a little thick but undeniably savory, bolstered by bacon and melty cheese curds, with pickled red onions adding a little respite from the heaviness. On non-review visits during the restaurant’s soft opening, we waxed rapturous about the marinated burrata, too.

For lunch, we try the hot chicken sandwich, an artifact of Nashville cuisine recently turned into a bona fide culinary sensation, mostly thanks to foodie bloggers. And while I can’t say if it’s true to the Prince’s Hot Chicken original, the buttermilk-fried breast is staggeringly juicy and flavorful, though the heat barely hits mild (a downgrade from soft opening visits). My dining companion’s no fan of sweet bread-and-butter pickles, but the apple cabbage slaw’s a nice refresher, and the side of herb fried potatoes, perfectly cooked in big, irregular chunks, brings the $14 price tag well into reason for both quantity and quality.

We also go for a Corner Post Cubano, layered with sweet pickles, mustardaise and Swiss. The bread’s slightly sweet with a lovely crispness, and both the roast pork and ham contribute meaty richness. But the meat lacks any of the citrus-garlic brightness that I consider part of a great cubano — still a good sandwich, though, with plenty of those potatoes.
Location Details Colorado Craft
15 S. Tejon St.
Downtown
Colorado Springs, CO
428-3002
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; until midnight Fridays; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and 5 p.m. to midnight Saturdays
Gourmet/eclectic
Available for both lunch and dinner, the pork pozole’s full of tender, lean meat and surprisingly light, with hominy, sliced radish and cabbage floating in a translucent, slightly bitter broth, with floating lime wedges for squeezing. Vasquez says it’s his based on his grandma’s nearly-white pozole recipe, drawn from Jalisco. He dials back the traditional anaheim-pasilla-chile de arbol pepper puree, chilacate, and finishes it with fresh oregano. It’s a super-clean expression of all the ingredients involved.

The dinner menu holds the strongest dish we sample: the roasted chicken. It’s out of this world, thanks in part to the plentiful buttery, rich cheddar grits and braised greens the skin-on chicken breast rests upon. It’s topped with a more-salty-than-spicy scallion salsa verde that adds major flavor interest. White cheddar-bearing buttermilk croutons made from the biscuits they offer at brunch have a chewy center for a textural counterpoint. Vegetarians will want to sample the forbidden black rice, a lovely dish defined by red curry and roasted mushrooms —we tried it at soft-opening. Both run around $20.

For cocktails, we try the Tejon-arita and the Penrose, both $11 on our visits, both featuring The Decc liqueur, distilled locally by Distillery 291. The former blends it with Golden, Colorado-distilled blanco tequila by State 38 Distilling, lime juice and a Tajin chili-lime-salt rim; the Decc replaces customary triple sec. It’s light enough for hot-weather sipping, but the clove hints make it one margarita that tastes right in colder weather — everything plays nice together. The latter pairs Decc with 291 American whiskey and muddled house brandy cherries, finished with lemon and served with an ice block. The lemon and rye spice lead for a drink that manages to cool the heat typical of 291 whiskeys.

We also enjoy a few relatively affordable pints — a to-style kölsch from Storybook Brewing and a cherry sour amber ale from Bristol Brewing Company, both for $6, both quality Springs brews.

There’s a love here for Colorado’s agricultural and manufactured foods. It shows in the menu’s focus on emphasizing the freshness and excellence of the ingredients, displaying Vasquez’s chops and the talent in the kitchen. Really, Colorado Craft’s a love letter to the state — imperfect in places, but from the heart.

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