Gust joins Blanchard at Antlers

By now, you may have heard the buzz that Ryan Blanchard, former executive chef at Plate World Cuisine and Walter's Bistro, has taken over as executive chef of downtown's Antlers Grille (4 S. Cascade Ave.). That move happened in late July and surprised many folks loyal to both Walter's and Plate, with whom Blanchard had made a mark since 2001 and 2006, respectively.

But another move this past week may shock Springs dining enthusiasts even more: One week before his 13-year anniversary at the Ritz, executive chef Jay Gust has accepted Blanchard's invitation to join him as the executive sous chef at the Antlers.

Had there been a want ad (which there wasn't), it may have read something like this: Local restaurant, happening spot like 30 years ago, seeks decorated, creative chef make that chefs to revamp ailing food service, hotel banquets, room service and Judge Baldwin's brew pub. Will pay big $$$$.

Let's be honest. What else would have dragged 20 of the best culinary fingers in town into the Antlers Hilton kitchens?

"The opportunity came up, and I like projects. I like things to do," says Blanchard, who remains a partner at Plate.

For Gust, the decision was more related to his personal life: "Everything sort of fell in line."

As for the aforementioned "projects," Blanchard says the Antlers is aiming to reclaim the "local appeal" it once enjoyed. Firstly, this means a new menu at Judge Baldwin's, starting next week. And after the tightening of banquet and room service, the duo will focus on reopening the Antlers Grille for full service. (It's currently only serving breakfast.)

"We'll reopen it when we feel comfortable that it's up to our standards," says Blanchard, adding that could be by spring, but possibly later, and following renovations.

"We want to get it to where it's truly a powerhouse hotel [restaurant] in Colorado Springs," says Gust, who admits to never having "touched foot in a hotel kitchen."

When asked if it's hard to leave his familiar haunt, Gust concedes it is: "I've woven myself into the Ritz for many years. But it's a little thrilling to say, 'Wow, I'm leaving the Ritz.'"

As for who'll fill Gust's coat at the Ritz, co-owner Luke Travins says he's beginning to receive a number of applications. In the interim, he says he'll lean on chef Pete Moreno at MacKenzie's Chop House (another Concept Restaurant) if need be.

When asked about losing Gust whose prowess was seldom tested by menu constraints at the Ritz, in the opinion of many local foodies Travins sounds as if he'd been prepared.

"Jay and I have been close for a long time," he says. "I know his [personal life] had a lot to do with the decision."

Now that the Blanchard-Gust team has been decided, it's a question of how much time will pass before, in Gust's words, "we really start playing and show what can be done with cuisine in this city."

Smokin': New barbecue

Firehouse Southern Style BBQ recently opened at 817 W. Colorado Ave., in the rotating sports-bar building that once held Fanz not far, I might add, from the well-established Front Range Barbeque. We received a call last Friday offering free delivery of 15-hour, slow-cooked, $7 pulled pork sandwiches with chips. Seven staff members signed up.

At first, a botched delivery effort landed us dry, skimpy, sauceless sandwiches with no requested extra sauce on side, much to the dismay of many growling bellies. (They called us for this!) An initial complaint call attracted little sympathy from a busy employee, but an embarrassed owner called back profusely apologetic.

In 45 minutes, we received a warmer, larger batch of sandwiches with lots of extra sauce and a whipped-cream-rich, complimentary pumpkin pie. Though there was scant difference between the spicy and sweet sauces, most diners enjoyed the barbecue and pie. Call 447-8829 to hear other menu options. And consider dining in for your first Firehouse sample.

Steamin': New coffee

The first of three new Dutch Bros. Coffee walk- and drive-up locations opened on Oct. 17 at the southeast corner of Colorado Avenue and Weber Street (301 E. Colorado Ave.). Between 5:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., traffic periodically backed up in both directions as people waited up to half an hour for a free drink.

Along with a number of co-workers, I braved the long block over from our office for samples from the locally owned, Oregon-based franchise. After taking sips of the Kahlua Kicker, Milky Way and Dutch Mocha and downing my own Annihilator (chocolate and macadamia nut) coffee drink, I can confidently (and with only a slight hand-twitch) report that the caffeine offerings are quite sweet, pretty strong and likely addictive. The little building also offers smoothies and the like; visit dutchbros.com for more.

Pizza and pumpkin (ale)

Bravino's Trattoria & Pizzeria (3536 N. Academy Blvd.) recently announced an all-you-can-eat-pizza option, to run indefinitely during both lunch and dinner hours. The price, which includes an array of dessert fruit pizzas (cherry, apple, peach and blueberry), is $6.99 ($3.49 ages 5 to 12; under 5, free). Call 596-6223 for more.

Bristol Brewing Company (1647 S. Tejon St.) will release this year's batch of Venetucci Pumpkin Ale on Oct. 30. At 2 p.m., 22-ounce bombers will go on sale, with drafts pouring at 5 p.m. All profits from the beer's sale go directly to Venetucci Farm. My advice: Don't wait. Last year's outstanding batch sold out in no time. Visit bristolbrewing.com for more.

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