Manitou strikes oil

"I started my first store on a $100 bet," says Rick Petrocelly, owner of The Olive Tap (theolivetap.com, 358-9329). "My friend bet me that I couldn't make a living selling olive oil." Now, four years later, Petrocelly's fifth location is set to open during the first week of May at 906 Manitou Ave., #103, in Manitou Springs.

The outfit is essentially "an extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting emporium and gourmet market," according to Petrocelly, whose other storefronts are in Ohio and Illinois. Petrocelly's father-in-law was raised in Manitou Springs, hence the distant location and his familiarity with the area.

"Everything in the store is artisan-produced, small-batch and mostly single-varietal," he says, explaining that single varietals, unlike blends, deliver unique characteristics "from sweet to buttery, light, pungent — a whole slew of flavors," depending on the batch. The balsamic vinegars all come direct from Modena, Italy, while the oils come from all over the world, some within a week of being pressed.

"You can't get any fresher," Petrocelly says.

As seen in a YouTube demo video (search under "Olive tap"), customers can taste the oil or vinegar from any fusti (stainless steel tank) they wish, then have an employee pour it into a variety of bottle sizes.

Soul sister

JJ's Soul Food Dining (3037 Jetwing Drive, 392-2774) opened last month under owner Judith Johns, and serves a variety of from-scratch, Southern-style eats like catfish and barbecued ribs next to standards like burgers. Manager Eva Huerta says Johns always dreamed of opening her own restaurant to show off her Southern cooking; this venture is her first. With Johns' daughter in the Army, she offers 10 percent off for military personnel (and seniors, and anyone who can answer the question of the day on the wall).

À la carte

• A follow up to last week's report that Café Banzai (230 Pueblo Ave.) had closed: After reaching chef Kwi Kim's daughter Christina, we learned that the business hasn't gone under — it's just in transition. Christina says the family is currently scouting the city for another location, looking for just the right space — preferably one much larger than the glorified shoebox next to the Rocket Room.

"My dad wants to thank everyone for helping his business grow," says Christina. "He wants everyone to know that he does plan on opening a new location."

In Café Banzai's place, Christina says, another restaurant venture is in the process of opening.

Bistro de Pinto (26 E. Kiowa St., bistrodepinto.com) has begun serving breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m., weekdays. The menu features $6 to $8 items like banana fritters, omelets, "Pintos Style French Toast," huevos rancheros and fresh fruit parfaits.

Garden of the Gods Gourmet (2528 W. Cucharras St., godsgourmet.net) will launch a new "Dinner in the Kitchen With Our Chef" series at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 29 (to be continued every Thursday).

Guests will receive four courses from chef Larissa Warner paired with wine, for $35; reservations required.

Backyard garden

I don't normally eat bags full of wild-picked vegetation from strangers, but then again, I don't normally have credible authors of books on edible wild plants dropping samples by our office.

And so, through the generous outreach of 50-year-old Springs native Chris Frederick, author of the locally published Recipes From a Wild Plant Gourmet, I found myself following a recipe for Curly Dock Wilted Salad last week. Curly dock, as I learned from sampling the herb (both raw and cooked) and from a short synopsis written by Frederick, is one of the first perennial, native wild plants to sprout edible vegetation each spring.

Frederick, who has taught wild plant identification for more than 15 years (including to instructors of combat survival training at the Air Force Academy), says curly dock grows wild all around Colorado Springs, in almost every elevation zone, particularly near stream banks, ponds and boggy areas. The spear-tipped, wavy-edged and vitamin- and mineral-rich leaves are most palatable between mid-April and the first week of May. During this time, they taste similar to spinach and can be used in the kitchen in any way that spinach is, most often raw in salads or wilted as an entrée side.

In following Frederick's salad recipe as closely as possible, I did have to substitute a small amount of red onion for the wild-picked onions for which it called, and I wasn't able to add the optional (and later-blooming) wild ingredients of young fireweed and bistort leaves and cattail inner leaf bases. I did, of course, have olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper on hand.

By basically sauteing the above on a low heat, I produced a dark mash reminiscent of collard or mustard greens in the South. My first bite also made me think of said greens, the curly dock bringing a hint of bitterness under a fibrous, hearty texture. I can only guess the extra wild additions add even more character, but even this modified version was excellent, and I became excited by the thought of easily harvesting my own dock nearby. (Frederick teaches sustainable picking — taking vegetation, flowers, fruit and seeds doesn't harm the roots, ensuring perennial growth.)

For pictures of curly dock and to see the recipe, visit our blog at csindy.com; call 432-6216 for book info.


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